Sunday, 23 October 2016

That's Birding

Irrelevant of previous years, wow has my lack of Yellow-browed Warblers this year been frustrating!!  In other parts of Devon birders seem to be hearing/seeing them every time they step outside, they really have been turning up everywhere and anywhere!  Over the last few weeks I've been out every morning, and each morning headed out thinking 'well today will be the day'... wrong every time!  I reckon I've seen about 150 Chiffs in the last month, I bet there's not many other birders in the UK have seen that number of Chiffs this autumn without a single stripe!

Luckily though this birding malarkey is a funny old game.  This morning was the first morning in weeks that I've not been out birding.  After a bit of a lie in, a rummage through the cupboards showed the breakfast potential was low (very bad news in the Waite household!) so a jaunt to the corner shop was required.  Wandering back through the estate swinging my bag of goodies was already a joyous thing as I knew Pain Au Chocolat was imminent, but when a Yellow-browed Warbler started going berserk in front of me well that was the weekend made!

Amazingly it was in the same row of trees I found a bird in on 30th Oct last year (which stayed for a few days). I watched it at close quarters in some ivy as it called in a somewhat frenzied manner (about 8 or 9 calls in five or so seconds), before legging it home to drop off the shopping and grab my phone and camera.  I saw it a few more times on my return, but sadly couldn't manage a photo and it had completely shut up.  

Hopefully this signifies a change in fortune for me, so let's see what tomorrow brings...

Thursday, 20 October 2016


Being a complete Goose nut, I am gutted to have (seemingly) missed yesterday's White-fronted Goose found by Dave Stone and Andy Bond.  And it's yet another species I've been expecting to come across during the last week (exceptional numbers on the east coast last week) but have missed out on completely due to work.  Just yesterday morning I said to James Mc that I've been expecting a grey goose or two with the Canada flock!

For quite a while White-fronted Goose was pretty much annual here, but presumably due to the recent milder winters and dwindling numbers at our nearest regular wintering site (WWT Slimbridge) records have dried right up.  My last on patch were in 2011, and I don't think I've missed any in the mean time.  The last one I saw here on 20th October 2011 was of the rarer Greenland race...

Greenland White-fronted Goose

My last Eurasian White-front wasn't long before that, on the unusual date of 20th May 2011...

Eurasian White-fronted Goose

Prior to this, one of my best ever grey goose experiences here was the fantastic flock of up to 15 Eurasian White-fronts that spent about a week with us back in February 2006...

What a sight!

I've not seen any photos of yesterday's bird, or been told what race it was - but due to the recent influx I'm presuming it was a Eurasian. Be good to know it's age too, adults are absolutely stunning birds in my opinion.

So what have I seen? Well the last two mornings up Beer Head I've been concentrating (even bringing my scope!) on this tasty looking stubble field...

Proof of my telescope on Beer Head!

There's always stacks of Linnets, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and House Sparrows here. Yesterday on top of that were three Reed Bunting, two Wheatear and a Yellowhammer.  This morning it was much quieter with nothing different.

Overhead at Beer Head, yesterday again was the busiest day with a fairly steady westward passage of Chaffinches, Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails, Skylarks and three Siskin. This morning just a couple of Siskin were among a much slower passage, but a Golden Plover was nice to see whizzing around...

Golden Plover

I thought this morning was going to better than it was, as for the first time in over a week there were Redwing around my house at dawn.  There's been lots of Song Thrush about lately, but apart from an early wave several weeks back, the winter thrushes haven't arrived here yet.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Gulls Save The Day

This morning was a bit of a nothing morning when it came to birds. I was dog-sitting so spent the morning walking around Colyton and Axmouth with two Golden Retrievers. I could well have been pulled past a few silent goodies, but there were certainly no vocal Yellow-broweds where I walked. Cannot believe I still haven't seen one this autumn! 

This afternoon was much better though, with the highlight being a gorgeous juv Little Gull on Colyford scrape mid afternoon. Sadly it was too distant for pics but what an absolute joy to see - such a teeny weeny dark little thing. And my first patch Little Gull since February 2014 so very much appreciated. Also on the Estuary was this hefty adult Yellow-legged Gull, presumably the same bird that I saw on Saturday afternoon, as I also saw it yesterday morning on the flood water at Colyford Marsh.

