Friday, 9 February 2018

My Axe Photo Archives

For the first time in about three years I fired up my old external hard drive this evening. It was great to see some of the bird photos on there, in fact there were some I completely forgotten I'd taken!  All my photos back then were snapped with my good old Nikon Coolpix 4500 (which still works!) through my old Kowa telescope (which no longer works).

All the photos pre-date the birth of this blog, so most haven't been posted up here. Well let's change that. I invite you to re-live Axe history with me...

1w male Surf Scoter Beer, Jan '07
And again

This is one of the four Surf Scoters that have occurred on patch, found off Beer by Gav in Dec '06.  I'd forgotten just how drake-like it became, when it first turned up it was a proper juv-looking thing with only a hint of colour on the bill.

White-fronted Geese Colyford Marsh, Feb '06

This flock of White-fronted Geese that peaked at 15 birds in Feb '06 stayed with us for about a week. Being a goose-nut they were an incredible sight, will be surprised if we get a flock of this size ever again.

Night Heron Seaton Marshes, March '06
And again

Phil found this bird, and was part of the best spring that the patch has ever witnessed. Which also included three of these...

Alpine Swift Seaton, April '06

The three Alpine Swifts drew quite a crowd, as they spent the days feeding over Lower Bruckland Ponds, before returning to roost in Seaton every evening. James Mc found these beauts, with at least one of them staying around for two weeks. Spring '06 wasn't over yet though...

White Stork Seaton Marshes, April '06

Phil and James Mc found this bird, and I'll never forget the sight of it cruising over Seaton Fire Station dwarfing the masses of panicking Herring Gulls, before it dropped in on Seaton Marshes.

1s Bonaparte's Gull Axe Estuary, April '07
And again (left bird)

Somewhat surprisingly, this remains the only record of Bonarparte's Gull for the Axe Estuary. It was here for only one day, but showed for some time meaning most got to see it.

2w Ring-billed Gull Axe Estuary, Feb '07

This was so exciting for me, my first Ring-billed Gull on the Axe. This was a really small bird actually, most Ring-bills are obviously larger than Common Gulls - this one was smaller!

Leach's Petrel Seaton Marshes, Dec '06

This Leach's Petrel sadly died in care the following day. The bird had been rescued from a cat (from a house over a mile inland!).

Stone Curlew Seaton Marshes, April '07

There's been one more Stone Curlew on the Axe since this bird, amazingly in exactly the same place! Seeing this photo reminds me of two things, the shock of finding it, and the fact Karen Woolley and Ian Mc were both birding down in the Underhooken below Beer Head when they got the text. That's a lot of steps...

Temminck's Stint Colyford Marsh, Sep '07

This was the first Temminck's Stint for the Axe, found by Kev (Bun). It stayed with us for several weeks, and in that time never left Colyford Scrape!  Who'd have though our first Temminck's would be an autumn bird - spring records are far more frequent in the UK. Amazingly our second Temminck's was also an autumn bird (well more early winter really!) with our third being a more typical spring bird.

Audouin's Gull Seaton Marshes, August '07

Well I have nothing to stay about this one. Simply incredible. Just wished I managed some better photos!

Egyptian Geese Bridge Marsh, April '06

Sorry for lowering the tone, but these Egyptian Geese pleased Devon year-listers for many years! When there was just one left it became rather tame, feeding on bread with the Mallards down by the lower Axe Bridge...

Egyptian Goose - the last one standing!

Isn't it amazing how photos can bring memories back to life, memories that you'd think were buried so deep they'd be out of reach. This blog post has been a real joy to construct, I hope you've enjoyed it too.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Caspo Number Ten!

There's been really good numbers of large gulls on the Estuary today, including notably more Great Black-backed Gulls which is always a good sign (means they're coming in from the sea). I was really hoping for a white-winger, but a text from Gav informing me of a Caspian Gull just before 3pm had me hurrying down to the Estuary.

