Tuesday, 30 August 2016

More waders at Black Hole Marsh

There's not a great deal to report from today. The Turnstone from 28th didn't reappear but there are now 3 Knot & 2 Ruff rather than the previous singles of each and more Ringed Plover have also arrived. The 2 Little Ringed Plover and 2 Little Stint remain and show very well at times near to Island Hide.

Knots are often difficult to get close to on BHM so it was nice when one showed well from Island Hide in the evening. One of the Ruff obliged in a similar fashion:



Monday, 29 August 2016

Water Rail showing rather well (plus blogging background)

Water Rail is a species that's fairly difficult to get close to on patch despite them breeding here so it was nice to get some decent views of an adult and a juv this evening. There were 4 birds on view at once briefly, but only one of them posed close enough for a photo or two. There are lots more pics to post but it's already gone passed 3am so they can wait.

Reflection photo taken in the last of the Sunlight & the 2nd photo taken shortly after Sunset.

Patch update 28-08-16:
Similar to the last few days - 2 Little Stint, 2 LRP, Ruff & Knot on Black Hole Marsh. A Turnstone was new in but not present in the evening (likely on the estuary due to tides). Decent numbers of Yellow Wagtails around Black Hole Marsh and Seaton Marshes (perhaps 50 total - couldn't have an accurate count), along with 5 Wheatear at the latter site.


Steve's recent post about 'Why Blog?' got me thinking about the journey of this blog. It started off as posting a few pics as & when I could get out but over recent years has become more of a photo diary / update of what's around the Axe patch here. From a personal aspect, having a blog and 'needing' to keep it updated with content helps me maintain motivation to get out and look for new things. At the same time it provides people with an update as to what's around and also provides them with images to look at. The visual aspect of blogs is often a major attraction and I particularly like watching video on other blogs - although video footage is something that's largely been missing from my page here. Capturing motion of wildlife seems to give that extra something that still images can't provide despite often being simply stunning in their own right (not talking about mine here!). Something I must work on more...

Another aspect of blogging is being careful not to post things which people may not want to read even if there's perhaps something you want to say; I've been (slightly) guilty of this on a couple of occasions - it can come across as awkward to the general reading audience even if there was no intention for it to do so. One of my main aims is to inspire an interest in nature amongst other people so I try to centralise content around what I think people will be interested in. Of course this needs to stay within my window of knowledge/experience. For instance I personally like Steve's gull ID posts, as real birds & their variation gives a different perspective on ID from what you can get from a book. However, as much as I like reading such posts, it's not something I would attempt myself as it's not something that suits my skill set i.e. I don't have enough experience with gulls yet.

A couple of (distantly) previous posts have been related to the photography side of this birding blog i.e. techniques and benefits of certain camera types. Interestingly the post -- HERE -- (opens in a new window) about bridge cameras vs DSLR cameras has been one of the posts with greater media engagement. I must apologise for having still not written a part 2 to this, but below is a taster of what part 2 will include. This Wheatear image shows an uncropped photo taken at ISO 4000 on a DSLR and the inset pic in the top right is a close-up crop of a section of the same image. Although bridge cameras can offer much bigger zoom (focal length) capabilities, the data from RAW files from a DSLR allows for significantly more flexible handling of images. More to come...

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Nightjars - Another successful breeding on patch

The patch Nightjars have once again bred successfully! Earlier this year 3 adult birds arrived/returned; 2 males & 1 female. One of the males seemed to leave after the first week or so, perhaps realising that a 2nd female wasn't coming. There were two breeding pairs at the site last year and a total of 8+ birds of various ages during the Summer (discernible from pics) so although this year didn't quite live up to 2015, it's still good to report that the pair had a single fledgling.

Here's a pic from last year:

Patch update 27th:
Black Hole Marsh is still doing fairly well for waders with 2 LRP, 2 Little Stint plus singles of Ruff & Knot through most of the day. Approx 30 Yellow Wagtails are still lingering around Seaton Marshes (unless it's birds constantly filtering through), and another 30+ were over Black Hole Marsh towards dusk. They dropped in from quite a height so this may well have been new arrivals rather than the same flock moving around - hopefully we'll find out in the morning!

