Tuesday, 15 August 2017

First Wigeon

Enjoyed a bird-filled morning down Black Hole Marsh this morning, with the bonus of some lovely weather. And there was an Axe first.... three Mr Waite's on the platform at once...

My totals for the visit were;

2 Wigeon (first of the autumn - bang on cue)
3 Teal
14+ Ringed Plover (maybe 19 as had five high west over Colyford Common)
70 Dunlin
68 Black-tailed Godwit
3 Whimbrel
6 Greenshank (a good Axe count, and included my first juvs of the year)
1 Yellow Wagtail
5 Willow Warbler 

There's just so many wading birds on Black Hole Marsh at the moment, with many of them showing really close to the Island Hide. A photographers dream...


The Wigeon weren't quite so cooperative though...

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Glorious Twelfth

I have been meaning to post this video up here for a while now, but today being the 'Glorious Twelfth' (the first day of the Red Grouse shooting season) has reminded me to do so.

I have seen this several times on social media, but realised that if you're not social media savvy (which I think many of my readers aren't) you wouldn't know anything about it at all. Typically it received zero coverage (at least that I saw) on TV, radio and the newspapers.

In June 2013 on a shooting estate in Scotland, a camera placed by the RSPB to monitor a Hen Harrier nest filmed this. It's upsetting but not overly graphic...

As you can see this video shows someone with a very large gun (and undoubtedly a very small *****) flush a female Hen Harrier from its nest, before shooting it then collecting its life-less body and the inevitable scattering of feathers. Good solid evidence.... you'd think!

This case was subject to a prolonged Police investigation, and nine separate court hearings. But a matter of weeks before the trial was due to take place earlier this year, the Crown Office informed all parties the case was to be dropped and the prosecution to be abandoned.

Obviously the RSPB went completely mental, but in reality there was nothing they could do. And the pathetic reason given was basically "because the shooter didn't know he was being filmed".  The Crown Office alleged the camera had been deliberately placed there on private land to film exactly this, but actually RSPB insists it was simply there to monitor the nest (how many young fledge, how many feeding visits by the adults, etc).  

But does it really matter why the camera was there!? You can't get more solid evidence of illegal raptor persecution than this! And if this is apparently not good enough, then oh dear we have serious problems.

It just shows how hard us conservationists need to work to save our birds. Especially our birds of prey. They really are in serious trouble.

You can find more details about this sorry tale here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/rspb-news/news/440987-court-proceedings-dropped

Normal Axe Birding service will be resumed from the next blog post...

Monday, 7 August 2017

Quick Update and Icelandic Blackwits

Only time for a short update. The last few and the next few days have been and will be a bit hectic for a variety of reasons. I have managed a bit of time out though which I'll summarise here...

A morning wander around Black Hole Marsh last Friday showed the bushes were the busiest they've been so far this autumn. The highlight was a cracking juv Lesser Whitethroat along the track to the Tower Hide, but the ten Willow Warblers were just as exciting to see...

Autumn Willow Warbler - hope I get to ring some soon!

The marsh itself revealed a Greenshank, c18 Dunlin and two Cattle Egrets.

Saturday gave me less than above, although three Green Sands showed well.  In the afternoon I saw my first settled Yellow Wagtail of the autumn (but my third of the season) on Seaton Marshes.

Green Sandpiper

And that's about all the bird news from me, although there has been a few other bits and bobs about. The six Goosander are still around, as are at least two Cattle Egret. And this afternoon Dad had a juv Little Ringed Plover on Black Hole which was new in.

Lastly I have been showing my (annual) love for juvenile Black-tailed Godwits on Twitter over the past few days. I saw my first on Wednesday 2nd which showed really well in front of Island Hide...

Juvenile Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit

This dull photo doesn't really do it justice. They are the most beautiful colour, with soft yet crisp plumage and amazing patterning on their scapulars and tertials.   Despite the gloomy weather, a nearby adult meant I was able to take a nice adult vs juv comparison shot...

Moulting adult Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit (left), juvenile Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit (right).

