Monday 31 October 2016

Black Red

A Black Redstart on Warren View playing fields - catching the last few rays of afternoon sunshine.

Sunday 30 October 2016

Latest Stuff

First-winter male Blackbird - Warren View

A quiet end to the month. Nick and I covered Orcombe from first light but recorded just 5+ Goldcrests, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Stonechat, 85+ Starlings, 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Grey Wagtail.
I made a more concerted effort to count stuff yesterday morning, and recorded 9+ Song Thrushes, 11+ Goldcrests, 28+ Robins, 11+ Blackbirds, 4 Chiffchaffs, 32+ Chaffinches, 15+ Pied Wagtails, 36+ Meadow Pipits, 1 Kestrel, 3 Redwings, 10+ Greenfinches, c70+ Linnets, c40+ Goldfinches, 1 Curlew, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Fieldfare, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Stonechat and 16 Starlings.
Amongst the massive numbers of wildfowl off Mudbank there were 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 1 Mediterranean Gull, 1 Greenshank, 2 Dunlin, 2 Teal, 32 Little Egrets, 50+ Redshanks and 180+ Turnstones.
The moths have taken a bit of a back seat of late, but last night I recorded reasonable numbers that included Black Rustic, Red-line Quaker, Beaded Chestnut, Lunar Underwing, Angle Shades, Large Yellow Underwing, Lesser Yellow Underwing, Green-brindled Crescent, Silver Y, Feathered Ranunculus, Rusty-dot Pearl, Double-striped Pug, Southern Bell (Crocidosema plebejana), Ruddy Streak, Garden Carpet, Common Marbled Carpet, Red-green Carpet and Spruce Carpet.

Common Marbled Carpet

Green-brindled Crescent

Southern Bell - Crocidosema plebejana

Red-green Carpet

Spruce Carpet

Red-green Carpet

Friday 28 October 2016

American Wigeon Again

Drake American Wigeon off the Leisure Centre

Chris Townend found the American Wigeon off the Leisure Centre this morning, and kindly phoned me. I shot down there and enjoyed better views than I had on the 26th, in better light. This morning's views highlighted some huge inadequacies in my original field notes. Most notably the presence of several purplish-pink adult-type feathers on the breast and lower flanks. Looking at my original photos they appear as darker areas. Chris also managed to get some video footage and some flight shots that may finally enable us to age it correctly. Chris's instructive photos can be seen here. Pointers to it being a moulting juvenile bird include the 'v'-shaped tail feathers, the grey feathering on the median and lesser coverts and the buff edges to the tertials (white in eclipse drake I think....). The strikingly patterned lower scapular feathers were seen more clearly today. They are dark brown feathers, internally marked with neat golden-buff spots. From what I've read these are more likely adult-type feathers.
Nick managed to get down just in time to see the bird but for no apparent reason the flock took flight and moved further out in to the estuary.
Thank you for all your help this morning Chris. Great photos and great to see you as always.
I looked for it again this evening with Dave Stone but without success, although we did see the Black Brant.
On a sad note, Lu and I found this freshly dead juvenile Great Black-backed Gull whilst we were out walking the dog this afternoon. It was upriver from Mudbank, nearly as far up as West Lodge. It has a white darvic ring which, from memory, I think comes from a Portland ringing scheme. I couldn't work out how it had died but some yellow plastic around its leg might offer some clues, although this alone wouldn't have been enough to kill it.