Middle bird with head tilted up

Second from right, this photo shows mantle colour, leg length and overall size well

Also on Colyford Marsh and the Estuary this afternoon; two Shoveler, the Barnacle Goose, two Grey Plover, one Bar-tailed Godwit and nine Dunlin.

Not quite the east coast, but hopefully the south west will shine soon..

Saturday, 15 October 2016

A Good Day On Patch

First of all, I must just thank everyone who's phoned/texted/emailed/commented/tweeted/facebooked me regarding the Nikon video. Hopefully I have got back to everyone, but your kind comments really do mean a lot. It will be interesting to see what this all leads too.

And now to the patch, and today is the first time in what seems a long long time (well the whole of this autumn!) that I feel like I've had a good day on patch. A really good day.  Although the rares I am so yearning for never came, or a Yellow-browed still, I have seen a really nice and varied selection of notable birds.  And this is how, where and when...

Black Hole Marsh for half an hour from dawn didn't show anything new, but everything that's been around was here and I noted;

65 Canada Goose
1 Barnacle Goose
3 Water Rail
2 Grey Plover
5 Dunlin
1 Curlew Sandpiper
1 Little Stint (not the pale bird from a few days ago, a new juv)
1 Ruff
1 Common Sandpiper

I know many of you would have sighed at reading Barnacle Goose in that list, but it was the first time I have seen it at such close quarters, although I wouldn't be surprised if it roosts on Black Hole Marsh every night with the Canada flock. Whatever it's origin, there's no doubt over how smart (and cute!) it is...

Beer Head after this was disappointing bird-wise (just a few Chiffs and Goldcrest, a few more Robins and Song Thrush but very little overhead), as was a walk from here to Branscombe and back with Jess and Honey late morning to mid afternoon.

A mid afternoon whistle stop tour of the Estuary was much better though, as the gull flock at the top end of the river included two Yellow-legged Gulls. Both were distant from where I was viewing, but easy to pick out nonetheless. October is the best month of the year for non first-year Yellow-legged Gulls on the Axe by a mile, a good blow usually produces a few (plus the odd Caspian Gull).

You can't see much detail on the adult Yellow-legged Gull in this photo, but you can see it's large size and heavy build, yellow legs (they were brighter than they appear in this dull photo), darker grey mantle (if you look VERY closely!) and almost clean white head.

The above second-winter Yellow-legged Gull (right in the middle of the picture) was an absolute beast. The mantle colour was a bit darker than this photo suggests, but look how big it is - and it was so long winged! Typical moult stage for a second-winter (lots of grey) and the head area looked perfect with that grey smudging around the back and sides of the neck.  This photo shows the mantle colour better...

And then this evening, the cherry on top - and what a cherry it was!  Twilight Tim has seen a Turtle Dove a couple of times in the Colyford area over the last week and a bit, but it's not been pinned down. I was at the Bridge Marsh gateway, and after checking the Egrets and ducks on the marsh, I almost didn't notice the brown lump next to me as I was walking back to my car...

I'm so glad I did! At first it was raining, so the poor thing looked a bit bedraggled...

But eventually the sun peaked through the clouds allowing it to dry up...

What a bird, and as you can see showing ridiculously well! Only my second ever on patch following my overdue patch first on 13th May 2012.  It remained here for about 25 minutes, allowing six others to get to see it which was nice -  always nice to share a good bird.  As can be seen from my pics it's a first-year bird with a mixture of juvenile (plain dull orange-brown) and adult (bright orange and black) feathers. I wonder if this is the last one I will ever see on patch though?

So nice to finally have a decent day here - lets hope the rares start flowing now...

Monday, 10 October 2016

The Wait Is Over

Do you remember my jaunt to Slovenia with Nikon back in July? Well I am delighted to finally be able to post the results of this once in a lifetime experience, I hope you enjoy...

It was an absolutely incredible thing to do, and was much more than just making an advert about binoculars, there was so much focus on my personal journey as a birder and what makes me tick. A real privilege to take part in. Thank you so much Nikon and to all the crew out in Slovenia. It's an incredible country and I cannot wait to go back.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Ring Ouzels

When a load of Ring Ouzels come into the UK, you can usually count on the 'Avian Black Hole' to produce a few for us, and sure enough yesterday afternoon two or three were seen in the Underhooken at Beer Head. This morning the clear skies, the prospect of some Ouzel action and the possibility of some good vis mig saw me at Beer Head just after dawn... 

