Friday, 13 January 2017

Dedicated to Kevin J Hale aka Bun

What a team player that man is. Even if he isn't playing, he's with you on your team. Legend.

There he is! Showing well in a striped hat.

Woodcock are pretty reliable at a few sites on patch, but within my PWC patch, or anywhere in the river valley, they are very VERY hard to come by. That's unless of course there's a seriously cold snap with plenty of snow, then they start to behave like Blackbirds and pop up everywhere, but that weather is rare here. Bun suggested the valley at Seaton Hole for me, as he's had them several times in the past in Couchill Woods just to the north. So on two occasions so far this month I have endured evening vigils here, but neither with any success.

Tonight though I was joined by the man himself, and he kindly offered to have a rummage around in nearby woodland as the sun set, whilst I stood within the boundary of my PWC patch. What a top man.  At times he was up to his waste in brambles, climbing up steep banks, slipping back down those steep banks, he just kept plugging away and all for my potential gain. After about five or so minutes I was feeling guilty so shouted out "let's call it a night"... But no, he was going nowhere "I'm just going to check down here by the stream".

Sadly though, despite all his hard work, it didn't have the desired effect. 

But as we walked back to our vehicles, moaning about how daft it is that a bird as beautiful, small, and rare as Woodcock can still be legally shot, something truly magical happened. At 17:15 I looked up towards the first few emerging stars of the night, and there one was!  It had just flown out of the strip of woodland in the Seaton Hole valley, did a couple of laps over the small field in front of us (almost looking like a gigantic bat!) and then disappeared off north.  Absolute result!!  And it's all thanks to Bun. If it wasn't for him I would have left ten minutes earlier.

My 98th bird of the year on my PWC patch. Hopefully the ton is just a few days away...

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

No Longer Dipping Dippers

Since Tim Wright saw one of the local Dippers from my PWC patch, I have been giving it more time and not just a quick scan each time I've been passing.

Yesterday I spent a total of 45 minutes watching the bit of the River Coly that can be seen from the bridge by the White Hart Inn in Colyford, but nothing.  Today though after about 40 minutes my prize came, and even sang for me! Dipper now well and truly on my Patchwork Challenge year list :-)

Earlier this morning a short sea watch showed nothing better than two Brent Geese and seven Red-throated Divers, but there's still a few Razorbill (no Guillemot as of yet this year!), Kittiwake and Gannet out there so must be plenty of food about.  Patchwork Challenge is making me look at the sea far more than I usually do in January, and it does make a difference. Brent Geese for example aren't usually an easy bird to see here before spring, but I've already seen 21 this year in seven different flocks!

I have now registered my Patchwork Challenge patch on the brand new Patchwork Challenge website.  I am a bit torn between entering into the Estuaries league or the Coastal South league. Although there clearly is an Estuary on my patch, I have so much more than just Estuary so maybe coastal would be best?  Will have to ask the powers that be.

Sunday, 8 January 2017


Phil text me just at the right time late this afternoon with news of a Firecrest at Seaton Hole, which is within my PWC patch. In the previous two winters Firecrests have wintered here, but this winter one has only been seen sporadically, and this was the first sighting of it in 2017.

Gladly it was still showing well when I arrived just after 4pm and I enjoyed some lovely views of it. I was enjoying myself so much that I couldn't help but photograph some twigs...

I particularly like that dark bramble branch running up the left side of the frame, I think this darkness is exactly what this otherwise pale photo needs.

I just LOVE the Ivy cover along the botton 1/5 of this photo, almost acts as a natural base to the photo. Also note that lovely 'V' of brambles just off centre. Nice.

Other birding today involved a sea watch from 08:15 for about 45 minutes. It's highly likely that Phil and I let a perfectly good Black-throated Diver fly past unclinched, it just remained far too distant but I have to say it did look the part. We were however perfectly capable to ID the four Red-throated Divers that also flew through (well one flew in actually). No wildfowl at all this morning, but still a few Razorbill, Gannet, a Kittiwake and three Great Crested Grebes out there.

In other rather gripping news, tonight Tim Wright had one of the Dippers from my PWC patch. Up to today they have only been seen up near Colyton but at 16:20 Tim had one from the A3052 at Colyford. It looks like I'm going to have to put even more time in here, I have been checking from the bridge by the White Hart daily but only for a few minutes at a time.

Friday, 6 January 2017


Just after 10am I stumbled across this gull on the Estuary...

It was larger than the nearby Herring Gulls, showed a nice dark mantle and yellow legs (not bright but that's ok for a winter YLG) and the legs did look quite long. I did think it had a little more head streaking than expected for an adult winter Yellow-legged Gull, but it wasn't heavily streaked not by a long way.  All in all it looked a pretty good winter plumaged adult Yellow-legged Gull to me, huddled in with a group of wind blown Great Black-backed Gulls.  It certainly wasn't one of those small, pinky-yellow legged, funny coloured mantled hybrid things. This next photo shows the size of it compared with an adult Herring Gull (far right)..

But then it gave an all important wing flap and this is when it all fell to pieces...

Ugly. So so so ugly. P5 completely wrong with just half a black band, and what's going on with P9? Nothing more than a white speck on the right wing, but what looks like a proper small window on the left wing!

This was a worrying bird for me. I have always found the 'usual' hybrids (presumed Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gulls) pretty obvious, but this was something else, maybe a Herring x Yellow-legged?

Earlier, before this headache, I enjoyed an hours sea watch from Spot On and saw:

10 Brent Geese (6w, 2e and 2 in)
14 Common Scoter
5 Red-throated Diver
2 Kittiwake
6+ Razorbill

Six Brent Geese

Yesterdays sea watch was far less exciting, but on Wednesday I struck lucky with a Jack Snipe along with 15+ Common Snipe in a small patch of Juncus near Boshill Cross. Now that was a very handy PWC year tick!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Frosty Morning

What a stunning morning, just what winter should be like. It started off here at -4 when I headed out at 8am, and was still just -1 at 10am. 

