Friday 17 May 2024

Patch Tick - Aurora Borealis!

I have spent many hours looking up at the night sky hoping, and sometimes even expecting to see the Northern Lights.  Over the past couple of years the prospect of seeing Aurora on the south coast of England has increased, I can recall at least three nights being out knowing Aurora is a real possibility.

On two of those nights I could see nothing.  On the third night I could again see nothing, but my phone camera revealed a light green hue in the sky.  I felt cheated.  And reading some more into it I realised this is what most/all 'sub-optimal' Aurora experiences are like... not an experience at all! Such a disappointment.

Still for some reason that didn't put me off going out on the evening of Friday 10th May, as this was reported to be one of the most severe solar storms possible...

I went out at about 10:40pm, and from my vantage point west of Colyton, just above the clouds that sat low in the sky to the north, I could see a faint green hue.  It was much more extensive through my phone camera, but at least I could actually see some colour with my naked eye this time!  

Distant Aurora! A wispy green hue.


I honestly thought that was it.  I stayed for half an hour admiring this whiff of green, but just as I was about to leave... well what happened next will stay with me forever...

The only way I can explain it is that the sky quite literally lit-up.  A bit like being in a dark theatre and the spot lights suddenly turn on, with bright lights piercing through the empty blackness. But these spot lights were coloured and on a scale of epic proportions!  

The night sky, up to directly above me, was suddenly a mix of blue, green, purple and pink, in these huge and mightly impressive towers of light...

A night-time rainbow

I cannot tell you how impressive these beams were - literal towers of light.


I am not ashamed to say it moved me.  Seeing something so mind blowing on such an incomprehensibly epic scale completely knocked me off my feet.  I immediately phoned Jess who I knew was in bed, and got her up and out in the back garden (where light pollution is an issue) and she couldn't believe it!  When I got home 20 minutes later we swapped over so she could go out and admire the Aurora at a darker spot.

It varied in intensity up until when I went to bed at 1am, and at one stage I could see movement in the light.  These were my views from the back garden at about mightnight...

The beams got even more striking and bright!

So many beams!  Filled so much of the sky.

Only included this pic as it actually includes my house!  My house and the Northern Lights.


Many people are saying this was a once in a life-time show of the Aurora Borealis.  I sure hope not, but if it turns out to be I am so glad I witnessed it.  

Friday 19 April 2024

Cirl Bunting - The Seaton Story

Finally, finally, finally... bloody finally!

When I was starting out in birding in the late 90s and early 00's, enjoying frequent weekend birding trips out with Dad, the rule was you had to go west of the Exe Estuary to see a Cirl Bunting.  Sometime in the mid to late 00's, Budleigh and Otter Head became home for an isolated small population, which has steadily increased in numbers since.

In 2019, just a few miles from our patch boundary, Cirl Buntings appeared around Weston and towards Sidmouth (see blog post HERE). They've remained in the area ever since but haven't obviously spread out, with no records within approx two miles of our western patch boundary at Branscombe.  With them being SO close though we have been on the look out. 

However our efforts have proved nothing but frustrating, despite seemingly having plenty of ideal habitat.  They've even leap-frogged us, as are now present and breeding at several sites along the south coast of west Dorset, as far east as Portland Bill.  They've even gone inland of us too, with a single male (possible two) present for a second year near Axminster.  You really cannot blame us for feeling like we have some sort of Cirl deflective force field around our patch!  Well that was up until eleven days ago anyway...

I really have not been out at all much this year, it has been extremely busy at work opening a new attraction in town.  However on the morning of Monday 8th April I had a spare hour, and spent it traipsing around Axe Cliff Golf Course in the hope of turning up a Hoopoe or Woodchat Shrike.  No such luck, but on the east side of the Golf Course as I was walking along a narrow hedge-lined track, a familiar rattle sounded out.  It took me a while to see it, but there perched on the opposite side of the hedge right in front of me was an absolutely knock-out male Cirl Bunting, singing proudly. A patch tick!

Unfortunately however, as I went for my phone to grab a record shot/video it slipped away. I was convinced it was just going to pop up again somewhere nearby, but there's been no sight or sound during the ten days since! Gutting for everyone that missed it, but am sure it or another will surface soon.  Well actually, another one already has, the very next day...  

Local birder Leon came across a female Cirl Bunting on Beer Head on the 9th, and unlike me actually managed a pic, which I hope he doesn't mind me sharing here...

Female Cirl Bunting at Beer Head (c) Leon on 9th April 2024

So it looks like the force field is down! Hopefully it remains down and within a few years we will have breeding Cirl Buntings.  I did always think that as soon as one shows up the flood gates would open.

I won't leave it so long before the next blog post.  I have the whole of this spring to date to recap on, not that it has been anything that special - yet.  For now though, have this Wheatear shot, a nice Iceland/Greenland male too...

Colyford Common - 14/4/24

Friday 1 March 2024

Casp Wakes Me Up From Winter Slumber

Well if one thing was going to get some life in this blog it was going to be a Caspian Gull wasn't it!

At the turn of the year I was fully intending to do a full 2023 patch birding review, especially as 2023 was such an epic birding year on the Axe.  Certainly my (and the?) best year on the Axe in the last ten or so years.  I am still hoping to write it, even if it is for selfish reasons so I can re-live it, but am so proud of how well the Axe patch scored in the 2023 Patchwork Challenge competition.

Anyway, for now, my first decent Gull of the year.  It's been a really poor first few months of 2024 on the Axe, low numbers of winter visitors and no rares or even scarce birds really.  So I was thrilled to spy this lovely first-winter Caspian Gull out of my office window on the afternoon of 20th Feb...

Lovely grey mantle and o-so-white!

Great Casp-stance here. Long thin legs and an almost equally long neck! Lots of pale on bill too.

Nice flash of its white tail, not to mention showing off some of the plainest greater coverts I have ever seen! Solidly plain dark tertials too.

Photo shows how much it stood out from all other first-winter birds in the flock. Such a sleak and pale bird which looked really clean.

Hopefully you won't have to wait another two months for the next post... but am sorry if you do!