Monday, 22 May 2017


With a lack of bird (and baby) news to blog about, I may as well catch up with some insect sightings from the past few days.

Today's warmth encouraged my first two Scarce Chasers of the year to emerge at Lower Bruckland Ponds this afternoon...

The above two photos are of the same insect. Personally I think Scarce Chaser is one of the few Odonata species that look best when they are immature - they are just so orange!  Didn't see any other larger insects at Lower Brucklands, just heaps of damselflies. 

A few visits to Axe Cliff lately have shown a couple of Silver Y and Painted Ladies, one Clouded Yellow and several Wall Browns...

Hopefully I will see a few more birds before spring is out. Unless it is already out...

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Iceland Gull

I think gull flocks get over looked when it gets to May, everyone seems too preoccupied with spring migrants and over shooting rarities.  But if you go back through the county records mid May often brings a little pulse of white-winged gull records to the south west. There was a Glaucous Gull at Slapton at the beginning of the month and I was really hoping for one of these, but I'm certainly not complaining at seeing my fourth Iceland Gull of the year at 9am this morning...

Ian Mc found this bird at about 08:30. I didn't rush out for it but on the way to walking the dog I thought I'd drop by Coronation Corner in case it was still about. I'm glad I did.

Yesterday was a very wet day. I only had a few spare hours in the morning, and I spent most of them walking up and down Seaton Beach with wading birds in mind. The only waders I saw though were a flock of 30+ mostly Ringed Plovers that flew in off and quickly vanished in the gloom. When I later looked along the Estuary gladly they were there, 26 Ringed Plover and ten Dunlin.  The biggest group of Ringed Plover that I've seen here so far this year, just a pity there wasn't a Turnstone or two tagging along...

Monday, 15 May 2017

Sanderling and a Sooty Slips Through

Despite the clear skies and completely calm conditions at dusk yesterday, this morning I woke up to heavy rain and a pretty hefty southerly wind. It had to be worth a sea watch! 

The conditions were really tough, it was really hard to find shelter from the wind and spells of heavy rain often hampered visibility. But I stuck it out and 06:20 - 07:40 from Spot On Kiosk produced (all west);

6 Common Scoter
2 Great Northern Diver (1 sp 1 wp)
3 Manx Shearwater
1 Shearwater sp. (annoyingly I know it was a Sooty, just didn't get enough on it)
31 Sanderling
7 Kittiwake

It was the Sanderling that were most impressive. Flocks of three and 22 flew in off and then flew low west along the beach, and a flock of six did the same but landed in between (photos below). When the flock of 22 went by the six flew up and joined them, making a single flock of 28 birds. This is easily the biggest single flock of Sanderling I've ever seen here.  There were a further three Sanderling shortly after on the Estuary, along with two Ringed Plover, a Dunlin and eight Whimbrel.  I think I'm right in saying that the peak spring Sanderling passage is usually a bit later than the main Dunlin migration, and today's observations would certainly fit that...

I love seeing waders downed on the beach during spring rain - so so thrilling! Resting on the beach in front of you one minute, then off on their way to their breeding grounds the next...

Sunday, 14 May 2017

More Poms and Pretty Polly

Yesterday I just happened to time my only hour out birding with the arrival of some heavier cloud late afternoon, so after a quick look along the Estuary I thought the sea would be worth a look.

No more than three minutes into my watch (17:50) the delightful shapes of two Pomarine Skuas flew into view. They were fairly high, always remaining above the horizon, and were fairly distant (well standard Seaton skua range to be honest!) but I could see the usual plumage features easily enough, and both were boasting very impressive spoons.  They flew south west so it was nice to be able alert people to the west that they were on their way, sadly though no one picked them up until they flew north over Dawlish Warren and up the Exe Estuary at 19:25. There was a heavy rain shower between the two sightings so maybe they spent this time settled on the sea somewhere?

These were my 11th and 12th Pom Skuas of the spring, which is double my previous highest Seaton spring total (six in 2012, which were all in one watch on 26th April).  I do hope there are more to come though as it's impossible to get enough of this fantastic species.