Smoke from the big fire in Exeter was visible from Exmouth today. The Wigeon and Brents were spread out across a wide stretch of the river this evening making the task of locating the American Wigeon a daunting one.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Yank Wigeon Field Notes

Despite a bit of research I'm still not 100% sure I've got this right but I think it's a young drake. The wing coverts have some grey feathering (see my attempts to sketch what I could see in the field) but definitely looked very white when the bird was in flight. On the photo below the tail looks spiky - perhaps another indication that it's a young bird. What I need of course is better views and ideally better photographs.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

Until about 315'ish today had been pretty poor on the bird front. I only had an hour to spare on Orcombe this morning, logging just 1 Brambling and a high-flying Great Northern Diver. Lu was working this morning so I went in to town to do some birthday shopping with the kids (it's Lu's birthday tomorrow).
A single raucous flock of one hundred Jackdaws flew north over the house, as I ate lunch in the garden, but I had to wait until late afternoon to properly get out. The overcast conditions and high tide meant I could grill the massive flock of Wigeon off Mudbank, and the westerly breeze pushed them closer in than they usually are. On my second or third scan I picked out a bird that immediately got my American Wigeon radar twitching. I've had a hybrid bird off there before so I didn't let myself get too excited but it did look promising. As soon as I clocked the black line that encircles the bill base I knew I was on to something, and some time later, the all-important wing flap revealed gleaming white axillaries.
For no apparent reason at about 1540 it took off on its own and flew round the corner towards the Leisure Centre. I headed down there with Rupert but we were unable to relocate it.
I'm still not sure about the age but feel it is a male rather than a well-marked female. The right hand side of the bird showed a flash of bright white greater coverts but they looked to be finely marked. In flight the impression was of a large amount of white on the wing coverts. The lower scapulars may offer a clue to the age, being dark brown with pale buffy markings giving an odd spotted look. I will post my field notes later when I've added a bit of colour to them but in the mean time would greatly appreciate comments on its age.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Back Local

Garden Warbler - a late bird and, believe it or not, the first on Orcombe this autumn. It has been a terrible autumn for common migrants on Orcombe - par for the course these days sadly.
Orcombe from first light - 35+ Starlings, c30+ Robins, c15+ Blackbirds, 4+ Redwings, 2 Bullfinches, c10+ Pied Wagtails, 10+ Goldcrests, c15+ Song Thrushes, 2 Grey Wagtails, 7+ Chiffchaffs, c10+ Chaffinches, 2 Fieldfares, 1 Garden Warbler, 1+ Curlew, 2 Coal Tits, 4 Blackcaps, 25+ Jackdaws, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Black Redstart and 1 Kestrel.
Mudbank - late afternoon - species included 90+ Redshank, 1 Snipe, 7+ Black-tailed Godwits, 1+ Dunlin, 1 Knot, 70+ Turnstones, 8+ Great Crested Grebes, 15 Red-breasted Mergansers and 2 Mediterranean Gulls. The wader counts are probably on the conservative side as the birds were packed in with ducks on the high tide, and difficult to count. A single Redpoll sp flew north and a  Grey Wagtail was knocking around. The Black Brant was again off the Imperial/Leisure Centre as the tide started to drop.


After an absence of Kestrels on Orcombe for most of this year it's good to have this bird hanging around.

The first Black Redstart of the autumn on Orcombe

Just one of c3000+ Wigeon off Mudbank at the moment

Black Brant off the Imperial late afternoon.

Monday 24 October 2016


I spent the day down at Soar with my brother. It was fantastic to spend time with him, as it always is, but the weather wasn't particularly kind to us. We spent the first hour of daylight sheltering in the car as the rain lashed down, and consequently, with the radio and heaters on, ran the car battery flat. The rain continued the whole day although there were periods when it eased off enough to see a few birds. I suspect there was some really good stuff waiting to be found (Perry had Pallas's Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat at Start) but we managed to see 3 Black Redstarts, 3 Firecrests, 2 Blackcaps, 4 Snipe, 1 Redwing, c10/15+ Song Thrushes, c50+ Robins, 5+ Chiffchaffs, 6+ Goldcrests, 6+ Stonechats, c30+ Starling, 1 Brambling, c50+ Skylarks and 10+ Long-tailed Tits.

