Sunday 31 May 2015

Black-throated Diver

Black-throated Diver field sketches.
I did a sea-watch from 0520 - 0645, in a reasonable South-Westerly breeze, and had a nice selection of stuff. Most notable was a relatively close black-throated diver that flew West, past the lifeboat station, towards Langstone Rock. The bird was in non-breeding plumage and was in view long enough for me to complete the above sketch. Early yesterday morning I had it or another flying more distantly West. It pitched down on the sea somewhere off Dawlish Town.
Also this morning I recorded 4 great northern diver (taking the spring total to 123 so far), 37+ common scoter, 2 common tern, 6 sanderling, 3 first-summer mediterranean gulls that flew in together, 1 kestrel that flew across the bay towards the Warren, 2 swallow and my first great skua of the year.
Migrants on the Point included my first reed warbler (on Orcombe) of the spring, 1 sedge warbler and 1 wheatear.

 I probably average one or two records of Reed Warbler a year on Orcombe. They're always singing birds really late on in the spring. I very rarely see them so I was quite pleased to get the above record shot. Let's face it, I've taken worse photos!

Good to see a large, recently-fledged, brood of long-tailed tits on the patch this morning. I'd estimate 10 - 15 juveniles. The above is a rather knackered-looking adult. Below - some juveniles.


Friday 29 May 2015

More Stuff

Ringed Plover on Exmouth Beach. It's quite unusual to get any waders on the beach so I was pleased to see this bird. It was calling for some time before I managed to clap eyes on it. Moving this late in May it's presumably a more northerly breeding tundrae race bird.
The usual circuit this morning, in less than ideal conditions, produced 3 great northern diver, 11 sanderling, 1 ringed plover and 18 canada goose that sat on the sea off the lifeboat station and then swam round Orcombe Point - bit odd!
I had to drop the kids in Topsham mid-morning so I had a quick squiz at Exminster Marshes. A lone dunlin was the only wader I could seen on the pools but I spent most of my time stood beneath the line of oaks on 'the bend' as a large hirundine flock swarmed around me. They were predominantly house martins but there were also several swallows and a small number of sand martins. About 50+ swift fed generally higher up and further out over the marshes.
My camera can't cope with the lightening speed of hirundine flight but this photo hopefully gives some idea of how busy it was beneath the boughs of the oaks.

I absolutely love house martins. I see very few in Exmouth so watching them at close quarters this morning was all the more special. It was a bit of a novelty to see them sat in the lush green foliage of the oak trees.

I picked this feather up on Exminster Marshes this morning. I'm useless with feathers - anyone any ideas? Would like to think it's the rear flank or undertail feather from a Baillon's Crake - yeah right!!??!

Thursday 28 May 2015

Migrants and Fledglings

Juvenile Linnet.
I mini upsurge in migrants this morning! I did Orcombe Point from 0525 'til about 0700 and recorded 5 sandwich tern, 25+ sanderling, c15+ wader sp, 1 dunlin, 23 swift (all west and the biggest movement this year), 3 house martin, several swallow and 1 spotted flycatcher.
I had a mooch up on the Commons this afternoon but failed to locate yesterday's cuckoo. Nice to see reasonable numbers of stonechat and meadow pipit though.

Spotted Flycatcher

The pair of Rock Pipits that breed on Orcombe Point have successfully fledged a single juvenile. Interesting to see how subtle the differences between juvenile and adult plumage are. The juvenile is on the left in the above photo.

Juvenile (bottom) and female Stonechat - Woodbury Common.

Adult male Stonechat.

White rumps is the 'norm' for male Stonechats on the Pebbled Heaths.

Green Hairstreaks, Small Heaths and Common Blues among the butterflies seen on Woodbury Common this afternoon.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Soarly Missed

Woodpigeon outside the hotel room.