Birding-wise today was one of those days you want on a New Years Day bird race.  There's some resident species that although are probably always here, aren't always easy to find.  And these are even harder when considering my PWC patch is vastly smaller than the Patch.  But I was on it this morning.

A dog walk up and back the one lane in Axmouth that is on my PWC patch just wouldn't stop delivering with Green Woodpecker, Kestrel, Jay (two), Stock Dove, Marsh Tit (two), Red-legged Partridge, Treecreeper and Yellowhammer all added to the year list. I was also surprised to see a Water Rail and a Little Egret here in a tiny wooded stream, presumably birds slightly dispersed by the cold weather.

Prior to this Lower Bruckland Ponds gave me another tricky resident year tick, with two Mistle Thrush. And a sea watch was worthwhile first thing (despite the 'sea fog') with groups of five and two Brent Geese east and three Great Crested Grebes on the sea.

So all in all a pretty successful morning. Thoroughly enjoyable too which I suppose is most important.

Yesterday the only patch birding I managed was a 40 mins sea watch first thing. Pretty quiet, although two year ticks came in the form of two Red-throated Divers and a Common Scoter past.

The rest of yesterday was spent off patch with Jess and Honey, but I must just mention our trip to Topsham...

We basically went to the Rec at Topsham to eat a doughnut.  But came away having seen a Yellow-browed Warbler, a Long-tailed Duck, two Goldeneye, a few Avocet and Red-breasted Mergansers, and heaps of common wading birds. Now that's what I call a good doughnut!

Mid pm edit: I finally ran into the wintering Black Redstart this afternoon, on a house roof near Axmouth Yacht Club. Far more of a surprise though were a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers that flew east offshore just after 14:00. RB Mergs are just about annual on patch, but you could easily go a year without seeing one here. Bonus!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Three out of Three!

I just have to post today, the first day of my big Patchwork Challenge attempt.

One of the best things about doing a year list is the big push on Jan 1st. Everything you see is a valuable year tick, absolutely everything. And spending the whole day out on your patch clocking up as many species as you can is such an enjoyable (but sometimes frustrating!) event. Sadly though I was working today, so no such fun for me.  With limited time it's sensible to prioritise the scarcer species, so this morning my three target birds were Cattle Egret, Tufted Duck and Grey Plover. None of these are guaranteed in a given year on the Axe Patch.

The first two were pleasingly easy. The Cattle Egret was the twelfth egret to fly out of the Axmouth roost this morning at 07:36, and the female Tufted Duck was easily visible in the pre-dawn gloom at Lower Bruckland Ponds. The Grey Plover however, well that wasn't quite so easy. No sign of it anywhere this morning, despite a nice high tide and a mass of waders right in front of the Tower Hide. 

Cue the extra mile. Despite the rain, late this afternoon during a fifteen minute break at work, I jumped into my car, scoped the mud north of Coronation Corner and there was my hat-trick. Grey Plover on the list.

My next target are the two Dippers that I first bumped into a few days ago.  Dippers have been really scarce on patch over the past few years, prior to this you would fairly frequently see them along many stretches of the River Coly.  It was Friday morning when I had two (one singing) just south of Colyton, and Phil has seen them in the same place on the two days since. My problem is they are currently about a field and a half north of my PWC patch, so I just have to hope they wander a little further down river - whilst I'm watching!

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Happy New Year

As the sun sets on 2016 I would just like to wish everyone a Happy New Year.

This is where I should also post a long review of the birds seen on patch in 2016, but to be honest my greatest highlights of 2016 have come from elsewhere. Saying that though, any patch tick is worthy of a mention in an end of year post, of which there were two for me this year. An overdue one with a Red-backed Shrike on Beer Head on 15th September...

And a unexpected one with a Least Sandpiper on Black Hole Marsh on 3rd August...

These two birds take my patch life list total to 257. But now for the real highlights...

It's been really exciting teaming up with Nikon and working alongside them this year, especially regarding the once in a life time project in Slovenia filming this. What an experience it was, so many incredible sights, sounds and people that have touched me forever. 

During the summer of 2016, although it was VERY hard work, being part of a small team that mapped pretty much all the breeding birds on the whole eastern half of Dartmoor was a challenge, but so SO rewarding - a proper monumental, important and historic survey. Getting up to the Moor at dawn meant we saw some incredible sights and so many birds. Hopefully the final report will be out soon, but I for one was encouraged by the numbers of birds like Cuckoos, Grasshopper Warblers, Redstarts, Tree Pipits and Whinchats that we came across.  Thanks to the RSPB and the Moor Than Meets The Eye project, and of course Chris and Kev for this opportunity.

I couldn't not include becoming an expectant father - this really is life changing. Now I suppose is a good time to mention that yesterday we went for our 20 week scan, and it was quite clear to see that we are expecting a..... BOY! Such thrilling news!  Although we've got a lot to sort out, we really cannot wait for May 2017.

It's easy to pick out the two low-lights for me this year, neither I want to dwell on, in fact one I don't want to mention at all. Missing a completely unprecedented movement of Cory's Shearwaters off Seaton on 20th August was seriously gutting, I was at Rutland all day!

So tomorrow is a New Year, and I cannot wait to get stuck into Patchwork Challenge. Today the Cattle Egret, Grey Plover and Tufted Duck were all still present, so I am hopeful of a good start to the campaign. Needless to say, you can watch my progress here on Axe Birding, and as ever thanks for reading.