The view towards Salcombe from Sharp Tor

Black Redstart - one of three seen today.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Black Brant and Firecrest

Black Brant with Dark-bellied Brents. I've 'found' this presumed returning adult Black Brant three autumns on the trot, but it's still not on my self-found list. I'll probably do a post on my fussy personal self-found rules at some point. Ivan Lakin first had it at the Warren four years ago. It's a very smart bird but a complete pain to pick out amongst c900+ Brents. I suspect it has been around a while as last year I first had it on October 4th.

Nick and I did Orcombe from first light. It was a bit too windy but we did dig out 1 Redwing, 5+ Song Thrushes, 1 hirundine sp, 2 Fieldfares, 1 House Martin, 1+ Siskin, 2 Chiffchaffs, 4 Goldcrests, 1 Grey Wagtail, c50+ Starlings, 1 Green Woodpecker, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Kestrel and small numbers of Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Woodpigeon and Goldfinch.
A couple minutes of 'pishing' the sallows bordering the Maer Long Stay carpark enticed the autumn's first Firecrest out in to the open.
Mudbank was heaving on the incoming tide. I counted the easy stuff but couldn't even contemplate counting the Wigeon. Fantastic numbers and some great news with regards to all the wildfowl in Exmouth. Apparently we have 2 wardens who will be employed to minimise disturbance in this busy and highly important corner of the Exe. A HUGE well done to Rupert Ormerod and Derek Carter who have played no small part in making this happen.
Species noted included 23+ Redshank, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 1+ Bar-tailed Godwit, 1 Lapwing, 16+ Knot, 165+ Turnstones, 13 Teal, 1 Pale-bellied Brent Goose and the Black Brant amongst c900+ Dark-bellied Brent Geese.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Start Point

It's very rare that I venture out of Exmouth and very rare that I don't have to take Joel to football on a Saturday morning. I've been yearning to get down to the South Hams for some time so, with Lu and the kids busy doing other things, I headed down to Start Point under the cover of early morning blackness. It was a very chilly dawn and far windier than I'd expected, but it felt good to be back, birding in an area that I used to visit quite a bit.
The highlight of the morning was bumping in to Perry and spending some time catching up, whilst waiting for Yellow-browed Warblers to show in the farm. I can't remember the last time I saw him but I swear he hasn't aged!
There were a few birds around but nothing spectacular. Two Yellow-browed Warblers in the farm were the best but I was pleased to see my first 2 Fieldfares of the autumn too. Other species seen included c600+ Woodpigeons, 3+ Stock Doves, 11+ Stonechats, 1+ Siskin, 1+ Reed Bunting, 1+ Redwing, 4 or 5 Swallows and a few Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs. Overhead, small numbers of Meadow Pipit, Goldfinch, Linnet, Pied Wagtail and Chaffinch headed east into a stiff breeze. I missed Perry's Merlin but Peregrines were a constant presence throughout the morning and I had at least one Cirl Bunting.
After Start I walked from North Hallsands to Beesands Ley. I had good views of a non-calling Yellow-browed Warbler on the east side of North Hallsands reed bed and didn't notice any rings on it, so it was possibly not one of the two ringed by Alan Searle earlier in the morning. It was with a handful of Chiffchaffs and a single Blackcap. At least 1 Cetti's Warbler was heard and a male Cirl Bunting perched up in a nearby hedgerow.
Beesands Ley held 84+ Gadwall, a pair of Little Grebes and a single Tufted Duck.
All in all a very pleasant morning and a nostalgic one too. I have a lot of fond memories of birding in that neck of the woods and it was a pleasure to be walking alongside hedges that haven't been hacked to death and fields that haven't been over-farmed. It's still very unspoilt and is packed with birding potential. The only problem is that there is just too much good cover, so lots of stuff must inevitably get missed.

Friday 21 October 2016

Quiet Week. Normal for October.


Wheatear - getting a bit late for these now.

My first Redwings of the autumn, of flock of at least 17 birds, flew north overhead as I walked to work on Monday morning. A flock of about 100 Linnets was on Orcombe Point the same evening. The following evening, 5 Stonechats were the only birds of note on Orcombe and yesterday a single Snipe, c60+ Meadow pipits and a Stock Dove were the only inclusions in my notebook. This evening the highlights were 2 Lapwings in the top fields, and a Wheatear.