Friday, 26 August 2016

Bird of the Month - August

I didn't do a 'BOTM' for the last couple of months so the Dalmatian Pelican has now lingered at the top of this page for much longer than was originally intended. BOTM for July would have been the Collared Pratincole at RSPB Ham Wall but I didn't get around to making the header - it was nice to see one of my pics printed in The Guardian though.

The BOTM for August is a pretty obvious choice - Least Sandpiper (both of them).

Click  -- HERE -- for video footage and pics of both Least Sandpipers.

Patch update 26th August:
- I had a quiet time at Seaton Marshes mid-morning with just a scattering of Yellow Wags and 2 Wheatears.
- The people that went to Beer Head had another fruitful morning with some decent counts of common migrants.
- Steve Waite had a possible large Egret species fly over Beer Head this morning but it wasn't relocated unfortunately. He also had a Marsh Harrier over Colyford Common at midday.
- Tim Wright & Phil Abbott had 5 Little Stints drop in at Black Hole Marsh mid-evening; a good count for here. It was a good job Tim checked the group otherwise they may have been assumed to be Dunlin - a small flock of Little Stint isn't something we're used to here. I saw them shortly before Sunset, after an unsuccessful search for a Wryneck (or anything else unusual) around Lower Bruckland & Axe Cliff areas.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

SPOONBILL on patch + Yellow Wag pic

Having not seen a Spoonbill on patch since March 2013 I was pleased to find one drifting high over Black Hole Marsh mid-evening on 25th. Spoonbill is a pretty decent bird for this patch, especially in Autumn; 2014 was the last record (as far as I'm aware) but that was a short stayer and again was in March. It was a case of looking in the right place at the right time - if I'd still been looking at anything at ground level or simply in a slightly different direction then I would have missed it due to the altitude. It's always possible to miss good birds - my Wryneck dip yesterday for example; it's best to be philosophical about such things. Talking of Wryneck, there were 3 in the West Bexington / Cogden area today rather than just the two I dipped! I did try to find one on patch today but had no success.

It was gradually getting dull when the Spoonbill flew over so I pinged a message to the locals + Twitter and then went searching for it in case I could relocate it for others to see before it was too dark. It flew North and seemed to be losing altitude over the Estuary so perhaps it went down near where the A3052 crosses the River Axe. It was worth a quick look at Colyford Common so I headed there but didn't see it again (although there was a Wood Sand on the larger scrape from the hide); it also hadn't come back to roost on Black Hole Marsh by nightfall - I waited til dark.

In the morning on 25th Seaton Marshes had 30+ Yellow Wags and a single Wheatear - one of the Wags perched up right next to me along the footpath to the hide! I heard it coming so stopped moving just in case it was going to stop; I didn't expect it to land quite so close though...

Most of the morning's excitement was at Beer Head, with some of the other patch birders having excellent counts of Tree Pipit, as well as a Pied Fly, Yellow Wags and Wheatears amongst other goodies.

A decent fall

24th August saw a decent fall of migrants on the South coast; there were lots of Yellow Wags, Wheatears, Whinchats etc at various sites. Seaton was no exception with many Y Wags during the day - other birders had an impressive number in the morning. I saw a couple at Seaton Marshes in the evening and heard a couple more but the large numbers seemingly moved on quickly during the day. There was a Whinchat and 4 Wheatear showing well by the footpath to the hide too, a couple of the Wheatear perching closely for some pics:

I dipped the 2 West Bexington Wrynecks but one was seen again later on in the day. The area was busy with people when I was there so the birds were likely skulking about on the ground - I probably walked right by them! They can be hard to see when not posing out in the open - other people got excellent views of it on top of posts (when tourists/visitors weren't putting it off) so it was a shame I couldn't pick them up when on the ground. But hey - it happens.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Very Elusive Wryneck + patch update