A couple of posts ago I mentioned a Ring-necked Parakeet that was seen several times in Axmouth last Tuesday, but sadly missed by all the local birders. Well the 'grip factor' was turned up several notches this morning when these photos dropped into my inbox..

These were taken last Tuesday by an Axmouth resident who'd like to remain nameless. Thanks so much for letting me share these super photos, it's certainly a sight I would loved to have seen. Hopefully either it will reappear or another will drop in in the not too distant future.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Pom Porn

Where we are here in Seaton, deep in the bowels of a bay, in a bay, in a bay, sea watching spectacles really are few and far between. But today, one of the highlights of my 17ish years birding here occurred...

I was going to go sea watching this morning, and my alarm sounded at 05:30. But a brief look out the window (clear skies and no wind) and the prospect of starting work a few hours later encouraged me to laze in a bed a bit longer... Then my phone started bleeping, it was Gav, and a few texts later he let me know he'd had a skua distantly off Burton Bradstock. With skuas about that's more than enough to get me out of bed (as we know from yesterdays blog, deja vu!).

I was surprised to see a shape already sea watching at the Spot On when I arrived at about 06:20, it was Charmouth birder Richard.  He told me what he'd seen, and finished with "a flock of about nine birds flew in distantly, I thought they were Whimbrel but then they landed on the sea"... 

It took me about two or three minutes to pick up these settled birds among the waves, and when I did was completely gobsmacked to see they were Pom Skuas!  I quickly fired some texts out, but about a minute later the most incredible thing happened. They took off and flew right at us. They kept coming, and coming, and coming... and all of a sudden they were quite literally right above our heads!!!!!  Oh my word. A flock of nine spring Pomarine Skuas (most fully spooned) right there.  This is Seaton not the Outer Hebs - this DOES NOT happen here.  WOOOOOOOOOW!

I thought they were then going to fly inland, but they then turned and quickly flew out south east.  Which meant it was time to alert watchers (including Gav) to the east of us. This sight needed sharing, and share it we did as you will read below. But before that, why not enjoy this little video that I managed to record...

And a few pics...

Within the flock there appeared to be an intermediate phased bird (not completely dark, bur far darker than the other eight), and I reckon seven had full spoons, with two showing only 'stumps'.  And now for the sharing...

I'm so pleased both James Mc at Lyme Regis and Gav at Burton Bradstock saw these birds, then Portland, and then amazingly Hampshire several hours later. I thought I'd quickly throw a map together showing where they were seen and the times they were seen there. The final sighting of the flock (at Hill Head in the Solent) was of eight birds and a single shortly after. The single bird was seen further east but the eight vanished.  For a clearer view of the map click on it to enlarge...

Tracking a flock of birds like this reminds me how incredible bird migration is. I wonder how long before they land on Arctic tundra, and what route they will take north?

It was of course also great to share this with Richard - a lifer for him. And what a way to life tick Pom Skua!! Am so glad he was here as so often I'm sea watching alone at the Spot On. It was a shame that Dan J from Sidmouth missed them (he dropped in here on his way to work) but it was great to finally meet him - a person I've had numerous communications with but never actually bumped into.

So is that enough about Pom Skuas? Well no I don't think so, but I best mention what else I saw during this one hour sea watch; 

11 Common Scoter
1 Manx Shearwater
12 Sanderling (flew east then west along the beach)
1 Med Gull (first-summer)
1 Common Gull

An unusual shot of the Med Gull  - showing a yellow colour-ring too!

I went to work a very happy boy this morning...

Thursday, 11 May 2017

That's More Like It!

As the date gets nearer to the 13th (mini-Waite due date!) I am trying to get as much sleep as possible, so this morning with no wind to tempt me out I thought I'd sleep in. So pleased I didn't in the end though!

