Saturday 27 January 2018

Caspian Gull !!!

'Caspian Gull' was my immediate thought when I set eyes upon a very bright headed 1st Winter gull on the Axe estuary on 17th January (after missing the Glauc by minutes). Up until this point I had never seen one but have read blog posts by Steve and Gavin enough times to know that a very bright headed 1st Winter gull is interesting. As such I took a few snaps of it. I nearly sent 'possible' news out but talked myself out of it as it was getting late and frankly when it comes to 'good' gulls I'm pretty inexperienced.

There were a load of other reasons I doubted myself. Another birder was present and scanning the same birds but thought nothing of this bird when I mentioned it. I'd never seen one so had nothing in the 1st hand memory bank to compare it to. It didn't look like a 'classic' 1st Winter Casp from either the Collins Bird Guide or the local blogs, although there's obviously going to be variation from one bird to the next. Thoughts of hybrid ran through my mind and I'd missed the target bird (Glauc) so I headed home, slightly bemused. Then a disgusting illness hit and the pics didn't make it off my camera.

Roll on a week and still not happy with what the bird was, I put the pics on the PC and had a look. Still favouring Casp but not 100% confident I sent some pics to Steve and he said Casp straight away. He mentioned a few things such as the dusky flanks and extent of black barring on the tail not being typical (although within variation limits) and these features are amongst what put off my confidence with it. Also the open wing illustration in Collins looks pretty different but again that could be variation. That's where experience with seeing multiple examples of the same species counts I guess; I didn't know what would and what wouldn't be within variation for a 1st Winter Casp, even if the initial impression of the ID was indeed correct.

I also sent some pics for Gav to examine as Steve thought my bird on the 17th may be the same one that Gav had on 22nd; looking at the pics side by side this does seem to be the case. Gav confirmed this over a Twitter chat and we should be seeing a photo comparison on his blog soon... He also sent me a reading list. An initial glance over the Gibbins et al documents had me feeling slightly out of my depth but having spent a few hours with it today I'm now a bit more comfortable. I put my pics through the 'system' of tables from the papers and they place the bird as a Casp; it's reassuring to have some sort of numerical system to help with ID as it helps remove opinion and self-doubt from the scenario.

Thanks go to Steve and Gav for the confirmations and resources.

So I dipped a Glauc but found a Casp. That'll do. There are a few things for me to learn here, the main one being to put more trust in my own initial impressions; they didn't fail me in similar scenarios with half a dozen or so juv Yellow-legged Gulls in 2017 and they didn't fail here either. Still a 'beginner' with gulls, but learning. Another thing to take from this is to whenever possible, take pics of anything which you think looks interesting!

I spent another hour or two looking at gulls on the estuary late afternoon today. What is happening to me..?

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Hawfinches in Colyton and a probable Iceland Gull

I've spent most of the last week in bed watching TV; if you want to lose some weight I can thoroughly recommend this illness although the side effects include significant difficulties when it comes to eating & sleeping (averaging about an hour per day)! Generally speaking I shift illnesses pretty quickly but this one is a stubborn git.

In need of some fresh air, I popped out for a couple of short walks on Monday. There were 7+ Hawfinches around the Vicarage in Colyton early afternoon and later on I had what I was pretty sure was an Iceland Gull fly over amongst the flocks heading South out to sea shortly before 16:00, I just wish I'd put the camera up to my eye rather than the binoculars as a pic would have been able to confirm it. My phone was dead at the time so I couldn't send out a 'probable' report so said to Dad who was with me at the time that it'd be interesting to see if one is reported on the Axe the next morning (not that it would necessarily stay that long). Sure enough one was; Ian Mc reported an Iceland Gull from Coronation Corner shortly after 09:30.

Old news now but Ian Mc had a Glaucous Gull last week on 17th. I rushed over as soon as he texted but missed it by a matter of minutes. I'm still yet to see a Glauc...

Sunday 14 January 2018

Hawfinches on Patch

Finally! Steve Waite had a Hawfinch in Musbury near the church a few days back and Sue Murphy had 2 the following day so I was hopeful of finally seeing one on patch. I popped up this afternoon and had a couple in the churchyard but then another 4 flew overhead calling. It was nice to finally hear their call other than on recordings; I never did convincingly hear the Shute birds. The most I saw at any one time was 8 but there must be a few more there; they were very mobile and covering a wide area and there were so many calls. 1 posed (albeit a bit distantly) for a pic in the churchyard but this turned out to be just outside of the patch boundary (cheers for the map Steve). The images have had a bit of shadow and highlight recovery here as the lighting was terrible:

And now for a pic of 4 Hawfinches which were on patch! These were the other side of the farm to the SW of the church so were comfortably within the patch boundary:

There are a couple of smart males amongst the group so I'll try and get back for some better pics. The forecast is looking a bit dodgy for pics for the next few days mind...

