Saturday 29 March 2014

Close but Not Quite

The siberian chiffchaff popped up right in front of me in the garden this afternoon and just sat there, begging for me to snap away. It's an incredibly grey individual and usually secretive, always low and unobtrusive. I'm assuming it's a female because I haven't heard a whiff of song from it so far. Both 'colybitta' chiffchaff and blackcap have been singing out the back today. 
Early this morning Derek Carter and I traipsed around Orcombe Point, but the star bird eluded us. As we skirted the 'turnip' top field a dove burst out in front of us and flew in an arc down towards the coast path. On the brief views we had it had to be a turtle dove but as with any scarce bird, 'concrete' views were required to claim it with certainty. We tried hard to relocate it but had no luck. Apart from that we had just 6+ chiffchaff. Thanks to yet another timely call from Lee Collins at the Warren we did get a spoonbill off Mudbank -a pink-billed immature bird that vanished as quickly as it appeared (though Derek did get some photos of it a little later on off the Imperial rugby ground). 
I had to be back for 9am to take Joel to football out at Newton Poppleford and was a bit miffed to learn of a kumlien's gull off the Warren mid-morning. It would have been particularly annoying had I not had the first-winter bird back in February. Also today 4 sandwich tern, 2 great crested grebe and the 2 female eider off Maer rocks.

Continuing the 'head shot' theme I photographed this magnificent great black-backed gull on Exmouth Quay today. For once though I didn't get the glauc.

Note the 'bic biro' yellow, white-tipped, hatchet-like bill, scarlet orbital ring and speckled brown iris - nice!

Friday 28 March 2014


Thanks to a text from Mark Bailey, about an osprey seen earlier this afternoon off the Warren, I kept my eye on the river from the back garden. Just before 6pm a commotion among the gulls, oystercatchers and curlew drew attention to the bird heading purposefully upriver. I took some shots but as you can see it was always distant. It seemed to head towards Lympstone before being lost to view. Also on the river this afternoon a sandwich tern and 28 brent geese.

Earlier, after work, I'd nipped down to the Quay for yet another look at the glaucous gull. The novelty of seeing this species close up still hasn't worn off!

On the photo below you can see the true colour of the iris and a banana-yellow flush is starting to appear on the bill.

I thought I'd show a herring gull head shot, taken on the Quay a couple days ago, by way of a comparison. Note the orange orbital ring and white bill tip. I think gulls are fantastic-looking birds but a lot of birders really don't like them.

Wrens are very vocal at the back of the garden at the moment. A chiffchaff has also been singing today and the siberian chiffchaff was still present on 26/3. Also on the 26th, 15 black-tailed godwit on the river plus 2 eider and two long-tailed duck distantly off the seafront.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

First Wheatear

It has been a long time coming. Last year I saw my first wheatear on March 9th. This evening's bird was a very flighty and unapproachable individual in the top fields on Orcombe Point. Also present c40+ linnet, 3 song thrush and 2 chiffchaff with 19 dark-bellied brent geese and 3 turnstone on Maer Rocks.  The siberian chiffchaff is still present at the back of the garden and the glaucous gull is still loitering around the Quay carpark. It has an increased number of parasites around its eye on the right side of its head.

Male pied wagtail on Exmouth Quay.

Note the parasite distribution around the eye - they appear to have multiplied.

Monday 24 March 2014

More Glaucous Gull

I couldn't resist another look at the glaucous gull this evening. I had a few minutes between finishing work and taking Joel to Exeter for football training, but it was worthwhile. The fishermen had left some boxes of fish scraps on the quayside and the glauc was stood staring at them and occasionally giving them a peck. It also spent some time hanging in the wind and eventually joining other gulls in a melee, as the scraps were deposited in to the sea.

In the above photo note the rather pale grey iris and delicate vermiculations in the tertials - a further pointer to this bird being a second-winter.

Sunday 23 March 2014


Orcombe Point was really cold and really birdless first thing this morning, except for 65 dark-bellied brents and a single pale-bellied brent goose on Maer Rocks, so I was back to watch Match Of The Day with Joel shortly after 0730. I squeezed in a quick look at the Quay, and almost ran over the glaucous gull on the way back but I'm still just as confused about its age! The pale bill tip suggests second winter and the grey iris is neither properly dark nor properly pale. The blotchy breast markings look ok for second winter but the rest of the plumage is just too worn and pale to offer any real clues.

Great black-backed gull with Maer Rocks (complete with brent flock), then Exmouth Beach then Warren Point, then Bull Hill sand bar with Haldon Hills behind.