Brendan was heading to Dawlish to try for the Wryneck and he kindly offered a lift in case I wanted to tag along so I duly accepted. Wryneck is a bird I'd only seen once before and that was on patch back in 2010 (see HERE). This Dawlish bird had been frequenting a particular area on Warren point so we headed there and waited. We waited and waited... Eventually we had very brief views but good enough to say we'd seen Wryneck; unfortunately I only saw it in flight as it landed out of view so alas there are no photos. Apparently it had been showing well & out in the open prior to our arrival - but then we weren't in the right place at the right time so that's fine. I missed a patch Wryneck last year so it was good to at least see the Dawlish bird, even if it was brief.

There's not a lot of patch news:
- A Little Stint continues to show well & regularly on Black Hole Marsh
- Singles of Curlew Sand and Greenshank dropped into BHM shortly before dusk (as per Brendan).

Monday, 22 August 2016

Axe Patch 21st August

Currently busy trawling through work so just a bullet point update:

  • No large Shearwaters off Seaton Beach this morning as per Steve Waite
  • Little Stint still present on BHM until mid-afternoon, after which it seemed to disappear
  • I had a White Wagtail (probable - pics to follow) very briefly on BHM at 17:00
  • Steve W, James M & Tim Wright were having a sea watch 17:00 - 19:00 ish but there were no reports of any large Shearwaters
  • I sat by the beach towards the West end (dog friendly) 18:40 - 19:10 and had approx a dozen Manx Shearwaters fly through heading West; this was a half-hearted watch as my loyalties were split between watching the sea and munching on some cheesy chips...
  • Tim Wright had singles of Knot, Ruff & Curlew Sandpiper on BHM from Tower Hide at 20:00
Hopefully the water levels will begin to fall on BHM now that the rough weather has seemingly gone and the high tides are getting gradually smaller.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

CORY'S Shearwater off Seaton Beach

After the news of 3 Cory's off Seaton beach on the evening of the 19th I had intended to get there early the following morning, but unfortunately that didn't happen. A late morning visit yielded views of 2 distant large Shearwaters; these were either Great or Cory's but the views were untickable either way. Roger and Dave (Chard birders) were there at the time and had had a total of 11 Cory's earlier in the morning; these were likely a few repeat sightings of the same few birds but may not have been. Interestingly there were no reports of Cory's to our East i.e. Portland or to our West i.e. Berry Head. They all seemed to be around here (reports from West Bexington, Charmouth, Seaton & 1 at Orcombe).

After some lunch and some work emails I headed straight back down; Tim Wright was watching by this time - we had a few Manxies and lots of Gannets heading West. Shortly after other Tim left I finally had tickable views of a Cory's; one flew across relatively close (i.e. 400m or so), clearly a large Shearwater and gliding on bowed wings. I couldn't quite make out the pale/yellow bill due to the distance but the pale head, wings and flight pattern were all spot on and couldn't be anything other than Cory's - I still cross-referenced with Collin's, Britain's Birds and some video footage before being totally happy with it as my 'eye-in' time with sea birds is minimal. Shortly after this sighting I picked up a probable Balearic Shearwater but again the views weren't good enough to be confident. Interestingly Portland had 530+ Balearic through today!!!

After a successful afternoon I went home for dinner but soon fancied another go at a Cory's (I need to do more sea-watching anyway) so headed back out and had one more watch from 17:15 - 18:10. At 17:50 a Cory's did the decent thing and gave a close and prolonged fly-by, only a few hundred metres out before gradually drifting South. It gave a few nice turns showing the pale head and big yellowish bill very well. After the initial sighting of 2 large untickable Shearwaters during the first sea watch it was relieving to get good views in the end. It would have been easier if the first watch yielded the goods, but never-mind. The challenge now is to try and get some pics...