Just as I pulled up at the lower end of the Estuary Gav informed me it had flown south, but luck was on my side as I could see it flying towards me low over the water. Pleasingly it landed again and remained here until at least 5pm...

First-winter Caspian Gull

Front to back; first-winter Herring Gull, first-winter Caspian Gull, second-winter Great Black-backed Gull

Front to back; second-winter Herring Gull, first-winter Herring Gull, first-winter Caspian Gull

Although I marvel at every Caspian Gull I see, as first-winter Casps go this isn't the best. It's bill in particular is pretty feeble, being only slightly narrower and longer than the nearby Herring Gulls. Also note how mottled the flanks are and it even has a bit of a shadow around it's eye.  Still a striking looking thing though.

It's definitely not the whiter than white bird I saw on the Axe on 9th January, but it clearly is the other Casp that's been seen here this year.  Gav thought he'd found this bird on 22nd January, but a few days later it came to light Tim White had photographed it on the Axe back on 17th January.  This bird is distinctive enough from all the points I listed in the paragraph above (bill size and mottling), but it shows a couple more characteristic plumage traits too...

First-winter Caspian Gull

The red arrow is pointing to my favourite feature on this particular Caspian Gull, that lovely little pale line formed by the tips of the median coverts. It's really noticeable on this bird at rest.  Then we have the two red 'circles'. The top one highlights the contrast between the lower moulted tertials, and the upper two unmoulted ones, which look completely knackered and are much browner in colour. The lower 'circle' highlights all that white in the greater coverts, inline with where they meet the lower tertials. This feature is really noticeable, even on distant pics of this bird. Most first-winter Casps show a neat and even white line along the tips of all the greater coverts. 

You can see pretty much all these features on all the previous photos of this bird, which Gav has put together in a blog post HERE.

So this is my tenth Caspian Gull for the Axe, I can't wait for number eleven!

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Firecrest Fun

The beautiful blue sky this morning tempted me over to Branscombe, so I could catch up with the Firecrest that's been wintering around the Water Treatment Works. It took about three seconds to find, and I enjoyed it for the best part of half an hour, showing exceptionally well at times...

After about twenty minutes, suddenly there were two male Firecrests in front of me! They had a brief stand off and chase around, then split up, with the second bird feeding around the entrance gate to the WTW. Often ON the entrance gate in fact...

Also around the WTW, 10+ Goldcrest, two Chiffchaff and this Treecreeper (never an easy species to photograph)...

No visit to Branscombe is complete without a sea scan. There were quite a few auks out there this morning, along with a lone Great Northern Diver, three Red-throated Divers and rather unusually, five Teal.

A couple of visits to some woodland near Colyton over the past week has shown Woodcock on both occasions, four and three. I also had at least three Crossbill here the other day, which is more than notable.  Nice to see and hear male Siskin song-flighting too.

And lastly, yesterday as I was driving along the A3052 between Seaton and Beer, a flock of 18-20 Golden Plover flew past going the opposite way. They seemed to land near Stafford Cross where Ian Mc had 15 today. Heaps of Lapwing around there too.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Early Marsh Harrier(s) and More Meds

A few snippets of interest to report from the patch today...

Earlier today local wildlife watcher Fran Sinclair was lucky enough to see two Marsh Harriers hunting over Colyford Marsh. At least one was still present late this afternoon, it was nice to see but I blame it entirely for flushing a large gull that deserved a closer look. Only locked on to it ten seconds before it upped and flew off south.  Drat.

I spent the rest of the evening on Beer Beach, hoping to see a raft of white-winged gulls roosting offshore. Well there were six Med Gulls, which is quite an increase on recent counts, suggesting the first signs of spring passage maybe? All but one were well on their way to showing full hoods.  But no big white-winged gulls sadly. Still.

Earlier in the day, but off-patch, it was nice to have some wonderful views of this lovely Fox. It could have been closer, but was an awesome looking specimen...

