Tuesday 25 April 2017

Awaiting something different

An evening visit to Black Hole Marsh yielded 10 Dunlin, 3 Whimbrel (plus a 4th on the estuary), 1 Greenshank and 1 Goosander which continues to occasionally roost on one of the islands. There were also many Sand Martins and Swallows flying low over BHM & the estuary. It was nice to have some different weather this evening; we even had some rain! Hopefully the birds cope well with this brief chilly spell; I've seen on Twitter that some Ospreys in Scotland are incubating eggs in igloo-like mounds of snow!

Path from Tower Hide

Monday 24 April 2017

Axe Patch Update

It's been heavy going here for the last few days (for me at least) and I've seen little in the way of new arrivals. I had nothing worth mentioning between 19th and 22nd other than the lingering Cattle Egrets and all I saw of note this evening (23rd) was a Greenshank on Black Hole Marsh along with 8 Dunlin. A look around Colyford Common and the Reed Bed Loop was similarly unrewarding other than several Swallows and also a Grey Heron which conveniently landed about 100ft in front of me whilst I was watching from the viewing platform.

Better (and more) birds soon no doubt. Hopefully I'll get some Yellow Wagtails posing in the next few days - did quite well with them at Seaton Marshes around this time last year.

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Stunning Spotted Redshank

Having seen some excellent pics of the rather smart Spotted Redshank at Goosemoor from Steph Murphy and Jo King I thought I'd pop over to see it yesterday morning (17th). I was lucky with cloud cover as it would have been side-lit without it; not what you want with a dark coloured bird.

The patch had a fall this morning with Ian Mc finding some good birds on Beer Head; he had a female Pied Flycatcher and 5 Redstarts (3m, 2f) amongst others. It was a while before I could get up there for a look around so I thought some of the birds may have moved through by the time I had cleared my work. It was worth a look around anyway and I caught up with 3 Redstarts (1m, 2f), 3 Wheatear and 30+ Willow Warblers although there would likely have been many more of the latter in the bushes at the base of the cliffs as there was a lot of activity down there. I didn't manage to find the Pied Flycatcher in the area it was showing earlier on in the day but did hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling. Heat haze and distance made taking good pics impossible but it was worth taking a couple snaps of a male Redstart anyway:

An evening visit to Black Hole Marsh yielded 1 LRP (briefly), 5 Dunlin, 1 Common Sand and 1 Whimbrel. 7 Cattle Egret flew over Axmouth with 6 in one group initially then a single with a Little Egret about 10 mins later.

Monday 17 April 2017

Whinchat and Wheatear

Whilst out in Topsham this morning (this trip will be in the next post) Ian Mc texted with news of a Whinchat and 20 Wheatear on Colyford Common so upon returning I went for a look in case they were still about. Sue was there waiting on the boardwalk when I arrived so things were looking promising. I joined her and we continued to sit there for quite a while; the birds were gradually being pushed our way by the cattle so we were hopeful that they'd give themselves up eventually. Just as they were starting to get close some more people arrived and the birds hopped over to the other side of us. The number of people about has been a tad disruptive at times but that's to be expected over the Easter Holidays. Generally I think it's great that there are lots of people about enjoying the facilities here! One of the visitors was struggling to get a clear view of the Whinchat down amongst the reeds so we briefly walked a few yards off the boardwalk to try and help get everyone on it. It had flown a good distance away by this time so we could move a bit without causing disturbance and the visitor was pleased to be able to see it (just about) well enough to tell what it was. Apologies for the lack of quality with the Whinchat shot; it was a fair way off. Very smart bird though and the photo doesn't do it justice here.

Saturday 15 April 2017

Missed birds and more of the same

It's been more of the same for me on patch today with 2 Wheatears, 2 Common Sandpipers, 1 Ringed Plover & 1 Whimbrel on BHM tonight. The estuary wasn't quite full at this time so there was likely more out there too. There was one more Wheatear on Coly Common and all 3 were female. Swallow numbers are picking up significantly now with birds showing for much of the day and with 24+ together at Coly Common tonight. Phil and some visiting birders had a Spoonbill on Black Hole Marsh early afternoon but it had just left by the time I got there. Phil said it had flown over the estuary but stayed low so I thought a check of the lower estuary and Seaton Marshes was worth a punt. This proved fruitless as I had no luck relocating the Spoonbill and didn't see anything else of note either!