There are so many differences visible and I would happily go through them all...but that would be boring so I won't. All I will say is just look at how different they appear, the adult is a tatty worn looking bird, whereas the juvenile is so so fresh - you can just tell all those feathers are new.  Such smart birds.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Curlew Sandpiper

It wasn't just teeming with rain at Black Hole Marsh this morning -  it was teeming with wading birds too!

I've lost count at the number of times I've praised rain on this blog, but it really does makes all the difference. There was a perfect example of this this morning, at 06:15 there were 35 Dunlin on Black Hole Marsh, five hours later there were at least double that! And they were feeding all over the place, not just in one or two tight flocks - looked amazing!

My reason for the second visit was because Mr White spied our first Curlew Sandpiper of the year drop in at around 8am. We often don't see them here til September when the juveniles arrive, although saying that the epic flock of 15 in 2013 arrived in August (right at the end of it though). Tim also reported four Turnstone and a Sanderling - the latter our first of the autumn.

Being early August I was expecting to see a nice red Curlew Sandpiper, but it was surprisingly pale with only slight remnants of summer plumage...

A Greenshank, two Cattle Egrets and six redhead Goosander (first seen yesterday morning by Ian Mc) were also on Black Hole Marsh at 06:15.

It's also worth mentioning that today is the one year anniversary of the Least Sandpiper! Well not for me, that's tomorrow, but Tim Wright first found it on the 2nd. I wonder what this year's autumn Black Hole rarity/ies will be...

Monday, 31 July 2017

Marsh Harrier and Yellow Wag

Both Cattle Egrets are still here today. This morning they were probably no more than about 20 feet from the Tower Hide, but would have been completely invisible from there. I was watching from Axmouth and they were tucked right under the river bank with seven Little Egrets.

Enjoyed a lovely hour out late this afternoon down Black Hole Marsh with Harry, in gorgeous weather.  Managed to bag two autumn firsts during the wander, a Marsh Harrier and a Yellow Wagtail.  A fidgety Harry ensured I left the Tower Hide bang on cue to see all the loafing gulls flush up and a juv Marsh Harrier float around in the air above. I didn't see it close up and had to keep moving, but still it was good to see (our second of the year)...

The Yellow Wagtail was far less exciting. It flew over east calling.

The wader situation looked much the same on Black Hole itself, just a few more Dunlin (36+) and now nine Ringed Plover. Numbers will probably keep rising now as we move into August - the peak month for autumn wader passage on the Axe.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Cattle Egrets

It was always matter of 'when' and not 'if' we will see some Cattle Egrets on the Axe this autumn, but nevertheless two on Black Hole Marsh this morning were a welcome addition to the site fauna. It was refreshing to finally see something a bit different here to be honest as everything so far has been rather run of the mill.

At first they were sat on posts in the middle of the Marsh, but then flew to the posts and trees in the corner near the Tower Hide where most the Little Egrets and Black-headed Gulls congregate in the early mornings...

As you may be able to tell from the lower shot of my two shoddy attempts, they are juvenile birds. I would dearly love to know where they were born, but surely it has to be either Somerset, Devon or Dorset?  Phil was also in the Tower Hide and managed a much better pic of one of them, take a look at his twitter (@philabbott60). They flew off north not long after we took these pics, but they were back about an hour later and Tim Wright has seen them again late this afternoon, so they've clearly been around all day.

Also on the marsh at around 07:00;

5 Ringed Plover
27 Dunlin (though Phil had 29)
8+ Common Sandpiper
20+ Black-tailed Godwit
3 Whimbrel 

In the bushes a few more juv Willow Warblers were noticeable, and there seemed to be more Sedge and Reed Warbler activity than of late.  It was nice being underneath a large feeding flock of mostly House and Sand Martins whilst I was there, 200 birds present at least.

I found out via Twitter this afternoon that yesterday's Turnstone is still with us as well, lingering at the lower end of the Estuary by the Tram Sheds.

So Cattle Egret overtakes Yellow-legged Gull as my best find whilst holding the baby. I wonder what will be top of that list by the end of the autumn?