And come on, you didn't really think a super blue Moon would pass without a Moon pic appearing on this blog...

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Additional Axe Bean Goose Record Accepted... 21 Years Later!

Before today there was only one accepted record of Bean Goose for the Axe patch, a lone Tundra Bean Goose at Lower Bruckland Ponds in January '05, but I have seen four more.

Although many things that happened during my childhood are now nothing but a fuzzy haze within my brain-space, I have always remembered well the sight of a flock of four Bean Geese that Dad showed me, feeding in the field just south of Seaton Marshes sometime in the mid 90's. Donald Campbell had found them a few days before during a tram trip.  I recall seeing mostly the neck and upper body of these geese as they fed among juncus, with the birds often sat or stood in a large dip in the field, meaning we only got glimpses of their bright orange legs. Their beaks with black with small orange patches midway, and overall they were very dark looking grey-geese.  

A month or two ago, soon after Taiga and Tundra Bean Goose had been split, the Devon birding community hurried together to gather evidence to get an old record of two Taiga Bean Goose on Exminster Marshes in 1997 accepted. With talk of these supposed Taigas then dropping in on the Axe, I thought I'd do some digging on the off chance this report coincided with our four Beanies.  Turns out they did, and after hours of rummaging through Dad's old birding diaries, we found these entries in the 1997 diary...

I don't for one moment think our birds, or two of them, were Taigas. I would say it was just a coincidence these Bean Geese were on the Axe when the supposed Taigas where on Exminster, but it turns out 1997 saw a big influx of Bean Geese (almost all Tundra) into the UK, with small flocks like this dotted around throughout the length and breadth of the country.

I showed the above page of Dad's diary to County Recorder Kevin Rylands, who thought there was enough in the short entries to warrant submitting them to the DBRC. This evening he told me the great news that they have been accepted as Bean Geese sp. probably Tundra. Awesome. Well done Dad and many thanks Kev.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Winter Water Pipit ID

The inspiration for this post came from the superb mixed flock of Water and Rock Pipits currently on Colyford Common, but also due to the number of occasions I've been asked to assist in the ID of one or more of these birds. I really hope this helps.

The first tip of my Winter Water Pipit ID post is; Are you sure it's not a Meadow Pipit?

Meadow Pipit is the commonest and most widespread species of Pipit in the UK during the winter (well the whole year actually) and you can get them anywhere that Rock or Water Pipits occur. Hopefully this superb Meadow Pipit photo from Stephen Burch, which I've labelled, helps with this.

Meadow Pipit (c) Stephen Burch

1. Relatively small mostly pale bill.
2. Supercilium diffuse, particularly behind eye.
3. Well marked streaked mantle.
4. Green edging to flight feathers.
5. Very pale pink legs.
6. Fairly heavily streaked underparts, bold black streaks on white or buff-white underparts.

And now let's compare Meadow Pipit and Water Pipit side by side, thanks to a couple of photos I took way back in 2007 when the Axe Estuary Ringing Group caught these two birds together on Colyford Common.  Try and apply points 1-6 above to the Meadow Pipit in these pics, and then look at the same parts of the Water Pipit and check out the differences.

Water Pipit on the left

Just look at the difference in leg colour!

Plumage aside, once you've seen a few Water or Rock Pipits you'll soon notice how different they walk and feed to Meadow Pipits. The smaller Meadow Pipit usually makes a lot of fast jerky movements, unlike the often lumbered approach Water and Rock Pipits have to life.

Once you have ruled out Meadow Pipit by one or more of the above features, the next question is, is it a Water Pipit or a Rock Pipit? The books all talk about superciliums, wing-bars, outer tail feathers, habitat, etc. But in reality identifying whether you have a winter plumaged Rock Pipit or Water Pipit comes down to just one yes or no answer...

And the question; Does it have a white belly?

 Yes = Water Pipit.

No = Rock Pipit.

