Sunday 29 November 2015

Sea Stuff

Great Northern Diver - good numbers this morning but none much closer than this one!
An 80 minute sea-watch from the raised beach huts, from 0735, produced 13 Great Northern Diver, 2 Red-throated Diver, 3 diver sp, c20/30+ Common Scoter, c50+ Gannet, c100+ Kittiwake, 14 auk sp, 3 Razorbill, 1 Great Skua (@0820) and 1 wader sp. All birds moving south apart from the Common Scoter, which were sat in small groups between Maer Rocks and Orcombe Point.

At least 11, probably 12 Purple Sandpipers on Maer Rocks mid-afternoon.

Saturday 28 November 2015

Little Gull, Little Egret, Little Duck

Female Teal - Countess Wear. About 15 Teal were on the river alongside the Water Treatment Works, along with a Grey Seal (more in the river than on) and a Common Sandpiper.
A twenty minute look off Maer Rocks after dawn was worthwhile, as an adult Little Gull flew past at 0745. I've seen fewer in Exmouth this year than last year. Also past there, a Red-throated Diver. About 20 Common Scoter were sat on the water off there, along with 5 Great Crested Grebe.
I had to drop Lu and Joel in Topsham for about 9am so I had a quick look at one of my old stomping grounds - Countess Wear Sludge Beds. The usual mix of species was seen, with a Firecrest, c10+ Chiffchaff, 3 Redwing, 1 Treecreeper and a Common sandpiper the highlights.
 I always enjoy watching Little Egrets. They are a very common sight anywhere on the river now. This bird was keeping itself hunched up so as not to get blown over in the strong wind. I failed to find the Black Redstarts at Shelly Beach today. They were no doubt keeping their heads down.

 Leaning into a strong wind.

Monday 23 November 2015

Falcon Sp

I spent the last half hour of daylight stood just below Woodbury Fort, hoping for a late Hen Harrier or Short-eared Owl. I was a bit thrown by a large falcon that sped past at about 4pm, quite low and fast - a powerfully -  built bird, not unlike Peregrine in structure, but perhaps a bit too large. Difficult to judge  on a lone bird against a dark backdrop. The sighting was all too brief but I clocked very warm brown tones on the upperparts and a contrastingly pale head. This gave the whole bird an odd look and for a second I had to question whether it was a falcon at all, such was the unfamiliarity of the colour tones. I watched it until it soared out of sight and over the tree line. Unfortunately by the time I actually got on it, it was flying away from me so the views weren't great. It was perhaps a Saker or possibly some sort of falconer's hybrid but I don't think it was Peregrine.
Whilst stood in one spot there was continuous movement of passerines overhead, with several Meadow Pipit, Redpoll, 1 Brambling, a Yellowhammer and 1+ Reed Bunting recorded in a short space of time.
A quick glance off Mudbank earlier had revealed relatively high numbers of waders with 70+ Redshank, 2 Greenshank, 5 Ringed Plover, c100+ Turnstone, 7 Grey Plover and c1/200+ Dunlin. A single drake Teal and the Pale-bellied Brent Goose were also noted.

Good views of two Greenshank late pm.

Sunday 22 November 2015

More Action!


Orcombe Point at dawn - cue Pigeons!
It didn't get going immediately this morning, but when it did it was truly spectacular. A conservative count of c20,000 Woodpigeon, mostly before 0815, was made, but to be honest the flocks were so big that it could have been considerably more. It was a bit like that moment on 'Zulu' when the horizon is scanned to reveal an overwhelming number of warriors silhouetted against the horizon. At times, Nick and I literally couldn't see the end of the flocks! The movement seemed to dry up at 0815, but as we were getting back in to our cars, at 9am, another big wave went over west. All flocks were higher up today, in windless conditions, and none were observed off the coast. 
Also this morning - 1 Purple Sandpiper (Maer Rocks), 2 Stonechat, c20+ Chaffinch, 3+ Brambling, 12+ Skylark, 9 Fieldfare, 2+ Reed Bunting and 30+ Starling.
Mudbank produced the Black Brant, 1 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 2 Grey Plover, 13 Red-breasted Merganser, 2 Goldeneye and 7 Great Crested Grebe.
Finally, I managed to check the local Cirl Bunting feeding station. No Cirls today but 4+ Yellowhammer, 2+ Reed Bunting, 1 Redpoll, c15+ Linnet, 1+ Goldfinch, c5+ Greenfinch, c50+ Chaffinch and, best of all, 1+ Brambling. Also 1 Redwing, 1 Fieldfare and c100+ Woodpigeon. The field next to the feeding field is currently stubble, so it's going to be worth keeping an eye on it over the winter.

