Sunday 12 May 2024

Northern Lights - Once in a Lifetime Territory

I genuinely believe I'll be dead next time there's a geomagnetic storm of this strength. It was utterly, utterly ridiculous. I'd been excited about Friday/Saturday since all the flare activity on Wednesday, with some nicely directed CMEs, well before any of the space weather agencies put out any of their predictions and the media got hold of it. I'd been talking this up on my socials well in advance, which is always a risk as nothing is guaranteed in this game; a lot of factors need to align. Thankfully everything went to plan and I didn't have masses of angry people asking why they didn't see it haha. 

2 x 1 hr naps between 3 all-nighters Thursday - Sunday (I work weekends as well). Sleep deprived does not cover it. Was it worth it? You tell me. Thousands of photos to go through, but here's one of them. Aurora was EVERYWHERE. North, corona overhead, SAR arc, even South. Bonkers.

Oh yeah, had Nightjars churring and a Cuckoo calling whilst I was there.

Wednesday 8 May 2024

228+ Red Kites from Colyton, Devon

A look at the forecast on Sunday and another look on Monday had me thinking Tuesday would be a strong candidate as the day the Kites pass us. I suggested to my Dad that we should try and keep Tues free and perhaps Weds/Thurs too, and oh boy was it the right call. Tuesday was THE day. The day of 228 Red Kites seen from Colyton, with almost certainly dozens and dozens more missed.

50-60 of them were overhead but most were gaining extreme height in thermals north of Colyton then heading W / WSW. Observing was rather challenging with hours spent looking through optics as they were mostly too distant to see naked eye. When they rode thermals up into and above clouds, that didn't help either.

A bonus Osprey over Colyton was nice too. Today (Weds) saw another 3 Kites and 2 Hobby from Colyton, and then another Osprey north over the A3052 in the afternoon. I've been seeing Goshawk, as well as the usual Buzzards, Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and Peregrines recently too. I've been quietly hoping for something better like a Honey Buzzard or Black Kite... Gotta have some optimism for birding whilst my astro is at a total stand still (far East Devon has been by FAR the cloudiest part of the entire UK at night-time over the last 20 months, and it's not even remotely close. I have astro buddies all over the UK so I get a pretty good idea). Us astro-folk are good at whining about our weather, in case you hadn't noticed (some justified a lot more than others mind).

Whilst we're on the subject of astro (sort of), the Sun has been extremely active recently, with dozens and dozens of flares. I'm expecting there to be northern lights visible this weekend, there's a very good chance depending when the CMEs (coronal mass ejections) hit. Of course I'm forecast cloudier than most of the UK... but try I shall. I'm predicting activity in the early hours of Saturday morning, and perhaps activity Saturday night into Sunday.

Here's the Sun, taken today. The cloud actually helped for this, I didn't blind myself or melt my camera, so that's a plus.

Saturday 13 April 2024

UPDATE - 4+ Marsh Harriers, Pied Flycatcher etc

Nearly half a year since I posted. Wow. A lot has happened in this time, and I have no idea why I'm still often getting 1000+ blog views daily given that there's nothing new! So, the last 6 ish months:

- My main camera failed (a disturbingly common fault that should probably be a recall, or at least a free repair, but alas, these companies rarely do the right thing...).
- Viral photo of the ISS with the moon, seen by over 8 million people. Deluded flat-earth morons helped me here!
- Worst Winter for clear skies that I can remember. East Devon hasn't had a clear, moonless night since 2022 (yes, 2022) whereas Scotland and South East England have had 20-50 in the same time frame. Madness.
- More trouble with incompetence in our health service where I've had to effectively handhold them to get their jobs done properly (I cannot emphasise enough how frustrating this is when it's regarding your 2 (now 3) year old child).
- Waxwings not quite on patch.
- Baikal Teal and a STONKING male Hen Harrier during a rare off-patch venture into Somerset.
- Tough slog with patch birding. 4+ Marsh Harriers, Pied Flycatcher being my patch highlights. I've spent a huge amount of time looking at gulls when I've been out, with the most interesting ones 'only' being Meds. 
- Superb views of a couple of Sandwich Terns lingering around BHM.
- Avocets!

So, the patch harriers. We've had 2 lingerers, one of which is still here. I also had an additional 2 birds fly over in one afternoon. I had the impression at the time that these were new birds, as they were high, and carried on SW. Sure enough pics confirmed these were 'new' birds and they weren't seen again. Here are pics of the 4 which are obviously different, but there may well have been more as these were just me. The top bird is the one that's still here:

Now, come on Spring. Give us something properly good. And for goodness sake, some clear skies!