Saturday, 29 July 2017

More Yellow-legged Gulls and More Waders

Had a really enjoyable hour and a bit in the Tower Hide with Phil and Clive this morning, oh and Harry of course who as usual slept through all the chit chat and excitement. There were lots of birds about on the rising tide, including a couple of local scarcities which was nice.  

So that most of you don't switch of now I'll start with the wading birds and end with the gulls. Even if I do say so myself though, you would be a fool not to look at today's Yellow-legged Gull helpings as they are a bit good.  But for now the non-gulls; 

3 Teal
2 Ringed Plover
12 Dunlin
2 Whimbrel
20 Black-tailed Godwit
5 Common Sandpiper
1 Turnstone

Turnstone with Dunlin and two Redshank

Two adult Ringed Plover

At least one of the two juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls on show was an additional bird to yesterday's four - the more distant of today's two had more pale notching on its tertial tips than the average Yellow-legged and any of yesterday's. Still within variation though and all other features ticked the right boxes...

Bird one. Classic pale ground colour to underparts, large size and hefty bill, square head shape, long pale legs, dark centered scapular and coverts and mostly black tertials just with some pale notching on tips of the upper two.

Bird one. A lovely thick set bird and looked quite long necked at times.

Bird one in flight. Pale head contrasting with darker breast streaks, pale inner primary window also visible but no tail detail on this shot sadly.

And then there was bird two, which may or may not have been one of last night's four. It was unquestionably though an absolute stunner and was almost always the closest gull to the Tower Hide...

Bird two. An even paler bird and another chunk.

Bird two. Tertials much better on this bird, all black with narrow white edging. Note the brown cast to the mantle and scapular feathers, another trait of juvenile Yellow-legged.

Bird two. This shot shows really well the classic Yellow-legged Gull (irrelevant of age) head and bill shape. This bird had a really striking dark eye mask, almost hiding the eye.

Bird two. A swimming shot - looking suitably long winged and long billed.

Bird two. Can just about see the tail here, which is really white with a neat black tail band. This bird has a little bit of extra black on at least one of the tail feathers just above the tail band.

Bird two. As with most juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls at this time of year, this bird is already starting to moult in to first-winter plumage. There are several second generation feathers coming through here, but the most obvious two are smack bang in the middle. They are more rounded feathers, not pointed, worn and brown like the juvenile ones, but white, grey and black. You can see why they are called 'anchor-shaped'.

Bird two. To complete the photos a flight shot, which was mostly ruined by the Herring Gull in the foreground! Still the pale ground colour and typical juv YLG wing pattern can be seen well.

Ok no more gull pics...well not today anyway!  

Oh I almost forgot, I've heard at least four Willow Warblers today, hooet-ing from various different places on patch. Numbers of these will rapidly build up now as autumn rolls on...

Friday, 28 July 2017

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls... Finally!

Well this year I have skillfully managed to see fledged juvenile Herring (for almost a month now!), Lesser Black-backed (three days ago) and Great Black-backed Gulls (this morning) before Yellow-legged Gull! In most recent years Yellow-legged would be second in that list, sometimes even first!

I have missed a few juv Yellow-legged Gulls here this summer (which is unusual as not many other folk look closely at gulls here) but thankfully tonight faith was restored - no doubt thanks to the wind and rain. At 18:30 there were two juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls on the Estuary, but at 20:30 there were four!  All were distant and in poor light, but gladly I managed to get record shots of them all...

Look how solidly black those tertials look even at this angle!

Two together

Asleep in the middle - again the black tertials a dead give away this isn't a Herring Gull.

I had a fifth bird that didn't show me enough features well enough to allow me to make my mind up.  Gut says it's a Lesser Black-backed, but it did look fairly big and in brief flight views seemed to look better for Yellow-legged (narrow black tail band and a faint pale window in inner primaries). You thought the last three photos were bad...

It was a darker bird and overall appearance still says LBBG to me. The legs do look quite long and bright though, hmmmm...

The wader situation has been a bit samey since my last post. I have seen up to 16 Dunlin, a peak of four Greenshank (on 21st July), 16+ Black-tailed Godwits and a couple of Whimbrel.