Lu and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary with a night down in the Soar Mill Cove Hotel. The weather was amazing and I was reminded of just how much I love the area. Its beauty, in my opinion, is incomparable with anywhere else in the county. I didn't do any birding as such, but it was hard to ignore the songs of numerous cirl buntings and stonechats as we walked the coastal footpaths. I used to make fairly frequent visits to Soar in the autumn but family commitments and the escalating cost of fuel put an end to that. I'm really going to try and get down there this autumn. The birding is fantastic and if you hit a quiet day there, you never feel as though you've had a wasted journey.
Locally, the female 'Greenland' wheatear is still in residence in the dung field and I was over the moon to hear, and see, a cuckoo whilst walking the dog up on the East Devon Commons this afternoon - the first I've had up there in about 2 years!

Soar Mill Cove

The Bay at the bottom of Starehole Valley, photographed on the descent from Bolt Head - masses of bluebells are in full bloom, all along the coastal path, along with gorse and thrift. Small pearl-bordered fritillaries were among the butterfly species noted.


Sunday 24 May 2015

Generally Quiet but much too Loud in the Woods!


Juvenile and adult male Pied Wagtail - Sandy Bay. The juvenile was one of 2 birds present.

Not a lot doing in Exmouth at the moment but good to see quite a few birds fledging. Orcombe today produced 1 first-summer mediterranean gull, 2 mallard, 4 great northern diver, 9 sanderling, 1 turnstone, 1 whimbrel, 1 shelduck, 1 common tern, 2 sandwich tern and 1 wheatear.
Early yesterday morning I had 4 black-headed gull, 1 sandwich tern, 1 black-throated diver (south @ 0648), 2 mute swan, 1 little egret and 1 great northern diver.

At least 3 pairs of Song Thrush are on territory within the Orcombe Patch boundary.

Woodbury Fort is a good place to find breeding Stock Doves. They nest in holes in trees and are very vocal at this time of year.

The starling flock 'out the back' of our house is swelling by the day, as more and more newly-fledged juveniles appear.

Robin - very busy feeding young at the moment.

'Greenland' Wheatear - Orcombe - this female bird has been knocking around for a few days.

I went looking for Tawny Owls in a previously unexplored patch of quiet local woodland this afternoon. It didn't take me long to locate a pair by following the scolding calls of blackbirds and chaffinches. I was patiently trying to get the above photo when a loud bark just feet away scared the s**t out of me. Expecting to see a massive dog, I was somewhat relieved to see a roe buck peering through the understory at me.

Friday 22 May 2015


This morning's 3 great northern divers that flew past Orcombe Point took my spring tally to 111 birds. I don't do that much sea-watching so I wouldn't like to hazard a guess as to just how many birds have flown out of Lyme Bay in the past few weeks. I also had a probable black-throated diver flying south distantly. It wasn't a great northern and it wasn't a red-throated but I don't like identifying birds by default, so it has to remain as just a 'probable'. The best bird this morning however wasn't a diver but a skua. A pale phase pomarine skua was picked up a long way offshore at 0635 before beating its way purposefully into the bay to show off its 'spoons'. It remained off the lifeboat station, harassing kittiwakes, until at least 0655 when I had to leave to go to work. It was a bit unexpected given the rather benign weather conditions.
Also off there this morning were 6 small wader sp, just 2 sandwich tern and 3 great crested grebe.
Yesterday I recorded 1 great northern diver, 3 great crested grebe, 1 wheatear, 2 sandwich tern and 2 sanderling.
On 19/5 I logged 21 great northern diver, 6 sandwich tern, c30+ kittiwake, 4 fulmar, 8 wader sp and 1 probable hobby distantly offshore. On 20/5 there was a pair of wigeon in the estuary early morning, and a couple of dog-walks on the common this week produced tremendous views of both dartford warbler and hobby.

Sunday 17 May 2015

Best Bird Missed

Male Bullfinch - perched openly for a change. A pair breeds on Orcombe Point but they're normally pretty elusive.
Just two migrants recorded on Orcombe today - a wheatear and a fly-over yellow wagtail. I missed the best bird - a smart adult little gull that Nick videoed off the seafront this morning. Would like to have seen that one!