On the way back from Musbury I had a quick glance over Bridge Marsh and the estuary. Little of interest really other than a Peregrine causing havoc.

A few days ago now but there was still a good selection of Pipits on Colyford Common on 11th including 3+ Water, 3+ Rock and 1 Meadow.

Tuesday 9 January 2018

White-fronted Goose

Ian Mc texted with news of a White-fronted Goose on Colyford Marsh so this prompted a hasty exit from home having only seen one on patch previously. Whilst driving over I saw a helicopter passing low overhead so I figured the bird may be flushed and sure enough it was! Fortunately it only went as far as the estuary between Tower Hide and Coronation Corner though:

It was another very dull afternoon so pics are a bit grainy but it was great to see this smart bird. A couple of people (Brendan Sheils, Martin Wolinski) reported a Merlin hunting between Colyford Common and Black Hole Marsh but I missed it. Tim Wright mentioned that a lady said she'd seen one recently too so perhaps there is one lingering locally, or more than one bird seen.

Best bird of the day was yet to come though; Steve Waite messaged with news of a 1st Winter Caspian Gull briefly on the estuary before it flew South, a bird I've still not managed to see here. I'm guilty of feeling less inclined to spend as much time out birding this time of year and days like this with 3 patch goodies (plus the Glossy Ibis and Water Pipits) just goes to show that that isn't the right approach. Work/gym/life obviously affects free time but I could definitely make more of an effort to get out birding now...

Monday 8 January 2018

Pipits and Glossy Ibis

It was great to finally do a bit of birding today, even if it was only brief! The day started off well with 2 male Bullfinches on the garden fence; the first I've seen from the house since moving here last July. An early afternoon trip to Colyford Common yielded 7 or perhaps 8 Water Pipits along with 2 Rock Pipits. They weren't always in one group and alternated between East and West of the tramline so I probably missed a few others.

Bridge Marsh was very busy with birds including the long-staying Glossy Ibis:

Sorry about the quality of the pics. It was very dull today so ISO settings were pretty nasty!

Tuesday 2 January 2018

Birding highlights of 2017

2017 had some pretty special moments. Nearly all of my birding time was spent working the patch for which there were some decent rewards but nothing really rare.

My highlight of 2017 sitting firmly at the #1 spot was one of only a few off-patch twitches - the Yellow Warbler at Portland on 21-08-2017. I don't generally get a buzz from twitching off-patch; I appreciate seeing a rare bird but it rarely gives me any real excitement. However after a few initial brief sightings and about an hour of patiently waiting, this small warbler originally from America posed beautifully for a few seconds. Everything about this moment was a huge buzz. I was there with some other Axe patch birders, we'd seen the bird soon after arrival, it eventually posed well with a nice setting and then I came away with this in pretty challenging conditions for photography:

#2 for me has to be the Red Kite passage over the patch on 24th and 25th of May. I was out looking at dragonflies when the first few drifted over; at that point I had no idea just how many I'd be seeing in the coming few days. I saw somewhere between 50 and 60 but there would have been a fair few more than that going over in total. A lot of the birds were passing over low as well, sometimes only 100-200 foot above me. It was a fantastic spectacle. Some readers of this blog probably see Red Kites on an almost daily basis, but I typically see <5 in the average year here, so this really was exceptional.

#3 slot is filled by an Osprey, one of four that I saw on patch in 2017. On September 8th I got an early birthday present when an Osprey showed brilliantly only a couple hundred feet upstream from Tower Hide. Over 10 hours of waiting (had a Kittiwake and 2 Knot as bonuses) but every second was worthwhile. Rare? No. But bloody impressive.

#4 Spoonbill and Cattle Egret posing together. I found 2 Spoonbills on Black Hole Marsh on April 11th and managed to get a shot of one of them taking off alongside a Cattle Egret the following morning. Two locally scarce (although Cattle Egret numbers had a bit of a boom in England in 2017) species posing together was great to see! We ended up having double figure numbers of Cattle Egrets in total for 2017.

#5 A Grey Phalarope which stayed for a few days from September 20th makes the highlights as it was the first one I've managed to see on patch. It showed rather well at times...

A few other highlights worth mentioning include the Waxwings at Newton Abbott, the Stilt Sand (and Least Sand) at Lodmoor and the Hawfinches at Shute. Hawfinches would have been in the top 5 had I not managed to miss almost 10 patch birds!

Having just looked back at my 2016 review I see that the 2017 one is a lot shorter and with fewer rarities! Hopefully that will change for the next one...

I wish all my readers a happy & successful 2018. Hopefully it'll be a great birding year!