What I haven't seen is any patch large Shearwaters!  That is despite two Cory's being seen off here a week ago today, along with record numbers of both Cory's and Greats off Dawlish Warren and Portland Bill on the same day. One day maybe, one day...

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Black Hole Beckons

With storms and rain showers overnight, and wader-inviting water levels, I knew Black Hole Marsh needed a thorough look over this morning. So at 06:00 I whisked Harry down there and we stayed until about 07:50.  It was so worthwhile - today has proved to be the best wader day of the autumn so far.

I was amazed at how quickly the water levels had dropped, this was taken at 13:00 yesterday...

And this at 06:50 today...

This was another part of the marsh this morning - lots of lovely (and lovely plumaged) wading birds...

My totals were;

3 Teal
32 Little Egret
1 Ringed Plover (autumn first)
1 Little Ringed Plover (ad)
20 Dunlin (also had six flying over the Estuary, unsure if they joined the Black Hole flock so maybe 26 present)
3 Greenshank
53 Redshank
12 Black-tailed Godwit
7 Common Sandpiper
1 Green Sandpiper
1 Med Gull (juv)
2 Kingfisher

When the marsh is in this condition birds seem to constantly trickle in, so expect these totals to be way off by this evening, especially after a high tide. Exciting times!

The Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover stayed close to each other, this allowed for some nice comparison shots. Ringed Plover upper bird in both shots, just look at the overall difference in size (particularly bulk) and shape...

The two Greenshank that remained together, although both adults, looked completely different to one another (left bird still very much in summer plumage)... 

And I simply cannot get enough of juv Med Gulls, enjoy them before they moult...

If you ever find yourself in the Tower Hide with a camera, do make sure you keep an eye on the post just underneath the hide on the Black Hole Marsh side. This little fella can easily sneak in and out without being noticed...

In the voice of a stern tennis umpire... "More rain please!"

Monday, 17 July 2017

Finding Emerald

I enjoyed another mid afternoon wander around Lower Bruckland Ponds today looking for dragonflies and butterflies. Was really hoping to bump into the Lesser Emperor again but no luck with that, although I did have some luck as I found my first patch, and I think the first patch, Emerald Damselfly

It's a very widespread species, just not one we get here. And as I haven't seen one for a number of years I had forgotten just how beautiful they are. It's body was just like the colour (iridescence included) of a Demoiselle, with a surprising amount of blue on the side of its thorax and head, a delicately slightly pinched in abdomen and amazing tear-dropped shaped wings. Such a beautiful insect. I just wish it hadn't flown off just as my camera was focusing on it! I will certainly drop in there again this week in case it sticks around, I would love to get a pic.

It seems to be the best year for a long time for Small Red-eyed Damselflies here. I'm sure that's simply down to much fewer dabbling ducks on site, resulting in far more surface vegetation...

I also saw my first two Southern Hawkers of the year, along with two Golden-ringed Dragonflies...

There was nothing unusual among the as ever excellent numbers of butterflies, but here's another underwing shot for you, and today it's a Red Admiral...

And now to birds. Well since my last blog post I have managed to miss two patch Great White Egrets. This morning Ian Mc had one fly in off the sea and appear to land on the beach (although there was no further sign), and three days ago one appeared on BirdGuides for Seaton Marshes just after midday, but no one saw that one again either.  They can be ever so slippery for such large white birds!

Waders continue to move through slowly. On Thursday 13th I had a Greenshank, six Dunlin, one  Whimbrel and 76 Curlew (a big sudden increase) on the Estuary. Tonight there were at least three Whimbrel present along with a decent scattering of Common Sandpipers. The water levels are looking better on Black Hole Marsh again now so expect more sightings from here in the coming days and weeks.  Med Gull passage seems to have slowed down a bit on the Estuary, although they are still trickling past offshore, with four flying in from the south west on Thursday morning.

A walk around the wetlands yesterday morning didn't show much in the way of water birds, but overhead it was wonderful to watch a flock of about 50 screaming Swifts feeding. Whilst watching them I realised that within a matter of weeks they will all be gone, so I decided to watch them some more...

