Thursday 30 April 2015

Orcombe Cirl

I was on Orcombe Point for 0545 this morning but, as usual, it was really quiet. I followed the coast path east and as I approached Sandy Bay I picked up a quiet 'tsip' call. I knew straight away it was cirl bunting and soon picked up a bunting-like silhouette in the cliff-top scrub. It dropped down after I took the above shot but soon reappeared on the fence, in better light, to my left. I got a couple of photos before it flew off low to the west. They're still a scarce bird on Orcombe, with no signs of attempting to breed and, to be honest, no real prospects of breeding given the intensity of farming that takes place on Orcombe farmland. My last record on Orcombe was of a 'one day' single male in spring 2013. Last year was a blank year for the species. The only other migrants I had this morning were a couple whimbrel but whitethroats are now everywhere and evidently the females have arrived, judging by the number of pairs chasing each other  around noisily.
A quick look off the Leisure Centre, after football this evening, produced 80+ whimbrel, 2 bar-tailed godwit and 1 dunlin on the dropping tide. Black-headed gull numbers seem to be slowly building with c20+ birds visible distantly.

Female Cirl Bunting.

Foxes are a very common sight on Orcombe. Some seem to be getting very bold. This one just sat and stared at me as I walked past.

The Whitethroats are now sitting up loud and proud. Compare that to a couple weeks ago when they first arrived - quietly sub-singing from deep in cover and almost impossible to see.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Garganey and Whimbrel


I had a quick look at Bowling Green this evening as I had to pop in to Topsham anyway. It was great to see the two drake garganey (thanks for the text Mark) and, even though the photos are poor, I thought I'd stick them on here as garganey is a species that I rarely see in Exmouth, so it's unlikely to feature very often on the blog. Other birds on Bowling Green included 1 avocet, 1 common sandpiper (just visible in the top photo), 2 wigeon, 15+ greenshank and c150+ black-tailed godwit. A flock of c30+ whimbrel headed north over the reserve with a single bar-tailed godwit tagging along at the rear. As I drove over the Clyst, on my way back to Exmouth, a hobby flashed past - my first of the spring. 
A quick look off the Imperial, before work this morning, produced 4 bar-tailed godwit, 14 dunlin, 2 great crested grebe, 2 red-breasted merganser, 3 common tern and 40+ whimbrel.
Whimbrel have featured a lot in the last few days. Yesterday there were at least 44 off Mudbank, along with 2 ringed plover, and I had 15 heading towards the river mouth during a brief look off the seafront after work. There was also a single little tern off there but I could only muster 15+ sandwich tern, which is pretty poor for this time of year.

The two drake garganey were always distant.

Good numbers of Whimbrel are being seen off Mudbank at the moment.

Sunday 26 April 2015

Dung Heap Challenge


I did Orcombe from 0545 until about 0730, and again this afternoon. This morning it was extremely quiet but on my return, this afternoon, the dung field was full of birds. There must have been a bit of a late arrival. I had my first whinchat of the spring and at least 8 wheatear, though there could well have been more. The wheatear were again all quite large though perhaps not especially orangey underneath. They may be Greenland-bound or possibly Iceland-bound and should perhaps best be described as north-western types.
Other records from Orcombe today included 10+ chiffchaff, 23+ sandwich tern, 1 common tern, 5 black-headed gull, 4 lesser black-backed gull, 1 whimbrel, 8 whitethroat, 1 fulmar, 9+ swallow, 11+ blackcap, 1+ meadow pipit and 3+ willow warbler.
On the estuary there was c50+ whimbrel, 13 pale-bellied brent goose, 1 dark-bellied brent goose, 1 bar-tailed godwit and, remarkably, my first Exmouth sand martins this spring - 4 heading upriver.

Female Whinchat - very flighty and difficult to photograph but staying mostly within the dung field and occasionally perching on the dung heap with the wheatears.

Saturday 25 April 2015


All of the 3+ Wheatears seen today seemed large and quite richly coloured, presumably all Greenland types?

