Friday 29 September 2023

A Patch Lifer - Barred Warbler on Colyford Common!

I had just booted up and set off on a four mile walk with Jess over Golden Cap when my phone rang, it was Tim C. As soon as I answered I could hear excitement plus a touch of panic in his voice...

"Steve can you take a look at the photo I have just sent to you, think I might have a Barred Warbler on Colyford Common...."

A few phone taps later and sure enough - a nice photo of a Barred Warbler! A superb record for the Axe patch, only the second following a brief bird on Beer Head in the late 00's only seen by the finder. Am sure it is one of those species we've probably missed a few of over the years, we have a lot of suitable habitat and they are such a skulky and often silent warbler - which makes this find even more brilliant in my view.

From then on in during our walk I was remarkably calm considering a patch tick was in the offing!  I can only presume it was because all my previous experiences of Barred Warblers have shown they are never really in a rush to go anywhere - and knowing the stock of berries on Colyford Common at the moment and the amount of Blackcaps feeding on them, I was certain it would at the very least stay the day, if not a week or two! So we enjoyed the wonderful walk in stunning weather, giving us plenty of views like this...

Looking towards a patch Barred Warbler from Golden Cap

We even stopped off on the way home for a pub lunch at Hunters Lodge!  Playing it cool had reached a whole new level - especially when I also ordered a dessert!  Well how could I skip the chance of a Toffee Apple Crumble Pie?

I finally sauntered down to Colyford Common at 13:30, with the bird last seen around 11am.  The lack of news since then became obvious when I turned up - there was no one looking for it!  I spoke to Tim over the phone for a bit more gen, then found my spot and just sat and waited...

The hedgeline where it was seen was mostly very quiet, but then out of nowhere Blackcaps would pop up and feed - up to 12 in all. But then a few minutes later all would be quiet again.  It is a thick hedge with some big trees - I lost count of how many times I raised my bins for movement only to miss the cause completely.  

At 14:10 a movement much closer to me caught my eye, about ten metres away. Thankfully the cause of it stayed put just long enough - it was the Barred Warbler!  

The view was brief, lasting no more than five seconds before it ghosted deep into a huge holly bush, but the imprint of the bird will be on my mind forever.  It was a perfect field guide worthy view - undertail coverts facing me, tail up and then it even turn its head to the left - which is when I think it saw me and made a hasty retreat! It is a really pale eyed bird, making me wonder if it is actually an adult?  I think a first-winter male a more likely explanation, I just can't recall seeing an autumn bird so pale-eyed before.  

Here are some of Tim's photo of it, which he has kindly allowed me to share here...

Love this photo of it (c) Tim Clark

This was the first show he sent me, look at that eye! (c) Tim Clark

The best part of an autumn Barred Warbler (c) Tim Clark

A video-still (c) Tim Clark


I stayed until 14:55 but no more views.  Would have loved to get a picture myself, but in this case the picture is very much in my mind.  Thanks again Tim for a top top bird! 

Just to catch up with other bird news, I have a few sightings to mention off the back of Storm Agnes.  I didn't manage much on the sea, a possible and extremely brief Sooty Shearwater was frustrating, I did see a couple of closer Balearic Shearwaters, four Ringed Plovers west plus Gannets and Kittiwakes have clearly increased in numbers and seem to be feeding offshore.  My sea based highlight were two Arctic Skuas lingering off Spot On yesterday afternoon, chasing gulls for food.  Always a delight to watch - probably not so much fun for the gulls though!

The day before (the 27th - the day of the storm and my birthday!) a two hour late afternoon look about didn't show anything new on the Estuary, Colyford Common or over the sea, but on Black Hole Marsh I was surprised to see a whopping 12 Curlew Sandpipers!  There were two with the Ringed Plover flock right next to Island Hide, plus a flock of ten with Dunlin that looked like a freshly arrived tight flock.  They were flighty and never looked that settled, but here's seven of them...

Also two Dunlin and two Ringed Plover in shot

And to close this post, how could I not include a photo of this...

Thankfully it didn't cost me a patch tick!

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Glossy Ibis on Black Hole Marsh

A timely message from Tim tonight (I had just finished eating dinner!) informed me of two Glossy Ibis that had just dropped in at Black Hole Marsh.  I was down there pretty sharpish as the light was going fast, and am glad I did because shortly after I filmed the last part of the below video they flew off south downriver.  Am not sure how far they went but I could so easily have missed them completely tonight...


Both birds were clearly juveniles/first-winters, presumably been blown across the channel with this southerly wind. My first Glossy Ibis on the Axe since the four that lingered in January 2022 - although I did miss a brief (less than one day bird) on 14th Sept of the same year.

Now let's see what Storm Anges has to offer... 

Sunday 24 September 2023

Little Stint Up Close

Been a nice selection of wading birds about over the last week, including two each of Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper, up to ten Ruff (with a couple still remaining), a Bar-tailed Godwit and the odd Greenshank and Green Sandpiper.  Still no American wader for me but I feel like it is close now.

In the meantime I hope you enjoy this Little Stint video (but I am sorry about the wobble midway through!).  Don't forget to click on settings to improve the playback quality, 1080p is the best...



Wednesday 20 September 2023

Great Shearwater - Patch First!

Wow it really has been a day of all the emotions when it came to birding... or lack of!