Dan J from Sidmouth texted me at about 06:20 to say he'd just had two distant Skua sp. east. Knowing there were at least two skuas in the bay was more than enough to get me up! 06:50 - 07:50 from the Spot On Kiosk produced (flew east unless stated);

11 Common Scoter 
2 Great Northern Diver (see below!)
7 Manx Shearwater
2 Balearic Shearwater (east with 4 Kitts at 07:38)
1 Pomarine Skua (GET IN!!!!)
4 Kittiwake

Three major talking points in the above list. And of course I'll start with the Pom. After five Arctic and two Great Skuas this spring, what a joy to finally see a Pom. Always a rare bird here. It was a stonking fully spooned pale-phased adult, and flew east at 07:10. I've had them closer but it was close enough to see all plumage details and that impressive spoon!  It was nice to watch it chase a Manxie around for half a minute or so too, always amazes me how different a skuas casual migrating flight action is compared with their flight action when in full chase mode, and how quickly they switch modes.

The Balearic Shearwaters were a real surprise, a proper rare spring bird on the patch, and I'd say Devon. It's usually mid summer onward when they appear - but sometimes we don't get many at all in the whole year.  However by a long long way the smartest bird(s) of the watch were the two Great Northern Divers. OH MY WORD.  Annually we see GND's flying west past here in spring, often they are in summer plumage but usually are distant. Not only were today's two both in full summer plumage, but they were also both settled on the water not that far out. Each time I scanned over them I couldn't help myself from stopping and having another gawp - incredible patterns and colours on these amazing plumaged birds. I've no pics I'm afraid as the sea was too lumpy, but flipping heck I won't forget these two beasts for a while. Absolutely stunning birds. And they stayed there for the whole hour.

After the sea watch a quick tour of the valley sites showed a singing Willow Warbler on the Borrow Pit (my first on patch this month!) and on Black Hole Marsh our fourth Avocet of the spring. It was rather oddly upended like a feeding duck so this is the only photo you are getting...

I promise that is an Avocet!

Before today I've done well missing patch year ticks recently. Last night Sidmouth Clive had a Cuckoo fly towards Seaton Marshes from Black Hole Marsh, but there was no further sign of it. And on Tuesday a Ring-necked Parakeet was seen by three different people in three different places in Axmouth during the course of the day. Ok I know that's a bit plastic but for me it would be not only a year tick, but a full fat patch tick too! That's presuming it didn't have any dodgy rings or any other anomalies.

It's been so nice to see the local breeding birds doing so well in this pleasant weather. I am seeing lots of fledglings about, and many adult birds being busy...

Song Thrush Black Hole Marsh

Sedge Warbler Black Hole Marsh

And I keep seeing Hares up Axe Cliff, with two up there on Tuesday morning...

A Hare up close for a change!

And I think that's about it for this post. Well except for the breaking news from the bookmakers that the odds have been slashed for baby Waite being named Pomarine...

Monday, 8 May 2017

Year Ticks Hard To Find

May hasn't started well for my Patchwork Challenge year list. With the exception of Swift, year ticks have not been coming my way at all. And I have been looking in every corner of my patch I can assure you...

Following on from the my evening sea watch on Friday, a text from Gav shortly after 6am on Saturday got me down the sea front again in record time - he'd had a staggering twelve Pom Skuas heading our way from his vantage point in West Dorset (despite the north east wind!).  I waited and waited, but no Skuas came through our part of Lyme Bay during the couple of hours I was watching. It later transpired this epic flock of Poms flew east through Chesil and past Portland Bill mid morning so they must have U-turned somewhere. All I did see was;

3 Great Northern Diver
2 Common Scoter
1 Whimbrel
1 Med Gull (a gorgeous second-summer flew in off)

Sunday was mostly another day of work, but I did have a singing male Lesser Whitethroat just north of Coronation Corner mid morning. This was my first decent migrant of the year in a hedge line that in previous years has produced numerous 'scarce' spring migrants - the clear weather that has dominated this spring has not been good for grounding migrants in the valley at all.

Today I had a bit more time out. It was clear that there has been a mass emergence of damselflies, most Large Reds and Common Blue, so I spent a good deal of the mid afternoon looking up hoping for a Hobby or two. I saw plenty of Sparrowhawks (including a pair in full display) and Kestrels, plus a Peregrine, but not the species of falcon I was hoping for.  

Later on tonight it was nice to come across eight Wheatear and a female Whinchat on Bridge Marsh, with a decent sized flock of Swallows, Sand Martins and Swifts flying above them. Still no Hobby though. On the Estuary were singles of Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Lapwing and five Whimbrel. And that's where my day ended...

