Sunday 2 February 2014

Woodbury Crossbills

I was very pleased to see these crossbills on Woodbury today. I haven't seen or heard any crossbills on the east Devon Commons for ages and extensive searches earlier in the winter all drew a blank, whilst there were good numbers of birds up on Haldon and elsewhere. I guess this party of seven (all pictured above) is getting ready to pair up and breed. The birds were at the bottom of the wide track leading down from Woodbury castle and were picked up on call whilst we were all walking the dog before lunch. Apart from the crossbills it was very quiet up there but very pleasant all the same.

Some of these birds showed quite hefty lower mandibles but I couldn't turn any into parrots.

I spent the first hour of daylight yesterday and today just tootling around Exmouth but have seen very little. The light has been good though but my camera can't adequately capture the big skies that are just amazing at times.

This is the big field at the top of Gore Lane. There are about 40+ skylark, 30+ meadow pipit and 30+ linnet wintering in it and snipe numbers fluctuate with up to 20 at times though I only saw a couple this weekend. Yesterday there were 3 fieldfare. As you can see it's very wet and probably frustrating for the farmer who presumably wants to plant spring barley in it.

This is a gigantic rain cloud that seemed to drift out of Torbay and out to sea - fantastic looking but I'm glad it bypassed Orcombe.

I photographed these dark-bellied brent geese, part of a flock of c20+, from the car down by the Imperial Rugby ground. The bird in the middle on the above photo is an adult and either side of it is an immature bird. Below, just an adult bird. Two drake goldeneye were displaying (throwing their heads right back on to their backs) to two females just offshore.

Pied wagtail - can't work out what's going on with the greater coverts and it's missing its middle tertials so presumably in moult? Can anybody help with the ageing and sexing? Presumably a first-winter female? Help! Having no ringing experience I flounder with such details but that's because I don't read enough about it.

 Above - second-winter herring gull.

Above - 'tricky to age' herring gull. Many features suggest third-winter (plain grey mantle, scaps, median and inner greater coverts) but it could be an advanced-looking second-winter bird (tertials and primaries arguably a better fit). Opinions welcome as always - the more I look the worse I get!

Above - a straightforward first-winter herring gull. Love em but I know they're not everybody's cup of tea.


  1. Admire your critical eye for detail with things like ageing gulls and wagtails Matt, probably helps explain how you find so many good birds. Every winter I make a resolution to study large gulls more, every winter I fail. Dennis Elphick is probably your man to ask about the wagtail. He's spent hours and must have rung thousands at Slapton over the years, sure he could help.

  2. Hi Matt, interesting photos and I can’t resist your invitation for opinions. Here’s mine, for what it’s worth:

    Pied Wagtail – I have the same problem with these. The trouble is that all age classes have a partial winter/pre-breeding moult so can show anything from 2 moult limits in the GC coverts (def.1W) to all fresh (ad or 1W). The flight feathers should in theory be a better guide as 1W will be older and more worn but this isn’t always obvious. I see some birds with browner and more worn primaries which I tentatively call 1W but I also see some apparently young birds with fairly fresh feathers. On your bird the blackish flight feathers and primary coverts with neat white fringes look fairly fresh so I’d tentatively say not a 1W. But you’re going to need a real expert for this one.

    The Herring Gull – agree a very plain mantle for a 2W but still a few marks on scaps, also barring on coverts and tertials look a little coarse for 3W. I think the safest character here is the primaries, on a 3W should be blacker with obvious white tips, so I’d call this an advanced 2W. Of course, other opinions are available!

  3. Hi Tim - I'd go for 2w too - primaries look v faded cf the bird in the photo above though. Really appreciate your help on gull and wag. Many thanks.
    Hi Perry - I'll look for Dennis' contact details - many thanks and good to hear from you again.

  4. Matt, fantastic that you can share your knowledge in this way, I have read all the posts including the latest of Kumliens, brilliant stuff.
    Re. Crossbill breeding. I have spent a few days at Haldon and similar spots. I don't think they will be breeding anywhere near here this year. The Sitka spruce needs to 'mast' before they will nest here and it isn't this year. It did nearly 3 years ago and it may be on the cards for next year, fingers crossed. They are nomadic and will find somewhere, probably abroad!