A Hobby zipped through south and in the bushes two Willow Warblers made their presence known by calling. It was great to hear that call again, although on the other hand it's a bit sad when you notice just how little bird song there is now, in the last couple of weeks it has really quietened down.  Proper autumn is looming...

Monday, 10 July 2017

Small Copper and Lesser Emperor Update

I think Small Copper is one of my favourite common butterflies. I prefer the upperwing but today you'll have to make do with an underwing shot...

Whilst on the insect theme, I found out today that my male Lesser Emperor of last month at Lower Bruckland Ponds wasn't the one day wonder that I thought it was.  I saw it on Monday 19th June and on Sunday 2nd July Roger Harris (@chardbirder) saw it on three occasions.  Sadly neither of us managed to photograph it though.  He's got a great blog by the way, well worth a look especially if you like spiders and other insects; http://threecountieswildlife.blogspot.co.uk/.

It won't take me long to update on my bird sightings because I've not seen that much lately, well not much new anyway. A Whimbrel was with the Curlew flock yesterday morning on the Estuary, as was the usual dull first-summer Med Gull.  Black Hole Marsh will likely go a bit quiet for a few days now as the water levels have risen...

Rain in the forecast... White-winged Black Tern anyone?

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Early Vis Mig

Taking a baby out early in the morning does have it's benefits. This was 04:45 today...

Looking north up the Axe Estuary from Axmouth Harbour

Today saw the first steady passage of Swifts and Sand Martins through the patch of the autumn, with 34 and 19 respectively flying west offshore in a 40 minute period from 6am.  I saw more Sand Martins passing through off Beer Head late morning so I do think it was a sustained movement.  Also whilst at the sea front this morning five Med Gulls flew west (3 ad, 2 juvs) among a sporadic passage of Black-headed Gulls. If I stayed longer no doubt I would have matched Dawlish Warren's total of twenty by 8am.

I saw a further three Meds on the Estuary mid afternoon, two adults and the lingering dull first-summer (which is often the southern most gull on the Estuary).  Gutted to have missed our first juv Yellow-legged Gull of the year that Ian Mc saw a bit later in the day, but no doubt I'll see many over the next few months.

Black Hole Marsh at 5am was lovely and peaceful, with quite a few waders on the diminishing water levels.  Still nothing surprising here as yet this autumn, just the routine fare, but it is still very early days. Among an increase in numbers of Common Sands were three Green Sands (all adults). An adult Little Ringed Plover was probably the bird Ian Mc had yesterday, but also looked suspiciously like the first of the autumn here back on 1st July. Otherwise there were 22 Redshank, two Blackwits and an adult Water Rail.  

Three Green and a Common Sand

Two of the Green Sands

Having missed out on finding our last three rare waders (Least Sand - Tim Wright, Baird's Sand - Phil Abbott, Semi-P Sand Peter/Phil Abbott) I think it's high time I found another decent wading bird this year (and I don't count Pecs, I have seen more of them on patch than Cuckoos!).  Hopefully the early morning baby walks will do the trick eventually...

Thursday, 6 July 2017


Wow it's hot today.  A look along the river at about 08:30 showed there had been a bit of an arrival of new waders, with three Black-tailed Godwits alongside three Dunlin (my first of the autumn) along the waters edge...

Summer plumaged Blackwit and three Dunlin

Among the gulls three Med Gulls were on show, the first-summer that I yesterday labelled 'distinctively bland' and these two beautiful juveniles...

If you're not familiar with the juvenile plumage of Med Gull, I urge you to come over to the Axe Estuary or Black Hole Marsh and take a look at one. At this time of year they should be present pretty much daily now in varying numbers, and they really do have a delicate beauty to them.  Gorgeous things.

The moth trapping last night would have gone better had Mum and Dad's resident pair of Herring Gulls not taken an interest in the trap before I got to it!  Still there was a very good variety of moths and good numbers too. Nothing new for me or the garden, but the two scarcest species (which were actually both on the wall of the house) were...

Female Four-spotted Footman
The Fern

It was great to get the chance to introduce Harry to a Poplar Hawkmoth, his reaction was epic...