And I do mean white, clean Daz-white. Any olive/grey/dullness, well anything that isn't white, isn't white, so it isn't a Water Pipit. Let's try this out with a few more photos...

White = Water Pipit

White = Water Pipit

White = Water Pipit (x2)

It's pale, but it isn't white = Rock Pipit

No white-bellies here = Rock Pipit (x2)

One of each here, even out of focus white is still white!

Can't see most of this bird, but you can see enough, White = Water Pipit.

Even this shockingly shoddy photo taken during foggy weather shows how simple it can be...

I don't need to tell you which dot is a Water Pipit!

Obviously there is far more to a Water Pipit than a white belly, and these are some of the other features to look out for;

A nice grey nape contrasting with a brown mantle, so much so that they often remind me of mini-Fieldfares...

Water Pipits often also show noticeably paler rumps, whereas Rock Pipits tend to be basically one colour across the whole of their upperparts, usually olive-grey, with no/little contrast anywhere.

The underpart streaking is finer and sparser in Water Pipit. Rock Pipits usually have rounder more 'blob-like' streaks, densely packed, whereas Water Pipits, especially along the flanks, show long and narrow streaks.

Water Pipit above, Rock Pipit below.

There are other features, but be wary of some that are cited by books and other websites, because in my opinion they can be misleading. Here's a few things you may read regarding Water and Rock Pipit identification;

"Only Water Pipits show white outer tail feathers". Incorrect. Rock Pipits can show white outer-tail feathers, presumably birds of the Scandinavian littoralis race. Water Pipits should show more white in the tail though that is true.

"Two clear white-wing bars makes it a Water Pipit". Incorrect. It's surprising how vivid the wing bars can look on some Rock Pipits. They may not be as white as Water Pipits, but they can be almost as pale.

"Water Pipits live on marshes, Rock Pipits live on beaches". Incorrect. Just look at Colyford Common for starters! In winter Rock Pipits often inhabit marshes and estuaries, but also Water Pipits will overwinter on beaches.

"Water Pipits have pale legs, Rock Pipits have dark legs". Incorrect. Both species often show pale legs. Same goes for their bills, both species bills can be as pale as each other.

"Water Pipits have striking white supercilium". True, but not always. A classic Water Pipit does have wonderfully striking white super's, but not all are as extensive as others. And now and then you will come across a Rock Pipit with really impressive super's that would look just fine on any Water Pipit.

Actually the last paragraph makes a very good point. Water and Rock Pipits are a bit like first-winter Herring Gulls...they vary greatly! Often two of the same species look different, as the degree of streaking on the underparts, size of the supercilium, and often even the tone of the upperparts vary. For example some Water Pipits just look grey and white, whereas you'll come across some with really warm brown mantles, not far off Meadow Pipit colour.  That's why I think it's good to focus on the one most striking and consistent feature, does it have a white belly?

Both Water Pipits and Scandinavian Rock Pipits moult into summer plumage from late Feb/early March.  This is when identification can get a bit trickier, but even though the streaking on a Rock Pipits breast becomes much reduced, they still don't really ever look white breasted. Plus, as a Water Pipits breast turns pink, they are often completely streak free making them look more like Wagtails than Pipits! If you've never seen a summer plumage Water Pipit before, make the effort because they are absolutely worth it. Stunning birds.

And there we are.  If this post helps just one person to get to grips with Water and Rock Pipit ID, then I'm glad I took the time to compose it. Thanks for reading and happy hunting!

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Off-patch Turnstones

Not really sure why Seaton is such a black hole for Turnstone, but I don't think there's ever been a record of an over-wintering bird here. However if you travel eight miles to the west, a small flock are ever present on Sidmouth sea front virtually pick-pocketing for food, or six miles to the east of us this lovely little gang can be found around the Cobb at Lyme Regis...

And at both sites they allow super close views...

Top birds. Always great fun to watch, but clearly stubbornly site-faithful!