Saturday 16 May 2015

Divers and Kites

Red Kite - photographed from the back garden. I was fortunate to get this shot as the bird was so low that it was mostly out of sight behind the neighbours' houses.
At least 12 great northern divers flew past Orcombe Point between 0530 and 0610 this morning. Most were heading north or north-west but 4 birds went east. Also off there was a first-summer mediterranean gull and c10+ sandwich tern.
A quick look off Mudbank was worthwhile as a red kite flew north before crossing the river. It was the first of 9 red kites today, the rest seen from the garden, heading north upriver. The closest one was really low, pretty much flying up Belle Vue Road on a more easterly bearing. I'm sure that if I'd sat and scanned all day I'd have got loads more. Also 1 peregrine, 1 sparrowhawk and a flock of c30+ wader sp high south, most likely whimbrel.

Today's first Red Kite heading across the river.

Second-summer Great Black-backed Gull with a big crab.

Friday 15 May 2015


Two short spells of birding today - this afternoon's being far more productive than this morning's. I did Orcombe at 0530 this morning, but only managed to find a single sedge warbler and an utterly predictable, high-flying great northern diver. It headed high north inland.
Thank you to Lee and Keith for your texts this afternoon. Lee texted me about a roseate tern off the Warren. I picked it up off the seafront - a lovely 'pinky' individual fishing with about a dozen sandwich tern. Also, off the seafront this afternoon, were c15+ black-headed gull and a first-summer mediterranean gull.
Keith texted me about a couple red kites NE over Bowling Green, so I thought I'd check the river off the Imperial and scan Haldon ridge at the same time. I very quickly picked up 2 red kites heading fast north along Haldon ridge at about 1710, and a third individual circling over the other side of the river shortly afterwards. There are clearly stacks of birds around at the moment. Also off the Imperial this afternoon were 8 great crested grebe, 1 hobby, 1 peregrine and c20+ swift.

Great Northern Diver - at least 70 recorded off Orcombe so far this spring, assuming of course that the same birds aren't being re-counted.

Recently fledged Dunnock.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Exmouth Tick

A rare sight in Exmouth these days - a Kestrel hovers over the top fields yesterday, attracted by new-cut silage, from outside the patch.

Thanks to some top 'gen' from good friend Terry Smith, I managed to add nightjar to the old Exmouth list on Sunday night. Amazing views of a male bird at dusk put me in a really good mood for the week.
Otherwise it has been quite quiet in Exmouth on the bird front, but my third singing male lesser whitethroat of the spring was found early this morning in the boundary hedge between Sandy Bay and Orcombe. Otherwise the only other migrants noted were 1 smart male 'Greenland' wheatear, 7 house martin, 2 swift, 2+ whimbrel and 3 great northern diver, two of which were picked up by the whistling of their wings as they shot really low over my head first thing this morning. All three gained a lot of height and looked like they were going to fly straight up the Exe.
The other notable sighting today was a decent flock of about 90 sanderling, presumably new in, on a sandbar off the seafront.
Yesterday the most notable sighting was a kestrel on Orcombe Point, no doubt tempted in by the newly-cut silage fields. I'm guessing grass cutting does quite a bit of damage to rodents. Kestrels were a regular sight in the Orcombe/Sandy Bay area until recently, but they have been conspicuous by their absence this year. Let's hope yesterday's bird hasn't flown too far from 'off-patch'. Also logged yesterday were 3 wheatear, 45+ sandwich tern, 1 little tern and 3 whimbrel.

'Greenland' Wheatear

One of two Painted Ladies seen this afternoon.

There are a lot of singing male Whitethroats on Orcombe at the moment. Any area of suitable habitat seems to hold birds.

Sunday 10 May 2015


Field sketches of this morning's Pomarine Skuas.

Very quiet on the land again today but good on the sea, despite early morning murky conditions and a relatively feeble breeze. I did 0530 - 8'ish, and had a quick look off the beach huts again late morning, when the wind picked up. This morning's totals included 2 wheatear, 23 whimbrel, 2 common tern, 1 little tern, 3 great northern diver, 18+ dunlin, c30+ sandwich tern, 5 pomarine skua, 1 arctic skua, 1 fs mediterranean gull, and 4 manx shearwater.
Just 1 bar-tailed godwit and c30+ whimbrel were noted in the estuary.
The highlight was the 4 pomarine skua, 3 pale and 1 dark phase, that powered around Orcombe Point and in to the bay at 0705. All four spent 20 minutes sat on the sea, off the Lifeboat Station, before heading south and ditching again off Langstone Rock. A fifth bird went through at 1125 along with good numbers of auk sp and a few fulmar, but I didn't give it very long.