I did Orcombe Point with Derek this morning. It was quite quiet but the most notable birds were on Maer Rocks first light - a small party of waders consisting of 1 purple sandpiper (my first spring record in Exmouth), 3+ dunlin, 1 sanderling and a single turnstone. Also there c20+ sandwich tern, 1 dark-bellied brent goose and a grey heron.
The usual circuit on Orcombe Point produced 6 shelduck, 8 singing chiffchaff, 10 singing whitethroat, 5+ blackcap, 2 willow warbler, 1+ meadow pipit and 2+ wheatear.
A couple looks at the estuary, off the Imperial and Mudbank, produced a smart male wheatear, 8+ bar-tailed godwit, 23+ whimbrel, c65+ dunlin, 30+ sandwich tern, 3 little tern, 4 common gull, 1 great crested grebe, 2 red-breasted merganser and 3 pale-bellied brent geese, presumably the same 3 brents that Paul Gosling and I had seen earlier,  heading upriver off Lympstone, whilst watching our sons play football.

Thursday 23 April 2015


I had to squeeze birding into half an hour at dawn and half an hour late this evening, after another busy day of work. Orcombe Point produced 20 sandwich tern, 1 little tern, 1 grasshopper warbler and 4 wheatear. There are now several whitethroats on territory up there and I got the distinct sense that had I had more time, I'd have picked up other stuff.
The light was wrong for looking at the estuary but I managed to pick up a single brent goose, that looked dark-bellied, as well as a couple knot and c10+ godwit sp that, on silhouette, looked like a mix of black and bar-tailed.


Whitethroat - one of several on territory on Orcombe.

I'm having no luck photographing birds in bushes at the moment! I was however very pleased to see this skulking Grasshopper Warbler - a non-singing bird in the 'top fields'. They are a pretty scarce bird on Orcombe and are by no means guaranteed in any given year. I wonder how many more of these were lurking up there?

View from the top fields this evening, looking back towards Exmouth.

Monday 20 April 2015

Sunday's Redstart

Derek managed to get this shot of Sunday's Redstart on Orcombe Point. It was very restless and elusive, unlike the last bird. This bird shows a fair bit of white in the crown.

Devon Flashback 11 - 2006 Ashy-headed Wagtail

This bird was found by Ernie Davis on Thurlestone Marsh on April 17th 2006. I shot down for it as I hadn't seen this form before. I remember being quite taken with it. Above are my notes and sketches. It was a beautiful bird and showed quite well, but my photos are typically crap. You get the idea though. The call was noted as 'typical yellow wag' which means it wasn't at all raspy to my ear. Yellow wag calls are pretty variable though in my experience.

Sunday 19 April 2015

Today's Sightings

Wrens seem to be doing ok on Orcombe, with several birds on territory.
Another dawn visit to Orcombe Point with Derek. At first it seemed very quiet but by the time we'd left at 9am we'd logged a modest 2+ blackcap, 3+ chiffchaff, 4 whitethroat, 2 meadow pipit, 2 wheatear, 1 redstart (male), 1 yellow wagtail 'in off', 1 swallow, 2 manx shearwater, 1 guillemot, 3 sandwich tern, 1 great northern diver, 1 shelduck and 1 fulmar. The redstart was in blackthorn scrub in the hedgerow that borders Sandy Bay caravan site, but unlike the previous bird it stayed well hidden and frustrated our efforts to get a decent photograph.
I returned home for breakfast and spent a good chunk of the day trying to get the garden tidied up. This paid off when Lee texted me from the Warren to tell me an osprey was heading my way. I put down the strimmer, picked up the bins, and within a couple minutes was enjoying my fifth osprey of the spring as it patrolled off Mudbank (see photo). I kept an eye in the sky on and off all afternoon, and was rewarded with a red kite north-east over the river at 1527 and the (or possibly another?) osprey sat on the mud eating a fish off Mudbank from 1720 until 1800 when it headed upriver. At least 33 whimbrel were off Mudbank too.

Record shot of the osprey, taken from the back garden.