Friday, 5 May 2017

Swifts Arrive Enmasse

Work has been getting in the way this week, hence why I've not done a post since Tuesday. Don't worry it's not because I'm becoming lazy, or because I've been changing nappies (one week to go!).

I'll start this post with today, and today has been a Swift day. Even whilst at work it's been great watching flock of Swifts flying east over Seaton, proper real migration in action and I absolutely love it.  These weren't my first Swifts of the year though as I had three over Axe Cliff yesterday morning, and a couple more over Seaton later in the day.

With the wind nudging a little more southerly, and with a few Pom Skuas being seen off the south coast today, I went down the beach tonight and had a sea watch 18:45 - 19:50 and noted;

1 Great Northern Diver (west)
47 Manx Shearwater 
1 Arctic Skua (a gorgeous and delicate pale-phased adult close east at 18:55)
12 Whimbrel
12 Ringed Plover (in off)

There were also numerous flocks of Swallows and House Martins arriving in off, along with several more Swifts.

A quick whizz along the Estuary showed two Bar-tailed Godwits (all five were still with us up until yesterday), plenty of Whimbrel and a first-summer Grey Plover.  This week there have been more small gulls about, on Wednesday evening I counted 37 Common Gulls (two adults the rest first-summers).  

The most frustrated I've felt this week was Wednesday morning. I had work at 9am, got up early, walked the dog, but before returning home spent a few minutes looking over the sea. In that time a tight flock of seven Sanderling flew east along the beach, three Whimbrel flew west, eight Sandwich Terns flew into the bay and began fishing and a Wheatear and a flock of Swallows flew in off. Oh how I wish I had arrived here earlier, or had more time to stay. There was clearly lots of passage going on.

And to finish the post, and to ensure it's not a photo-less one, I was pleased to see three Hare at Axe Cliff on Thursday, a leveret and these two adults...

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

May Day

May kicked off with much calmer weather than April ended, but there were still some birds to be found. Am sure I would have turned more up yesterday if I had more time, it felt quite rare out there.

A twenty minute walk along the beach mid morning showed a flock of ten Sandwich Terns west and a mixed flock of 24 Dunlin and Ringed Plover high east. There didn't seem to be much happening further out but I reckon a longer watch would have revealed something, it felt good for a scarce Tern.

I didn't get out again until the evening. A look along the Estuary showed the five Bar-tailed Godwits and at least 16 Whimbrel were still with us. And Black Hole Marsh at dusk surprised me with a Little Ringed Plover, quite a late date for a new spring bird...

The Marsh Harrier was still present on Colyford Marsh as well, a distinctive bird with a broken outer primary on its right wing. I'm not sure if it is still present today, as shock horror I've not been out birding at all this morning!

Let's hope this May is a good one for spring overshoots. I get the impression there are still plenty of common spring migrants to arrive too, I have still not seen a Swift yet!

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Best Day of the Spring

Wow what a day. The best birding day of the month turned out to be the last day of the month, and that was simply because we had some different weather. A nice south easterly wind has been blowing all day (since yesterday in fact) and we've had lots of rain. And this meant birds birds birds!

Although south easterlies aren't our best wind direction for sea watching (that's south westerlies) I just had to give the sea a look - quite a long look in the end! I started the day with a four hour sea watch and then had two twenty minute glances during the afternoon, all from the Spot On Kiosk. These are the exact times, and this is what I saw (east unless stated);

05:50-09:50, 13:10-13:30, 15:10-15:30;

2 Dark-bellied Brent Goose 
110 Common Scoter (75e 35w)
5 Great Northern Diver (all singles and all west)
70+ Gannet
6 Manx Shearwater (two singles and a four)
4 Arctic Skua (ad pale-phased west at 08:40, ad pale-phased and near-ad pale-phased close east together at 09:02 and ad dark-phased west at 09:40)
3 Mediterranean Gull (all first-years)
6 Common Gull
40 Black-headed Gull (most flew in)
21 Sandwich Tern
1 Arctic Tern (so close that I think it came out of the Estuary then flew east at 08:20)
4 Dunlin (in)
3 Sanderling (one east with a flock of ten Whimbrel and later two flew in sat on beach briefly then headed off west)
72 Whimbrel (biggest single flock being 38 birds)
2 Guillemot
14 Razorbill
8 auk sp.
1 Yellow Wagtail (flew east along beach calling).

