Wednesday 30 April 2014

Roseate Tern

singing male whitethroat

Orcombe has been quiet for some time now but an hour after work, spent covering the top fields yesterday, produced my first garden warbler of the year (heard only), along with c6+ blackcap, c6+ willow warbler, 4+ chiffchaff, 2 wheatear and a flyover whimbrel. I'm sure a morning visit would have been much more fruitful. At least 6 whitethroat territories have been established on my usual route, but as yet a number of migrant species have yet to make an appearance on Orcombe. 
This evening I couldn't cover the top fields because the farmer was spreading manure, and work was taking place in the 'Bristol Schools' field. I only had half an hour before taking Joel to watch two school cup finals at the City ground, so I had a quick look out to sea in the hope of getting a roseate tern. The first scan revealed c20+ sandwich terns, mostly feeding off Orcombe Point, but it wasn't long before a small flock had concentrated on the rapidly disappearing sandbars and with them a lovely peach-tinted roseate tern. I lost it whilst sending some texts and then had to leave. Lets hope we get really good numbers again this year - last spring was fantastic. Also this afternoon, 1 great northern diver flew south.

male blackcap


male chaffinch

Sunday 27 April 2014

Collared Pratincole

Wow! This bird is simply stunning. Running around on the golf course at Skern, Northam Burrows just yards from its assembled admirers. I've seen this species abroad before but views have always been distant and/or hampered by heat haze, so the opportunity to see one up close, in relatively flat light, was absolute magic. I was immediately struck by its diminutive size (not a whole lot bigger than accompanying wheatears), and the subtle beauty of its muted colours. It was running short distances, snatching at flies and, very occasionally, leaping up in to the air for insects. It regularly pumped its tail downwards and seemed absolutely tied to a small stretch of the golf course. A huge thank you to Mike Langman for the lift up, and it was great to catch up with Colin Bath too - a thoroughly pleasurable afternoon in great company.

Short flight views revealed rich chestnut under wing coverts and a crisp white trailing edge to the secondaries - easy to see in dull light conditions but both these features can be very tricky in harsh light - see the photo of the birds I photographed in Morocco last week - neither feature is obvious.

As well as the pratincole, the whole area seemed to be jumping with migrants. In fact it's little wonder I've seen so few migrants in Exmouth - they're all in north Devon! Whilst walking to and from the pratincole we picked up c10+ white wagtails, c15+ wheatear, 2 common sandpipers, 3 yellow wagtails, whitethroat, 2 stonechat and several swallows, whilst sedge warblers sang from the brambles. 

The wheatears we looked at appeared to be Greenland types.

The white wagtails were unbelievably smart-looking birds - love em!

I tried a field sketch but as usual it just sells the bird short - It makes you look hard at the bird though and that can only be a good thing.

Monday 21 April 2014


I've seen so few wheatears this spring that I couldn't resist spending some time watching and photographing a small party of at least 6 birds (5 males), in the top fields this afternoon. It's interesting to note the variation in colour saturation on the underparts in this small sample of birds. As there appeared to be no noticeable size difference I'm not certain any of these are north-western birds (Iceland/Greenland) but at least one individual exhibited quite a strong orange flush to the breast and a much more brown-toned mantle. It looked significantly darker in flight and is therefore a contender for 'leucorhoa'.

Note the difference in underpart orange and mantle colour between the top two individuals and the bird below. 

possible 'Greenland' wheatear?

Other birds on Orcombe today included a female redstart, 3 whitethroat, at least 3 blackcap, 4+ chiffchaff, 1 whimbrel, c30+ swallow and my first 3 house martin of the year. So migration is still slow here in Exmouth but at least there were plenty of butterflies on the wing this afternoon, including several orange tip. I also found a dark-looking silver  Y - a moth that is seen much more frequently later on in the summer.
Off Mudbank there was 1 dark-bellied brent goose, 1 pale-bellied brent goose, 7 common gull and 10+ whimbrel.

 silver Y

orange tip

Sunday 20 April 2014

A Few More Morocco Bits

little swift - words can not express how much I enjoyed watching this species at such close quarters.

 pallid swift

 purple heron

 stone curlew

green-striped white

african grass blue


 2s (3cy) western yellow-legged gull

3s (4cy) western yellow-legged gull

Monday 7 April 2014

Kumlien's Gull

It was a nice surprise to set eyes on this bird off the Imperial this afternoon, around 2pm. When I first picked it up, its robust build and apparently all black bill immediately hinted at kumlien's gull as opposed to iceland gull. Frustratingly however, it was face-on to me and within seconds it had flipped up into the wind and flown closer to Mudbank. I drove round to Mudbank but again it flew, back towards the Imperial. Brief flight views on each occasion showed an apparent dark wash to the outer primaries but the visibility was awful, with strong wind and rain compounding my frustration.
Back at the Imperial it was still too distant so I whipped round to the coach park where I could finally see it side-on. At rest, as with my February bird, its primaries appeared all white. I strained my eyes to pick up any darker markings but couldn't see any. Then it jumped into the air and flew a short distance, revealing distinctly darker centres to at least the outer four primaries and a really prominent grey tail band. Again it flew, so I rattled off a few shots but look away now if you're averse to dreadful photos!