Lovely skies tonight.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Little Tern and Osprey

I made two short'ish visits to Orcombe Point today . The first was a dawn visit with Derek and the second, a mid-afternoon stroll on my own. It was freezing cold, in an unforgiving easterly this morning, and it was no surprise to find Orcombe pretty much birdless. The only birds to make the notebook were 1 shelduck, c15+ sandwich tern, 1 whimbrel and 3 mute swan. The whimbrel was unusual in that it actually landed on the point - something I can't remember witnessing before!
This afternoon's visit produced a singing male whitethroat, now back on territory, and a single meadow pipit, but it was salvaged somewhat by the butterflies that were numerous in the sheltered spots, and included 2 clouded yellows, orange-tip, comma and a probable painted lady.
Two quick looks at the river from the garden, before and after this morning's football matches, were worthwhile with 1 little tern, 1 osprey, c10+ sandwich tern, 2 greylag geese and a bar-tailed godwit among the species 'scoped'.
I've done some 'mad dash' 6am visits to Orcombe pre-work this week but I haven't had much. The highlights were 6+ willow warbler, 1 yellow wagtail (east), 1 siskin (west) and 4 blackcap on 16/4 and 20 distant brent geese (the majority at least appearing to be pale-bellieds) later the same day off the Imperial. Last night there was a flock of c30+ whimbrel off the Leisure Centre.

Whimbrel on the tip of Orcombe Point, photographed shortly after 0630 in poor light.

Three mute swans heading West shortly after dawn.


Dawn on Thursday morning.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Pale-bellied Brents

Sandwich Terns - Maer Rocks
The first pale-bellied brent geese of the spring were on the river today. A flock of 14, with a single dark-bellied bird, was distantly off the Imperial at about 5pm this afternoon. Also off there were 9 black-headed gulls, 6 red-breasted mergansers, 18+ sandwich terns and 6 whimbrel. A quick whiz around Orcombe produced 2 whitethroat, 3 wheatear, 1 whimbrel and, most unusually, a flock of c50+ curlew. The flock headed very high south-east and out to sea. They were very high up and I'd have never noticed them had they not been calling. I'm guessing they were heading to the low countries to breed.

Migrating curlew in a v-formation.

Whitethroat - a lousy record shot but all 4 birds I've seen so far this spring have been super skulky. This bird, like the others, delivered a quiet sub-song.

I went for a walk with the dog and the kids this evening, up on Woodbury Common. This weasle provided us with a lot of entertainment, hopping repeatedly out onto the track to look at us, apparently very curious!

Mallard ducklings - Woodbury Common.

Saturday 11 April 2015


Meadow Pipit - Dung Field
Disappointingly quiet on Orcombe Point this morning with a single whitethroat the only migrant of any note. A quick circuit of the top fields this afternoon produced a presumed continental song thrush.
A kestrel flying north upriver was an unusual sight - only the third (I think) I've ever seen from the house.
Yesterday was a bit better with 8+ chiffchaff, 1+ sandwich tern, 1 common tern, 1 blackcap, 2 red-throated diver, 1 willow warbler, 7 meadow pipit, 1 wheatear, 1 alba wagtail and 1 sparrowhawk. There was a single whimbrel off the Imperial too.

Thursday 9 April 2015

Another Redstart and First Whitethroat

Magpie at dawn.
A fine early morning spell of birding on Orcombe Point with Nick and Paul this morning. Sightings included another pristine male redstart as well as the spring's first whitethroat, a fly-over yellowhammer and a jay. Also this morning we recorded 8+ chiffchaff, 5+ willow warbler, 8 dark-bellied brent goose, 2+ sandwich tern, 3 shelduck, 7+ meadow pipit, 3 swallow, 4 wheatear, 2 canada goose, 2 alba wagtail, 1 blackcap and 1 rock pipit.
At 1110, whilst sat in the garden (unable to do the much needed gardening with the back as it is), a red kite went over - now very much expected at this time of year.


Jay is a scarce bird on Orcombe - more expected in autumn than spring.

Red Kite