I'm pleased to say there's four year ticks in that list; Arctic Skua and Tern, Manxie and Sanderling. I had to wait for the skuas, they only arrived once the cloud came over and just prior/during the first rain showers of the day. Although the numbers always make a sea watch for me (Whimbrel and Scoter today), and of course the skuas which are always notable birds here, my star bird of the watch was the Arctic Tern. Our 'commic's' are usually distant, but this thing virtually flew over my head! Great to be able to see all the diagnostic features, but best of all that distinctive bouncy flight and super long tail streamers. Now if I was to be a bit whingy a Black Tern would have been nice, but I'm not today - it's just been such a fab fab day!

Whimbrel flying east

Arctic Skua - just!

One of the closest Gannets of the day

With many other birders watching the coast today, there were a couple of interesting re-sightings of my birds. My four Manx Shearwaters in the afternoon flew past Sidmouth half an hour earlier (Dan), and it took my dark-phased Arctic Skua twenty minutes to fly from here to Budleigh (B Heasman) and then another forty minutes before it flew west past Teignmouth (L Allnat). Always find this kind of stuff fascinating, thanks for getting in touch folks.

Considering the amount of wading birds passing over the sea, I knew the river valley would be worth keeping an eye on today. By the end of the day on the Estuary there were; 

10 Ringed Plover
12 Dunlin
5 Bar-tailed Godwit (three sum plum males)
3 Black-tailed Godwit
36 Whimbrel (giving me a day total of well over a hundred - very notable count for the Axe)
1 Greenshank

From left to right; three Barwits, a Whimbrel and a Blackwit
Is there a finer wader? Summer plumaged male Bar-tailed Godwit
And again
And again! x2
Four of the five Barwits from today

And this wasn't it.  Wandering towards the Colyford Marsh hide early afternoon I noticed all the birds that were clearly on the main scrape on Colyford Marsh lift off and behave as though they'd just been spooked by something. Two minutes later I was watching my/our first Marsh Harrier of 2017. Year tick number five of the day...

Female Marsh Harrier
And again, but a little more zoomed in

I must just thank my wife, who's been amazing as always and was quite happy to let me fill my boots when it came to birding - she knows how much I've been longing for this weather. In my defence I did find time to build a bed today as well!

Before I sign off for the night I will quickly tie up yesterday's birding news - don't worry it won't be long as I only had about an hour out. Saying that it was a pretty good hour though! First up was an Avocet that flew in calling on the Estuary just as the tide was coming in...

Avocet and Shelduck

Then there was a new in Lesser Whitethroat singing alongside the tram line opposite Coronation Corner. And finally my forty minute wander along the beach with the dog which produced a Great Skua east and a Mute Swan and 22 Pale-bellied Brent Geese west...

Pale-bellied Brent Geese, later seen off Dawlish Warren

That's it now. Night all and roll on tomorrow...

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Slow Going

I don't think it is just here that spring seems to have stopped for the time being. Although I've not had much time out this week (an hour or so in the field both first thing in the morning and last thing at night) it's clear that it's really quite quiet.  In fact I hadn't had a year tick at all this week (so unusual for the last week in April) until just before 7pm tonight...

Whenever I've been around in the evenings over the past few weeks I've been checking the little pre-roost gathering of up to twenty Pied Wagtails that can usually be found either on Bridge or Colyford Marsh. A White Wagtail would have been nice enough (still not seen one this year) but a pair of Yellow Wagtails on Colyford Marsh this evening were way more exciting!  Hard to beat a spring male Yellow Wag if you ask me - I just love 'em! And a year tick too :-)

Otherwise today has been poor, as was yesterday. Tuesday was a little better though with the increased water level on Black Hole Marsh at dawn offering 16 Dunlin, six Ringed Plover (both notable increases), a Greenshank and a Common Gull, plus five Cattle Egret over north and seven Whimbrel on the Estuary (been this many pretty much all week).  Walking back from the Island Hide I briefly caught sight of a large yellow bunting and crossed everything that it was going to turn out to be a Cirl Bunting...