I've strongly adjusted the contrast on this photo so that the Pigeons stand out more. This was fairly typical of a number of flocks that swept over. All Nick and I could do was shrug our shoulders and make rough guesses!

Black Brant - Mudbank.

The long-staying adult Pale-bellied Brent Goose.

Grey Plover - a treat to see them up close. Grey Plovers normally stick to the middle of the estuary.

Saturday 21 November 2015

Counting Methodology

Forty 'blocks' of 10 = 400 birds. Not easy on a photo - impossible on a fast-moving, shape-shifting flock!

Last November Nick and I witnessed 16,000 Woodpigeon pass over Orcombe in a short space of time. It was, as always, an exhilarating experience. It was also very frustrating because despite our best efforts we felt we were under-counting. Nick reckons there could have been a margin of error of up to 25% (which could have put our total at 20,000) which I have to agree with. In fact, when I count on my own, I would say the margin is potentially even greater. It could be  significantly more on a very large flock. One thing is for sure, counting in pairs or groups is much more accurate than counting on your own.
This morning (21/11) I was delighted to discover that I hadn't missed watching Woodpigeon migration this year. I thought I'd photograph the flocks, in an attempt to get a more accurate count. This proved useful but extremely time-consuming and tedious. You can see how I did it - still not 100% accurate but far more so than counting in the field.
This method is only useful up to a point though. Firstly, I didn't photograph every single bird and secondly the rate of movement changed in the short time I was there.
When I arrived at the top of Gore Lane, the birds were moving west, above Maer Valley in distinct flocks from c30+ to c900+. The majority of flocks appeared to swing around and head towards the river mouth but some shot straight out into Dawlish Bay and were lost to sight. By the time I stopped photographing, around 0815, the flocks were starting to stretch out and merge just off the coast. Some below cliff-top height, some just above. The 'flow rate' had increased and was still going full-tilt when I left at 9am. Counting these birds was near enough impossible. I was estimating 'chunks of 100 at a time - wildly inaccurate!
My rate of movement, based on photos, is estimated at 20000 per hour. If that rate was sustained throughout the morning then at least 80000 birds passed Orcombe yesterday. However I don't know that rate was the same all morning. I'm pretty sure it was considerably higher than that from 0815 - 0900 at least but I'm guessing it dropped off at some stage as the morning progressed.
At the Warren, to the west,  they counted c54000 birds and at Sidmouth - c36000. This shows that birds were moving along a section of coast, but where did they come from and where did they go after that? As always, more questions than answers.

Counting these big flocks was a complete pain. The above is 870+ birds and below is 720+. As most birders will testify, the urge to quantify these movements is strong. It's a shame though because all you really want to do is absorb the spectacle. To just take it all in. Next November I think I'm going to try not counting them! This morning (21/11), some birds dropped and flew at ground level across the fields. It was truly awesome. Last November you could hear the wing-beats of hundreds of birds as they passed in still conditions. It was too windy to hear that today (21/11).

30 Mins of Woodies in Pics.


I decided to photograph every flock of Woodpigeons that passed between 0745 and 0815 this morning. I reckon c10,000+ in total. All the photos on this blog post represent just 30 minutes of movement, as observed from the Dung Field in this morning's biting northerly. My camera battery packed up at 0815 but I continued counting and stopped at 0900, by which time easily another 10,000 birds moved along the coast in an almost continuous 'ribbon'. So c20,000+ birds total, with birds still moving strongly as I left.
Also this morning - 1 Jack Snipe, 2 Lapwing, 1+ Golden Plover, c30+ Starling and 1 Reed Bunting.
On Maer Rocks there were 30 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, c10+ Turnstone and 2 Purple Sandpiper with 4 Common Scoter and a Pintail offshore.










































Lapwing blur.