Saturday 9 May 2015

Hobby 'In Off'

Spotted Flycatcher - one of two together in Maer Valley this afternoon.
Derek and I did Orcombe from 0530 until heavy rain set in around breakfast time - didn't note the exact time. I went back up mid-afternoon. It was definitely quieter than yesterday but the following species got pencilled in to the old notebook: 1 common tern, c20+ sandwich tern, 15+ great northern diver (between 0530 and 0650), 1 hobby, 2 common scoter, 6 swift, 1 manx shearwater, 1 guillemot, 5+ 'Greenland' wheatear, 2 house martin, several swallow, 1 whimbrel, 2 jay and 1 roseate tern (on an exposed sandbar, off the lifeboat station, with c15+sandwich tern mid-afternoon).
The hobby was picked up distantly, way offshore, and tracked as it flew low over the waves towards Dawlish. I estimated it was going to hit land somewhere near Dawlish Town but apparently it went right over Lee Collins' head as he watched from the sea wall at Dawlish Warren! I've seen a few hobbies on (or just off) Orcombe over the years but they always get the blood pumping.
This afternoon I checked a sheltered spot in Maer Valley, just beyond the 'official' patch boundary, and was pleased to find 2 more spotted flycatchers and a willow warbler. There is a map of the patch and its boundaries on the 'patch' tab at the top of this page.
'Greenland' Wheatear - Dung Field. The Dung Field always looks so promising. It is the one spot on Orcombe that is just left to grow a bit wild. It's only tiny but it's like a magnet to chats. The rarest bird I've ever found in there is yellow-browed warbler but one day I'm confident it will deliver something extra-special. Blind optimism!


Friday 8 May 2015

Spot Fly and Pom

A magical spell of post-work birding this evening. With the family all doing different things I snuck out and had a stroll around the top fields, before doing a sea-watch from the raised beach huts. Totals recorded included c30+ sandwich tern, 1 little tern, 1 common tern, 2 roseate tern, 3 wheatear, 1 male whinchat, my first spotted flycatcher of the spring, 7 swallow, 6 swift, 34 whimbrel and c70+ dunlin 'in-off'', 7+ manx shearwater, 1 little egret, 2 great crested grebe, 1 black-headed gull, 1 fs mediterranean gull and a really good passage of hirundines and auks out over the sea. A real sense that birds were on the move this evening!
Best of all though was a pale-phase pomarine skua that was spending long periods sat on the water between bouts of 'kittiwake attacks'. It had fairly decent 'spoons' but I've seen better. I don't think I've ever had such good and prolonged views of one attacking kitts though. It was still there when I left at 7pm so there's a chance it'll be there in the morning.

Thursday 7 May 2015

More Divers, Skuas and another Rosy

This Great Northern Diver did a couple high laps of Orcombe Point before apparently heading North. It seems as though there are really good numbers out in Lyme Bay at the moment.

A shorter spell of birding this morning. A quick sea-watch from 0530 - 0600, then a brisk walk around Orcombe Point before a very brief look off the Imperial.
The sea watch from the raised beach huts produced 18 whimbrel, 13 great northern diver, 10 sandwich tern and 3 arctic skua (2 dark, 1 light) sat on the water off Orcombe Point. Two were presumably the birds present yesterday. The point itself produced 8 swallow and 7 shelduck but I didn't get the sense that any new passerines had come in.
From the Imperial I got 75+ whimbrel, 26 turnstone, 1 dunlin and c30+ black-headed gull. A 20 minute look off the raised beach huts this afternoon (1540 - 1600) produced 20+ sandwich tern, a single roseate tern, 4 common scoter and another dark phase arctic skua south.

Goldfinch and Geoneedle.