With neither species of large shearwater on my patch list, this summer/autumn I have put as much time in as possible during the right weather in an attempt to change that.  So far though no luck despite the record numbers in UK waters. Then came today, a day that I didn't have much time, and what happened today? The remanence of Hurricane Lee delivered big shears a-plenty deep into Lyme Bay, with double-figure Cory's count off Dawlish Warren, several of both species off Portland Bill and Budleigh (!?), as well as a Great Shearwater behaving like a Herring Gull off West Bay!  

This is where the frustration and exasperation came into play.  I was at work with all the news coming through and there was nothing I could do about it.  Ian M did watch Seaton Bay for a couple of hours first thing, but he missed out on big shears too although he did have a good count of Balearics.  So although I hadn't missed any that were actually seen here, it didn't help with my mood and I still felt like I was missing out.

Late this afternoon I managed to get out of work a bit early, so hot-footed it to The Spot On Kiosk where Ian and Phil were already in situ.  By this time the wind had dropped right down rounding off the top of the waves but it was still lumpy out there and there were still frequent rain showers passing through.  Over the sea though there were no birds, other than a few Gannets.  Things were looking bleak. 

Yet another heavy shower came through at about 5pm, encouraging Phil and Ian to head home for tea, which to be honest sounded like a good move.  However my lift was still over an hour away so I sat it out.

The rain stopped and within moments I picked up a Storm Petrel.  It was close too which was nice, although I kept losing it in the swell.  A few minutes after that (now 5:22pm) I was scanning further to the right to see if I could pick up the Stormie again, when the underside of a shearwater flashed up into my scope view from below, extremely close in. It dropped behind a wave and then emerged again to reveal itself as a pristine Great Shearwater!  A first for the Axe patch!

This is where sheer joy and jubilation came in, as well as utter shock, surprise, disbelief and the shakes! 

However I then completely fluffed up, as I spent about thirty seconds rummaging around in my rucksack for my camcorder, before remembering it wasn't even in there!  I grabbed a couple of 'barely' record shots with my phone camera, quickly messaged it out on WhatsApp and phoned Phil, before going back to my scope and enjoying it again.  

To my surprise, over what was now a fairly smooth (and otherwise completely bird-less) sea, it kept flying deeper into the bay - behaving nothing like any shearwater I have ever seen here!  It got about half way along the beach towards Seaton Hole, before it veered out south and headed for Beer Head.  Absolutely incredible views.  

As it got to Beer Head another rain shower came in and I lost it.

Yes that is a Great Shear! The Axe's first!

A few minutes later Ian and Phil returned... no sign.  I felt gutted for them both, and really disappointed, it honestly completely dampened the buzz I'd felt ten minutes earlier.

Ian and Phil left again, and I alerted birders further west along the coast in case the Great Shear had kept going.  I wasn't so sure though, I knew there was a chance the band of rain may have stopped it in its tracks.

About ten minutes later a second Storm Petrel flew west (a bit further out this one), and then at 6:12pm I saw the Great Shearwater again! Flying east and further out - but it was lingering!  My phone kicked into action again...

I then felt nervous and anxious, as the Great Shear would sporadically drop on the sea and disappear completely, or worse on occasions it would fly even further out...

But then I heard the sound of cars as Phil and Ian arrived (again!) and am so so pleased to say all was put right.  Complete and utter joy and relief plus the buzz from the bird returned! Kev, Tim and Tim made it down too, with the shearwater remaining in view until I left at 6:40pm.  I know Tim managed some proper photos of it, I will put a link to them when they are online. 

It is not often that a seabird can be twitched! Especially not a shearwater and not here!

Although I cannot of course be 100% sure, I am as good as that this was Gavin's earlier bird at West Bay as it just did not behave how a big shear should, especially not a Great!  This made it even more perfect for me, knowing it was enjoyed by him too.

An absolutely amazing experience, watching such an epic and rare bird casually gliding over the bay backwards and forwards for so long, not to mention the ultra close first flypast. Quite sureal really. No waves, no other birds, just us and it.  Incredible.

Patch birding really is the best.

Friday 15 September 2023

A Good Wader Autumn

Black Hole Marsh has been terrific at pulling in wading birds this autumn.  Any spare time I've had in a morning or evening it's been hard to go anywhere but here!  Well why would you when the potential is so vast!?

I managed to miss our (hopefully) first American wading bird of the autumn, with a Pectoral Sandpiper found by Tim late afternoon on 10th.  It flew off a couple of hours later, which was a bit annoying as I managed the miss the equally brief bird Phil found 366 days before too!  

I did see the second best wading bird of the autumn though, with a juvenile Spotted Redshank here for a couple of days from 7th.  Unfairly scarce on the Axe now, especially considering the fact we used to have at least one wintering bird every year up until the early 2000's.  The only view I had of this bird was distant and well after sunset, hence this appalling record shot...

Still identifiable - just!

And now for some better footage!  This morning Black Hole Marsh held a juvenile Little Stint, two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, five juvenile Ruff and a Green Sandpiper.  All of these species featuring in this little video clip...


Also in recent weeks we have had a couple of Knot, two different Bar-tailed Godwits, five or so Greenshank and up to 19 Ringed Plover.  Not bad at all!  Could do with more Dunlin though, numbers well down in general.

Non-wading bird highlights for me in the valley since my last post includes my first two Wigeon of the autumn on morning of 7th, a couple of fly-through Ospreys, up to 13 Cattle Egret seen daily and a lovely first-winter Yellow-legged Gull on the lower Estuary for several hours on 10th...

Phone-binned photo! Saw all the critical features including nice open wing views, but that body shape very typical of YLG.

Looking forward to what else September brings...