During the evening visit a gentleman in the hide mentioned that he had the flock of Pale-bellied Brent past Lyme Regis yesterday so they would almost certainly have continued past us here at Seaton. I should have given it a few more minutes of waiting it seems.

Hopefully tomorrow brings us something new.

Friday 14 April 2017

Osprey (another), Red Kite (another) and more Waders

On 13th I had my 3rd Osprey of the spring flying over the Axe near Bridge Marsh. The views of this one were similarly distant to the last and my camera was still in the bag so I didn't manage a dodgy record shot of it. Paul (Lyme), Steve (Axminster) and Phil got on it before me and I was struggling to pick it out but got there in the end; it was below the horizon at this point so picking it out was tricky. There were also still 10 Ringed Plovers on Black Hole Marsh.

This afternoon (14th) I headed to BHM to see if anything new had arrived and about 5 mins after arriving I spotted a raptor flying distantly and high above the estuary. It was too far away to tell what it was through the binoculars but thankfully the photos were more informative; perhaps this is why birders in the other hide got the message but couldn't spot it. There has been a bit of a trend of dodgy record shots on this blog lately so here is another one...

A good 1000 - 1500 metres away!

That's 3 Ospreys and 2 Red Kites I've seen on patch in the last 8 days. That's more of these two species than you will sometimes see in an entire year here depending on luck! We still haven't had any Harriers yet though; Marsh Harrier is definitely due and the Montagu's Harrier from last year arrived on 19th so it's certainly 'that time'. Ideally I'd like to find a nice Hen Harrier as I've not seen one on patch yet.

Other birds of note from this afternoon/evening are 30 + Swallows including a group of 11 (my first double figure count of Swallows so far this year) and 1 martin sp. Also at least 6 of the Ringed Plovers were still on BHM along with a smart Dunlin. 3 Common Sandpipers were new in today at BHM; at last some waders have posed near to Island Hide! Everything has been fairly distant so far this Spring but at least the variety has been good. Here are a few pics of them:

A Peregrine was circling overhead hence the posture here!

Steve messaged late afternoon saying that there were some Pale-bellied Brent Geese heading our way from the East so I headed to the seafront to try and see them. I saw Tim Wright there and we waited a while beyond the time they were due but didn't see them. Lots of gulls went up on the estuary whilst we were there so I thought I might have missed another good raptor i.e. Osprey but upon returning to Black Hole Marsh I asked a few birders who were there and they saw nothing unusual, but reported that not all of the gulls went up and the Godwits etc remained on BHM. Richard (Charmouth) said there was a Buzzard over the estuary at the time too and the gulls were jumpy this afternoon, but it did seem a larger reaction than most Buzzards get. We will never know.

I'm hopeful that this weekend is going to give us some more arrivals so watch this space...

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Spoonbills, Cattle Egret and another Osprey

Another excellent day on patch today! I started out early at Seaton Marshes hoping to see the Cattle Egrets at their main roost site but none of them were there at 07:00. The only birds of note were singles of Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler at Borrow Pit (Sedge was heard only). Next stop was Black Hole Marsh to see if the Spoonbills had spent the night here, which they had. I arrived shortly after 07:30 and they were sleeping until 07:45 but upon waking it was clear that they were thinking of moving off. They soon flew high and North but returned 5 mins later, then did a similar routine about 20 mins later. I moved to Tower Hide as this was the better spot for photos in terms of light direction despite the distance being far from ideal. I struck lucky when a Cattle Egret flew in and landed close to one of the Spoonbills for 10 seconds or so; I certainly wasn't expecting to come away with a shot like this this morning:

Here's a few more snaps of the Spoonbills:

Knot as a bonus as well!

Shortly before 09:00 both Spoonbills flew off high and East and were seen at The Fleet in Dorset about an hour later (probably the same two birds). It's nice when things move off and are re-found not far away, although some of the patch birders between here and there weren't too impressed that they (probably) missed them flying overhead!