 Flying away from me off Mudbank.

 A very chunky, barrel-bodied bird in flight.

On this appalling shot, note the dark tail band and the contrast between the darker outer primaries and paler inner primaries. At this point it was heading towards Exmouth town centre.

Again note the darkness to the outer primaries.

I'm guessing this is the bird seen six days ago by Tim off Topsham Rec and could feasibly be the bird seen off the Warren before that. As unlikely as it may seem I wouldn't rule out it being the bird I had way back in February. It certainly had a familiar feel to it, but of course there's no way of knowing for sure. 
Also this afternoon 60+ sandwich tern and 7 dark-bellied brent goose off the Imperial. The 2w glaucous gull is still on the Quay.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Early Pied Fly

I had a very early look around the point and coast path with Nick Pratt this morning. Despite the damp and fog we didn't see much but I had to leave at 0730 to be back in time to take Joel to football in Dawlish. We were all back for lunch and Lu was keen to take the kids into town, so I dropped them off and headed back up to Orcombe to check the top fields. The conditions were just as bad, if not worse than they had been earlier, with rain and low cloud, which meant visibility was reduced to just a few yards. Predictably I saw nothing in the top fields but the Bristol Schools field held a few chiffchaffs and I was relieved to finally clap eyes on my first two willow warblers of the year. This encouraged me to look a bit harder so I joined the coast path with the intention of checking the edge of the caravan park. At the top of the slope, above the geoneedle, a bird flipped up on to a low branch, that in the murk, registered as a chaffinch. However it turned to face me and looked far too white. I got the bins on it and was thrilled to clap eyes on this beautiful female pied flycatcher - a very scarce migrant on Orcombe and a nice early one at that. I stupidly went for photos before checking the all-important primary covert white 'teardrop' but I needn't have worried as the bird stayed put, in its tiny little patch of scrub, occasionally landing on the fence just feet from me. Photographing it however was really tricky as it never stayed still for long and the light was terrible.

On the way home I did a u-turn in the Quay car park to check the glaucous gull was still present and a quick look off the Imperial revealed 22+ sandwich terns and 2 dark-bellied brent geese
It has been a really odd spring so far this year. I've still had only the single wheatear and I've yet to record my first sand martin or swallow in Exmouth - crazy! This time last year I'd seen dozens of wheatears, stacks of chiffies, at least 3 ring ouzels, several black redstarts, common tern and 2 stone curlews in Exmouth, among other stuff. Having said that, no two springs are the same and the unpredictability of spring birding is what makes it so exciting.

Thursday 3 April 2014

Osprey Number 3?

Another osprey this evening. It was viewable from the Imperial and Mudbank, out on the mud towards Powderham Corner. It was feeding on a large fish but not attracting the usual entourage of crows. This could possibly be Tuesday's bird but it could feasibly be a different bird or even the individual present earlier in the week - who knows? Also, on a very quick sortie this afternoon, the pale-bellied brent goose still on Maer Rocks, the second winter glaucous gull still on the Quay and a white wagtail on the Imperial ground, that was flushed by a car before I could get any decent shots.

white wagtail - summer plumaged female?

Lovely skies again this evening.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Another Osprey

I had a bit of time to zip around a few sites after work this afternoon. I started with a quick lap of the top fields. Again migrants were conspicuous by their absence but I did flush a single snipe and a single meadow pipit . As I headed down Gore Lane, around 5pm, I could hear a commotion building among the gulls behind me. I re-traced my steps back up the lane to the main gate where I was able to scan the sky line, and very soon I picked up a migrant osprey. It appeared to come in off the sea above Sandy Bay and continued north towards Exmouth. I watched it circle over Exmouth, accompanied by a swirl of panicked gulls, but took my eye off it to send some texts, and never saw it again. It was always way too distant for a photograph but the scope views weren't too bad. I was pleased that Dave Stone was able to see it over the river shortly afterwards.

A quick look off Maer Rocks was quite productive with the pale-bellied brent goose still, 16 dark-bellied brent geese, 1 great crested grebe, 1 female eider and 9 sandwich terns including two with strong pink flushes to the underparts. Finally I did the obligatory 'Quay stop' but the glaucous gull was stood by itself on Warren Point.

Pale-bellied brent being seen off by its dark-bellied cousin.

Dark-bellied brent having a flap.