...It was a Yellowhammer. Still really notable though, I can't recall seeing many/any Yellowhammers on the deck in the river valley. I have had a few fly over, but not perched up in a bush which is promising, it would be great if they started nesting here. It was nice to see a Sedge Warbler quite well too for a change...

At both ends of Tuesday there were at least 200 hirundines feeding low in the valley, by far my biggest gathering this year and no doubt congregating low due to the bitterly cold north wind. They were mostly Sand Martins and Swallows with the odd House Martin mixed in.  It was fascinating watching them during the evening, because when a huge dark cloud came over and the light level dropped instantly, they all flew up and started behaving like a murmuration of Starlings...

I have been keeping an eye on the sea since my Great Skua, but it's been as quiet as the land. I had four Sandwich Terns fishing offshore on Tuesday, a Ringed Plover flew east on Wednesday and today the lingering Common Scoter remains...

I'm actually well impressed with the above photo, as the Scoter is at the very least half a mile out!  

Having moaned in my last post about the lack of sea watching weather this spring, I am literally salivating at the forecast for Saturday evening/Sunday.  I've asked Jess to keep our imminent arrival in there til Monday at least...

Monday, 24 April 2017

Great Surprise Skua

A key component of a good Axe year list is plenty of good sea watching. And for good sea watching you need the right weather... this is something we've not had at all so far this spring!  In fact all year the sea has been poor, dire in the winter months for divers, grebes and ducks, and dire this spring for anything because the weather has been so far from right (we need Atlantic storms - there's been none!). It's 24th April and I haven't even seen a Manx Shearwater yet, in previous years by now flocks are streaming by during the evening.

Amazingly I have managed to see a skua though! On Saturday afternoon I noticed that although the sea was flat calm, there seemed to be quite a few Gannets and gulls feeding out there - which could only mean there must be some food.  So later that evening I went back expecting to see a few Manxies, but instead bagged a jammy Great Skua! My first skua of the year :-)

It flew west, and was the closest bird of them all, but it was unusually high up. The further west it flew the higher it went, and I lost it as it seemed to fly west over Beer Head.  It was so weird watching a skua off here in blue skies with no wind, but I have seen a few Arctic Skuas over the years behaving similarly in similar weather conditions. I once saw an adult dark phased Arctic fly straight in from miles out, gain height by soaring up a bit like a raptor, then fly in off over Seaton and away inland.  

Other than this Bonxie, I've not seen too much since my last blog post, although haven't had that much time out really.  Many places have seen some wader passage over the past few days, but all I've noticed here is an increase in Whimbrel numbers...

Friday, 21 April 2017

Gotcha Gropper

It was a lovely still and cloudy dawn this morning, which got me out the door nice and early again. A quick look around Black Hole and Seaton Marshes was disappointing, but Axe Cliff beckoned as the conditions were just too good.

It was however quiet for new migrants, unlike Portland today which seems to be having another good day. My hour walk revealed just three new migrant passerines in the bushes; a Willow Warbler, a new Whitethroat (saw four this morning) and this invisible reeler...

Yes I did it - I got my Gropper! You will probably need to turn up the sound and listen carefully to the above YouTube clip, but that's all I can offer you I'm afraid as per usual for a spring migrant Grasshopper Warbler it didn't show. I am so happy to get one of these on my Patchwork Challenge year list, because if you miss out on Gropper in the spring, you have probably missed them for the year - autumn ones are hard to catch up with here.

It was nice to get some better views of the very vocal but highly elusive Lesser Whitethroat on today's visit, although a completely clear view was only just about manageable...

And here's one of the Common Whitethroats, this particular individual has been in since Wednesday...

Whilst walking through a field of Rapeseed it was a bit odd to suddenly hear some Brent Geese calling, but I couldn't see a thing. I did eventually get to see them when I arrived at the first decent viewpoint over the sea, a nice flock of eight Pale-bellied Brent Geese...

They soon swam in towards the rocks just east of the river mouth, and began feeding here...

All in all a rather pleasant morning out with a nice bit of variety. Oh I do love spring.