With the Spoonbills now gone I thought I'd try again at Seaton Marshes and this proved worthwhile as there were 5 Wheatear showing well by the path to the hide. The cloud helped get some sharp shots too (heat haze close to the ground ruins photos):

An afternoon look at Colyford Common yielded 1 Cattle Egret although it was flighty, perhaps due to people walking along the path or maybe the tram noises (neither of which can be avoided so that's fine). It was alternating between Colyford Common and Bridge Marsh.

I also had my first House Martins of 2017 with 4 along with a Sand Martin over Coly Common. I initially reported 5 House Martins but a look at the pics revealed one was in fact a Sand Martin.

After a good morning out I headed home to crack on with some work until a bit before 17:00 when Brendan rang with news of an Osprey flying over Black Hole Marsh! I tried to get it from the house but could only see the mayhem with gulls and waders flying around. On another quick call Brendan said that it was heading North but hadn't caught anything yet so we figured that if I ran down to Tower hide I might get lucky and have it fly back downstream and fish in front of me. Yeah that was a pretty optimistic plan... When I arrived the Osprey had gone a long way North and everyone had lost it due to distance. Determined to see it I scoured above and below the horizon and eventually could exclaim OSPREY; it was flying above the A3052 near Bridge Marsh. This is about a mile away from Tower Hide and with significant heat haze you can imagine how tricky it was to pick out. Brendan and partner Hannah then got it in the scope and followed it until it eventually headed our way (vaguely); it got to within perhaps half a mile of us so please forgive the truly appalling record shot that appears below. I've already seen an Osprey here in the last few days but with the number I missed last year I'd like to see as many as possible (on patch) in 2017, even if that means running!

Many thanks to Brendan and Hannah for initially finding the Osprey and then keeping me updated with its whereabouts! Very helpful indeed and I would probably have missed it without you both.

The Buzzard (right) was very persistent with harassing the Osprey

One more look over the marshes later in the evening produced singles of Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover.

Excellent day!

P.s. Apologies if the pics look a little soft; I am having trouble processing pics properly on my Mac. It may be a 'Pro' model but darn do I miss my Windows machine!

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Spoonbills by Moonlight

Well that was an interesting evening! Black Hole Marsh has been good in the evenings lately with some decent birds dropping in shortly before dusk so that seemed the logical place to have a look around in the hope of finding something new. As soon as I sat down in Island Hide I noticed two large white birds at the back of the marsh with their bills in the water; I put the binoculars to my face and BLIMEY, SPOONBILLS!

I've personally had a lousy few weeks in terms of finding anything decent or getting much reward for time invested but the last week has certainly had some better luck flying my way. Hopefully Spring brings many more goodies here, maybe even something properly rare...

The pics were quite distant as they mainly fed towards the back of BHM, but the light was fantastic and the birds are big so the photos came out quite nicely anyway. There are more pics and also some video footage so I'll post that tomorrow!

Steve Waite is doing the Patchwork Challenge with part of our Axe patch this year so Spoonbill is a good one to get on the list. Although having said that we'll probably get a few this year now! I initially stayed with the birds until just after 21:00 to see if they were going to roost on BHM but they just kept feeding. At this point the view over the estuary looked like this:

They were still visible from Tower Hide although it was difficult with the dull light shortly after Moonrise. Steve and I exchanged a few messages through the evening trying to work out if it'd be possible to see them when he finished work... at 22:00...

We met at BHM shortly after 22:00 and things were looking good as the high Moon was now throwing a decent amount of light in a good direction for us to view from Tower Hide. At about 22:20 we were watching Spoonbills by Moonlight with surprising ease. Some of you may think this was a bit (or a lot) mad but it was a heck of a lot of fun! Spoonbills aren't rare but they are good on patch. Stuff like this is what makes patch birding so, SO good.

Monday 10 April 2017

Wheatear - about time too

After missing quite a few Wheatears on patch so far this year (some by literally minutes) it was nice to finally catch up with some today. There were at least 6 on Colyford Common early afternoon although getting pics of them proved difficult as some noisy children scared them over to the other side of the tramlines. After a bit of a wait they did come back onto the West side of the tramlines and showed well although quite distantly. It was nice to meet some more blog followers whilst I was there; they said they made the trip because of my recent posts about the birds seen here! Always satisfying when that happens, so many thanks folks!

After Colyford Common I went for a quick check of Seaton Marshes in case anything else had fallen there during the course of the morning. There was one Wheatear there but nothing else of interest.