Two hours up here produced;

2+ Ring Ouzel (probably 4+)
6 Blackbird
6 Song Thrush 
2 Redwing
2 Wheatear
2 Stonechat
9 Skylark
60+ Meadow Pipit
10 alba Wagtail
1 Grey Wagtail 
8 Blackcap
20+ Chiffchaff
1 Goldcrest 
40+ Linnet
20 Goldfinch
2 Siskin

So as can be seen from the finch counts, visible migration was really disappointing considering the conditions. In fact the top of the headland where we usually find our birds was really quiet too (except for Mipits), all the action was on the scrub covered slope down to the Underhooken. All but two of the 20+ Chiffs were here, I was so expecting a Yellow-browed to filter through with them but it just didn't happen.  Of course this was also where the Ring Ouzels were, and these two I saw pretty well...

I'm fairly certain this is a first-winter female (along with a male Blackbird) due to no hint at all of a  pale breast crescent.

Not a great photo, but the clean white breast crescent makes this is a male. It had quite a dirty looking bill with little yellow so I'm pretty sure it was also a first-winter bird.

I had so many more glimpses of Ring Ouzels, and heard quite a bit of calling too, my feeling is there were 4-5 birds down there but I just couldn't prove more than the above two. At one stage I had a bird calling way off to the right where I didn't see any of my two go, but I only had the female in view at the time.

A quick look at Seaton Hole afterwards showed another ten Chiffchaffs, but lots of walking around the patch this afternoon has still failed to give me a Yellow-browed. And there were what 10+ on Portland today!? So I have to say I'm feeling a bit like how this Wheatear looked on Beer Head early this morning...

Oh well, must keep at it...

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Tough Luck

I like to think I am an upbeat and positive chap but I've spent more time than ever out on patch this autumn, walked further than ever, with better optics, yet have seen/found less rare or scarce birds than any previous autumn! As a result I'm starting to feel a bit like this...

I am trying my hardest to work though it, heading out the door at dawn every morning to go birding, and I know all birders go through lean times - this though is without doubt my worst.  Usually it's quite a simple formula, the more time spent in the field the more you see and the more times you 'get lucky'. Sadly this is far from the truth for me at the moment.

Let's take Yellow-browed Warblers for example. I have always had good fortune when it comes to finding striped phylloscs on patch, I've found nine Yellow-broweds here, along with the only patch records of Pallas's and Hume's - but I cannot for the life of me find one this year!  They are everywhere else, and I have seen so so many Chiffchaffs and tit flocks. But not one stripe. Thankfully there's still plenty of time for this to change.

As for Great White Egrets, given that there has been an irruption (as apposed to an influx) recently, I have been expecting to bump into one or two at some point during last week. My birding week finished at 2pm on Friday as I was working at 3pm, and I had checked the valley probably 10-15 times during the week. Just after 5pm Friday 'Twilight Tim' wanders down to Black Hole and low and behold there's a Great White Egret flying around!

I really could go on (like how I've been at Black Hole Marsh 3-4 dawns per week all September hoping for a Crake or yank wader - or failing on Ortolan and Wryneck finding all Sept) but I wont. So let me talk about what I have managed to see.

Well yesterday, as well as 26 Chiffchaffs spread out everywhere, 15 mins in the Tower Hide early afternoon showed my first Med Gull (an ad) for over a month, a first-winter Common Gull, a female Pintail, the lingering Grey Plover and three Ringed Plover.  

Today, four Redwing were the best Lower Bruckland Ponds had to offer, and Black Hole Marsh this afternoon showed a late Little Stint and two Pintail.  The Little Stint was interesting as late autumn birds aren't that regular here. I am used to seeing fresh juvs in Aug/Sept, but this bird was well into winter plumage so really pale looking. Overall size and shape, the pattern of the black on the lower scapulars and coverts, split supercillia and lack of webbing between the toes were all the features noted to confirm ID - not that any of those features (except for overall shape) are visible in this pic...

Don't worry though folks - I'll be out looking in the morning and let's just hope my next blog post is titled 'A Change In Fortune'...