Olive-grey iris looking paler than usual in sunlight. Note the damage to the upper mandible and the pale bill tip. On this photo alone you would have to age it as second winter (third calendar year). I think the small dark spots behind the eye are parasites that many northerly latitude gulls seem to show.

After lunch we all headed down to the beach to walk the dog. We parked at the top of Foxholes and walked down on to the beach. Almost immediately I picked up a call that I first registered as jackdaw but then realised, above the sound of the strong northerly wind, that it was actually more chough-like! I momentarily panicked and glanced up to see it right overhead. I whipped the camera out, pointed and pressed but couldn't actually see the bird on the screen because of the harsh light. It immediately curled its wings, tumbled and then just rocketed directly along Exmouth beach towards the river mouth. I phoned Lee and Kev but Lee didn't answer and Kev was in Scotland! I then made a load of other calls before eventually getting hold of Lee who frustratingly wasn't at the Warren. I really hope it can be pinned down but I think it's a bit of a 'needle in a haystack' situation. It's presumably the same bird seen near the Otter a few weeks ago so it could be ranging widely around the Exmouth/Budleigh area - who knows?
After I'd calmed down a bit I checked the camera, fully expecting just blue sky, but as you can see I fluked a shot that nicely captures its unique silhouette.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Sibe Chiff, Possible Caspian Gull and Glauc Up Close

The siberian chiffchaff was at the back of the garden again today. I've not seen it for over a week but it's good to know it's still around. A male blackcap was singing in scrub at the back of the garden too and I scoped a very black lesser black-backed gull on the river, that was presumably an 'intermedius' type. Keen to get a better look I nipped down to Mudbank but it had disappeared. I did however pick up a gull that had me scratching my head. It had the classic wing pattern of a caspian gull with wholly dark, white-tipped median coverts, and pale-tipped dark-based greater coverts producing a striking double wing bar effect. Unfortunately the light wasn't great and the bird was a good way out on the mud so my photos are predictably dreadful. The tertials were spot on for caspian (though worn so not that much help) and the nape was nicely spotted. The mantle was good too being a nice neutral grey, contrasting with the wing coverts and exhibiting some small dark 'spots'. However there were some not so classic features such as a little too much blotching on the flanks and belly, a shortish bill and shortish legs. I couldn't get any underwing detail and the tail didn't look great. In fact the rump, uppertail coverts and tail base were quite heavily marked with small crescents. In short, I can't claim it as a caspian, but I wouldn't completely rule it out!
Also on the river today several red-breasted mergansers, still 3 pale-bellied brent geese and small numbers of dark-bellied brent geese.

The mystery gull - a small 'grotty' caspian, a hybrid or just a very peculiar herring?

With both kids at parties this afternoon, I had a bit of time to bird. I concentrated on the river but was a bit taken aback to literally almost bump in to the glaucous gull on Exmouth Quay! It's a really nice bird and with a decent camera I could probably have got some award-winning shots. It appears to be a first-winter but the bill has acquired a nice pink tip more indicative of second winter. Hmmm. From a distance it looks all white but the finely brown-stippled immature plumage is still visible close-up. Lovely!

This juvenile shag allowed close approach on Exmouth Fish Quay.

Friday 21 March 2014

Glauc but Otherwise a Quiet Week

Another glaucous gull this evening - my fourth in Exmouth this year so far. It's presumably the bird seen at the Warren yesterday. It was off Shelly Beach along with 3 pale-bellied brent geese

It spent the whole time asleep so couldn't confidently be aged but assuming it's the Warren bird it's a first-winter.

There are still quite a few red-breasted mergansers around.

Little egrets flying to roost over Mudbank earlier in the week. Flocks of twenty plus are frequenting the sheep fields alongside the cycle path at the moment.

Several nice sunsets this week.

Sibe chiffchaff last seen a week ago 'out the back'.

Back garden blackbird.

Wednesday 12 March 2014


I was up early again to see if the siberian chiffchaff was around, and it was indeed feeding furtively at the back of the garden. I got another photo but it's just as bad as yesterday's. 

It spent ages in this small privet before moving back into a sallow and out of view.

This evening, after work, I whizzed around just two fields on Orcombe. There were 3 song thrush in the main top field but little else. I then did the Bristol Schools Camp field and was thrilled to find a single firecrest along with a single goldcrest.  Firecrest is a very infrequent visitor to Orcombe. I probably average just one or two records a year with March a better month than October or November. A couple years ago I was lucky enough to find a singing male along the coast path but this evening's bird didn't even call, never mind burst into song!

As always it was a devil to photograph, restlessly shifting from branch to branch. The camera of course focused on the branches and rarely the bird.

The very tip of Warren Point as seen from Exmouth Seafront this evening.