Other birds of note were c20 Common Scoter on the water during the last sea watch and singles of Little Stint & Knot on Black Hole Marsh.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Cory's Shearwaters + Curlew Sands around Seaton area

It was a pretty busy evening down at Black Hole Marsh. Upon my arrival there were 2 moulting adult Curlew Sandpipers instead of the expected 1, then I spotted another 2 birds coming in and they perched up near to Island Hide - juveniles this time. 4 in total - perhaps even more tomorrow?

Half an hour later, Brendan Sheils & Hannah came into the hide and said they'd had 2 Cory's Shearwaters off Seaton Beach! Cory's is a patch mega with no solid records according to Phil Abbott, so this was gripping stuff. I sent a message out to the locals and I gather that Ian Mc connected with a Cory's; hopefully tomorrow will yield some decent birds too... That Black-browed Albatross would be perfect!

2 adult Curlew Sandpipers

2 juv Curlew Sandpipers amongst Dunlin & Ringed Plover

2 Oystercatchers scared off all the small waders except the 2 ad Curlew Sands - they braved it out!

Little Stint showing rather well!

Osprey, Knot, Ruff, Curlew Sand & Greenshank arrive in 1 day!

It's rare for me to post twice in a day (well, it's 01:00am the following day but it kinda counts) but the continued influx of birds throughout the day has necessitated it. In terms of 'locally decent' birds, Black Hole Marsh had the following through the day:
2 Little Stint
2 Wood Sandpiper
1 Curlew Sandpiper
1 Knot
1 Ruff
1 Greenshank
1 Osprey (I had unmovable work so missed it unfortunately)

The shift in the weather has almost certainly helped us out here & the next few days look interesting too, with rain right now and strong winds on Saturday. Watch this space...

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff arrive at BHM

Well my prediction for the imminent arrival of a Curlew Sandpiper was rather accurate! A few hours after I posted it Ian Mc found one on Black Hole Marsh, along with a Ruff which is the first on patch this Autumn (although I did have 3 in Spring). Both birds were showing distantly at the back of BHM but the 2 Little Stint and 2 Wood Sand weren't visible by late morning - likely flown out to the estuary with most of the Ringo/Dunlin flock.

Heat haze made sharp photos impossible, but it was nice to get the Curlew Sand and the Ruff in the same pic. Hopefully better to come...

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Waders posing for pics - BHM Update

BHM is still attracting a trickle of new birds, the best of which being a 2nd Little Stint today; so there are now 2 Little Stints, along with the 2 Wood Sands. A shift in the weather this evening and for the next few days stands a good chance of dropping something new in as well. I predict a Curlew Sandpiper before the week is over...

Here's a couple snaps from today:

Little Stint

Wood Sandpiper

And a pic from the previous evening - this pic has been doing the rounds on Twitter so thought I'd post it here too. It's a bit 'noisy' as it's heavily cropped and was taken at ISO 5000 (it was a while after Sunset so it was dark rather than dull).

2 Wood Sands now at BHM

An evening visit to Black Hole Marsh yielded distant views of the lingering Little Stint along with 2 Wood Sands - another one had obviously joined the other some time during the day. Ron spotted the second bird early in the evening and the two did associate with each other more and more as the evening wore on. After Sunset (challenging conditions for pics) a Grey Heron landed fairly close to the hide and gave some rather nice views... Not quite a perfect reflection but I really like the pose here!

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Little Stint at Black Hole Marsh

After the two recent Least Sandpipers (see HERE), it was good to get another small wader albeit a species that isn't uncommon. Little Stint are annual here, with anywhere between 1 and 3 birds appearing during Autumn being the norm. This one turned up on the evening of 14th August and was still present and showing well on the 15th. Such endearing waders to watch! The Wood Sand was still present also.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Wood Sandpiper & Sparrowhawk

A check of Black Hole Marsh in the evening of the 11th yielded nothing new initially but then I heard a very recognisable call and tracked it to a Wood Sand - presumably a different bird to the recent long stayer due to the prolonged absence of the original bird. Now all we need is another 32 ish to match the total from last year...