Monday 30 October 2023

Caspian Gull & Yellow-legged Gull type (or is it?)

Some rather enjoyable Sunday gulling!

Not something I necessarily foresaw myself writing when I first got into birds over 20 years ago, but this year I've easily spent more time scouring gulls than any other group of birds. With the dodgy weather I thought I'd chance a visit to Tower Hide between deliveries, and aimed for low tide. However, with all the floodwater the river was pretty full, hardly any mud, and essentially no gulls; they were on nearby fields instead. As the tide was coming in, the water level gradually dropped (floodwater clearing made a much bigger difference than the incoming tide!) and gulls did start to trickle in.

A gorgeous 1st winter Caspian Gull was amongst the first 30 big gulls to drop in. Quite large, between Herring Gull and GBBG in size, and also ringed. This hung around for a while but was reluctant to flap, which became frustrating as more gulls were coming in which I wanted to check, but I also didn't want to miss getting the Casp in flight. Sure enough there was indeed another interesting gull as soon as the Casp had departed, then the cycle continued where I wanted to check more gulls but not take my eye off of this new bird!

Ringed as a chick in Netherlands on 19th May 2023, ta to Steve for chasing up the ring info

The 2nd bird then. The dark mantle and general heft instantly caught my attention, heavy bill too. My general feeling was 3rd winter Yellow-legged Gull, but I've not previously seen YLG ages other than adult (only 2), 1st winter (a few) and juv (somewhere between 20-30), so it would be a new age for me. About 45 mins in watching this bird Steve rang to say he was on an interesting gull, and it turned out to be exactly what I'd already been looking at. He mentioned that the leg colour was odd for 3w YLG (this bird was clearly pink) and we both noted the interesting head streaking, which at times looked quite restricted and other times more extensive. It took some waiting but it performed superbly right in front of Tower Hide so there's a heap of pics to come. I'll just add a couple here for the time being, I'm in the middle of work really (yes, at 01:30 am). The bird to me looks (I mean visually not genetically) sorta halfway between YLG and Azorean, and Steve suggests that it may be a YLG from the Atlantic coast, but not Azorean, but not currently sure. I've sent it to another couple of gullers and there's also a shout for argentatus Herring Gull. More digging needed, and certainly an interesting bird. I've got pics of just about every aspect of it. Eye-ball included.

Friday 29 September 2023

Barred Warbler - what a week on patch!

Monday: HUGE display of Northern Lights visible UK-wide

Tuesday: 2 Glossy Ibis briefly visit BHM 

Thursday: Caspian Gull on the estuary

Friday: Barred Warbler (found by Tim Clark).

I couldn't get to Colyford Common until 17:30 ish, and got frustrating views of its rear end disappearing into the bushes not long after I arrived. 18:05 and I got a superb view of it, quite fortunate though as my position a bit further away from the hedge was the only spot where it was possible to see amongst the branches, and if my bins weren't already pointing at that exact spot, I'd likely have missed it. I quickly said to the others to stand in front of me so they could see it but as is often the case with warblers, it was only in that spot for 5 secs or so, and it then melted away into the bush not to be seen again before I left at 19:00.

Not a bad week. Couple days left too, in which I hope to escape work for a couple of hours...

Caspian Gull

It finally happened. I've checked the gulls countless times recently trying to pick out something decent, and have done okay with a few YLGs, but this afternoon had a much nicer prize in store. A stunning Caspian Gull. I've not seen many, but instantly this bird jumped out at me as 'Casp' despite being mostly hidden in the gull flock. Closer inspection had me a little more conservative as the bill looked dinky at times, but otherwise it felt good to me. I popped a quick message to Steve Waite as he's our most experienced Casp-er here and he wasn't completely convinced it was pure either based on the BOC (back of camera) pics I sent. I couldn't send much as I didn't want to lose the bird, or miss the chance at some pics which might be needed to clinch it later. 

Anyway, it was one, and the rest is history. Really nice looking bird too! 

Thursday 28 September 2023

2 Glossy Ibises - Black Hole Marsh

My evening visits to BHM/Coly Marshes are getting a little more difficult now with the nights rapidly drawing in, but they are still proving fruitful. Tuesday evening yielded 2 Glossy Ibises not long before sunset (although it was already pretty dark as it was cloudy). I'm surprised these pics came out OK, the conditions and settings were pretty hideous with ISO up at 25,600 at times!

Their visit was rather brief; they soon flew off over the river and out of sight, but I was glad that Steve, Ian and Tim C managed to dash down in time to see them (but only just for the latter 2 gents)!