Sunday 9 April 2017

Goosander mid-poop

As the Cattle Egrets have been on BHM in recent mornings I thought an early visit there would be worthwhile. It was pretty disappointing when I arrived shortly after 07:00; the two Barwits were still present along with the Knot but there were no other small waders of interest and the Cattle Egrets weren't there either. They did however fly in just after 07:30 from Seaton Marshes and sat on the same corner of the same island as yesterday morning! They stayed on BHM until 08:50 when they flew North, one on its own initially and then the other 5 shortly afterwards.

An evening visit proved slightly more successful. Upon arrival it was just the same waders of interest but a single Cattle Egret landed on BHM briefly before flying South to the roost site. As it was starting to get dark 2 Goosander flew in! I'd never seen a Goosander on BHM but they only stayed for approx 2 minutes before flying out over the estuary.

I don't mean to make excuses for lousy photos here, but the morning light angle was awful (severely backlit) and the evening shots were all at high ISO due to it getting dark. Still, it's worth posting the pics especially as one of the Goosanders decided to poop for the camera before flying off from BHM!

All 6 Cattle Egrets

The single Cattle Egret briefly on BHM in the evening


The Sunset was also quite vibrant this evening, this being a mobile phone pic:

Saturday 8 April 2017


The blog title reflects the highlight of the day for me but it was a pretty good day here anyway! It was only in my post last night that I said "Osprey next" so this proved to be well timed. Just like with the Red Kite yesterday, it was the gulls that gave away the bird of prey; I spotted it flying over Seaton (was watching from near BHM) and it soon drifted directly over me. The bird wasn't particularly low so the pics aren't great but it could certainly have been a much worse view! If only it had all happened 15 minutes before as I would have had a view of it fishing right in front of Tower Hide in perfect light... I'm not too gutted; it was nice to just see one after having a lot of bad luck with them last year. After catching a fish it headed East and over the trees on the horizon. I was expecting it to perhaps sit up in the trees there, eat its meal and head off in the morning but an Osprey was seen in Lyme and Charmouth within the next hour. It's possible this was a second bird but it seems likely that this was all the same Osprey. Little did this bird know how much joy it had given to a few patch birders!

VERY heavy crop here. Being mobbed and carrying a fish!

More waders have been arriving here and others have remained so there were totals of 2 Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 Ringed Plover, 2 Little Ringed Plover and singles of Knot, Whimbrel & Greenshank in the valley here. I've been making more of an effort looking away from the normal areas over the last week or so in the hope of finding something different but this has been pretty unsuccessful thus far. Looking over Seaton Marshes, Coly Common and parts of Colyton & Musbury most days has yielded nothing new but a few hirundines, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. Black Hole Marsh certainly seems to be the hotspot for new arrivals at the moment. Hopefully the forecasted cloud for next week will help drop some passerines in; the hedges have been disappointingly quiet so far in terms of uncommon species.

Here's a few more photos from today:

Awful light but I quite like the way the birds are positioned. 3 Heron species!

All 6 Cattle Egrets

Peregrine over the house

Summer plumage Black-tailed Godwit

(Nearly) summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit

Excellent day!!!

Friday 7 April 2017

Red Kite from the front door!

I've been expecting to see a Red Kite with this recent warm weather and see a Red Kite I did! After dropping an order off I parked up at home and got to the front door when the Primrose Way Herring Gulls started making a fuss. Sure enough a quick look up and there was a Red Kite flying high heading East. I didn't have a camera on me so it was a case of quickly dashing upstairs in the hope that it hadn't gone out of sight by the time I could get the kit ready. It headed towards the estuary so hopefully some other patch birders got the message in time and connected; I see perhaps 3 or 4 Red Kites a year here but they're usually just passing over rather than lingering. Osprey next hopefully...
The first two images here are archive pics from 2013 (too many posts with only distant record shots on here lately!). The latter two Red Kite pics are of the bird from today.

Yesterday afternoon I spotted a Little Ringed Plover new-in and the Greenshank and Knot were still present on patch.

Swallows are picking up in number here now and I'm seeing them in most places I go looking; there have been a few over Seaton, Musbury and Colyton for the last few days. Aside from birds, it was nice to see an Orange-tip butterfly today at Lower Bruckland Ponds, my first of 2017.