Ian Mc found a Knot on BHM early evening on the 12th but it had gone by the time I got there at around 18:30. It was nice to see that the Wood Sand from the previous evening was still there though. 2 Green Sands were also still present, along with 15 Ringed Plover and 16 Dunlin. The tide on the estuary was low at this time so there may well have been more waders on the river. A fly by from a gorgeous Sparrowhawk caused temporary havoc amongst the waders too, although the hawk didn't seem to attack anything but just do a very low fly through!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Black Hole Marsh - Update

A couple of quick visits to Black Hole Marsh on Wednesday yielded much better counts of Ringed Plover with 16+ birds and also 2 Green Sandpipers new in at dusk - other than that it's just the usual! One of the Green Sands did show fairly well, albeit only for a short period of time:

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Normal service resumes

With the Least Sandpipers having both moved on we're now back to normal here - a few waders on BHM & the estuary although the numbers have lessened somewhat since last week. We still have a few Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Common Sand, LRP and a lone Snipe. Some huge tides over the last week have pushed the water level up significantly on Black Hole Marsh so it's currently too flooded to attract many waders; things should be looking good again towards the end of next week.

With BHM being busy with birders lately because of the American waders, I took the opportunity to check around Coly Common, Seaton Marshes and Beer Head. None of the sites yielded anything of interest, although some nice bright Willow Warblers were good to see. Bun also had the first few Wheatear of the Autumn with 4 at Beer Head and also a Spotted Flycatcher near Couchill (Seaton/Beer).

Here's a few wader pics which were taken before the Least Sandpipers turned up. Low water levels and calm conditions can give fantastic reflections on BHM:

Wood Sandpiper catching flies
Wood Sandpiper catching flies

Dunlin having a scratch



Saturday, 6 August 2016

ITV comes to Black Hole Marsh

The Least Sandpiper & Black Hole Marsh hit the screens on ITV West-Country News on 05-08-16! ITV were filming in the morning to get general scenes of birdwatchers 'in action' as well as hearing people's thoughts after dipping the Least Sandpiper (not present at all today). This was then combined with my video footage of the bird from the previous two days and made into a short clip for the regional news. It was great to see the site & some familiar faces on the news and very satisfying to have my footage featured on TV. I imagine there's a good chance that there will be coverage in the local papers next week too; Black Hole Marsh is already a popular place so all this positive publicity is going to give the area another boost - great stuff!

Friday, 5 August 2016

2 Least Sandpipers - pics of both birds + video footage

When I wrote "A brilliant start to August. What's next?!" at the bottom of my last post, I didn't expect the answer to be a second Least Sandpiper the following day! What a crazy morning. Thanks to Sue Smith for the initial phone call - a group of birders had another small wader towards the back of Black Hole Marsh and needed some pics to help with ID as it was sat directly in line with the Sun meaning scope views were badly back-lit. Visiting birder Gus Robin found the bird and the discussion in the hide was leaning towards a 2nd Least Sandpiper until we were told with confidence that it was a Temminck's Stint. News then went out that it was a Temminck's but a few people on Twitter were questioning it saying it looks like the Least. It certainly wasn't THE Least, as we could see that bird at the same time! BOC pics are never that great to judge ID with so the mis-ID was understandable. The bird soon flew and me plus 2 others failed to relocate it after a check of Coly Common so I popped home to sort the pics out as that was the only way the ID would now be sorted unless it reappeared. After pulling the highlights and boosting the shadows on the pics it was obvious that the 2nd wader was indeed a 2nd Least Sandpiper; a similar scenario to the ID'ing of the first bird being clinched by pics before positive news could reliably go out late in the evening (not that it was necessary in the end due to the close views the next morning). This really does emphasise the importance of photos of such birds, especially in challenging light conditions. Without sufficient pics this second bird would have gone down as unidentified, or worse, mis-ID'd as Temminck's Stint. There will inevitably be slight scepticism about it being a different Least Sand, especially as it flew off, but there was a crowd of 20 or so people watching the birds and we could see both birds at the same time, so it's non-negotiable that there were 2 present. Quite extraordinary!

Here's a distant pic of the 2nd bird. It's rubbish compared to the previously posted pics of the original bird but certainly worth posting:

Talking of the original bird, it showed well again this evening after the crowds had reduced. Here's a taster of some new pics - better ones to follow when I get a chance:

And here's another video clip. I like the bit where it stumbles slightly...

Congratulations and many thanks go to Gus Robin for finding the 2nd Least Sandpiper on Black Hole Marsh. Also cheers to Sue Smith for the call and to the people in the hide for rushing me through to grab some pics - these proved very important in the end so big thanks to everyone involved on site; you all saw 2 Least Sandpipers on one small reserve, on 04-08-16.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Least Sandpiper - Video footage and pics

Black Hole Marsh played host to an excellent twitch on 03-08-16 with many people travelling to see the Least Sandpiper; it was nice to chat to so many other birders, both new faces and known ones. I spent almost all day there so could help new arrivals get eyes on the bird and also keep the news going out regularly & when requested. A few of us were fortunate enough to get a fantastic photo opportunity at around 08:00 this morning so after that I could switch the camera off for (most of) the rest of the day and assist others without feeling the need to get to the peep holes. It also meant I could take some proper work with me to crack on with, but with an occasional wader orientated interruption!

Here's a couple of other pics (still got hundreds to look through) and a video clip which is best viewed at 1080p HD:

Also many thanks for the unexpectedly (overly?!) generous remarks from so many of you regarding my blog & its content - they are very much appreciated. It was good to be able to put a few more faces to names too. I must admit, it's relatively easy to take good photos here as Black Hole Marsh is simply an amazing site; it attracts excellent birds and can provide incredibly close views, just like it has with this Least Sand. It obviously takes time, patience, equipment and the know-how/experience for the photography side of things, but with such a great reserve at our disposal here a significant proportion of the work is already done.

A brilliant start to August. What's next?!

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

LEAST SANDPIPER - Point Blank Views

An early start had a few of the local birders at Black Hole Marsh by 05:30 this morning, and Steve Waite eventually spotted the Least Sandpiper at around 06:00. It was distant so he did well to see it, being such a small bird! Fortunately it soon showed rather a lot closer...

Much more to follow including scenic shots and slo-mo video; this is just a quick update to improve on last night's pics.

Close crop to emphasise just how well it was showing!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

LEAST SANDPIPER at Black Hole Marsh !!!

Black Hole Marsh again reminded us why it has such a good reputation as being a wader haven this evening. James Chubb was the first to spot the bird & Tim Wright later re-spotted it and 'noticed' it as being something different. A group effort in the Island Hide at dusk had Tim Wright, Phil Abbott, Ian Mc & myself running through ID features for Long-toed Stint, Least Sand and even Little Stint (determined not to call it something it wasn't). The consensus of opinion at the time was that it was probably a Least Sand, although due to the dull conditions it was difficult to judge features i.e. leg colour. The subsequent pics thankfully made it more obvious so we can now pin the ID as a Least Sandpiper. Yessssss!

The Milky Way - Photo

It took a while, but the various requirements for Milky Way photography finally aligned in the small hours of 01-08-16. A clear night with no visible Moon is a rare scenario here and the Axe Estuary area also suffers badly with mist or fog in the evenings. Durdle Door is a popular place for Milky Way pics due to the stunning rock formations but  most of my image/product distributors have a strong interest in the local area so it made sense for me to try a shot in Seaton. Here is a view of the Milky Way as seen from Seaton Hole; despite it's many quirks & tragedies, the World can be bloody beautiful!

Shot settings (full manual):
Shutter speed: 20secs
Aperture: f/4
ISO 8000
Manual focus set to 'infinity'

I made the image deliberately overexposed vs conventional versions of this type of scene as I wanted the foreground to be recognisable (commercial orientated thinking). This was my first attempt at this type of thing and it was great fun! Perhaps a proper project for this should be scheduled in the diary for next Summer...