Meadow Pipit - there are a few of these knocking around the top fields at the moment with at least 60 present on the 20th.

One of a flock of about half a dozen birds touring the Bristol Schools area at the moment.

At least one Kingfisher is seen regularly off Mudbank. It likes the partially submerged shopping trolley. The light has been too bad this week to see much else.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Today's Stuff

Mediterranean Gull - lifeboat station - these have been a bit thin on the ground lately.
I watched the sea from first light, perched up beneath the raised beach huts. It was a bit disappointing to be honest - 1 distant skua sp, 1 Great Northern Diver, c50+ Common Scoter and a steady trickle of Gannets. Two separate Grey Plovers flew low across the waves towards the river mouth and another wader sp, possibly Grey Plover, was plucked out of the sky as it towered upwards, in panic,  by a male Peregrine that swiftly passed it on to a female - quite a spectacle! A single Mediterranean Gull was on the beach with a flock of Black-headed Gulls.
Late in the morning Lee called with news of a 'Baltic'-type gull on Bull Hill. I headed straight to the docks to scope it but it was asleep with its back to me and remained in exactly the same position for the entire time I was there. It certainly stood out, being a nice charcoal black on the upperparts. I went back again late afternoon and it was still there. Views were marginally better and at least it was awake and 'side on'. It certainly looked long-winged and if anything blacker in marginally better light. Size was difficult to judge as its legs and belly were obscured by an undulation in the sand, but Lee had better views from the Warren earlier, and was able to see that it was noticeably smaller than accompanying graellsii birds. I believe the BBRC still won't accept birds that aren't ringed. If anyone is going to get a ringed individual I'm sure it'll be Lee!
In the absence of any photo, below is a Baltic Gull that I photographed in Stockholm back in 2012. They are beautiful birds.

Baltic Gull - Stockholm August 2012

Looking towards Orcombe Point from the lifeboat station this morning.

Saturday 15 October 2016

YBW and High Teal Count

Yellow-browed Warbler - the best of my paltry efforts to capture an image.
Paul Gosling and I were stood pitch-side early this morning, up at the archery club, when a Yellow-browed Warbler started calling. It was in a sunlit corner of the small  mixed copse that borders the archery club carpark, and we soon located it despite the imminent 'kick-off' of our sons' football match. It was a particularly vocal individual so it was easy pin down, but it kept in the tops of the trees so it wasn't easy to see or photograph. The archery club is on the edge of Exmouth, up high along the top edge of Withycombe Raleigh Common, so a fair way inland. There must be hundreds in little patches of suitable woodland around the country.
I headed out after the rain this afternoon to look at the wildfowl off Mudbank. Again, huge numbers were present but it was Teal that stole the show with a high count of 375+ easily the most I've ever seen in Exmouth. Also recorded, despite poor light conditions, were 11 Red-breasted Mergansers, a single Pale-bellied Brent Goose amongst several hundred Dark-bellied Brents, 9 Bar-tailed Godwits, 7 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Great Crested Grebes, 1 Grey Plover, 1 Knot, 1 Greenshank and 7+ Redshank. I couldn't face attempting to count the Wigeon and Pintail that were strung out in dense flocks across a large part of the estuary.
Finally - decent counts of 60 Pied Wagtails and 40+ Common Scoters were made on the cricket pitch and off the seafront respectively.

Blackcap - Mudbank. Small numbers present along with small numbers of Chiffchaffs in the scrub belt between Mudbank and the train station.

Monday 10 October 2016

Tawny Pipit

Tawny Pipit - strikingly similar to Yellow Wag front-on.

I walked home from school with Joel, dropped Maisie down at the gym and then headed up to Orcombe to do my quick circuit. I parked at the top of Gore Lane and walked into the big grass field with the dung in it (not the former 'dung field'). I walk this field pretty much every day during the autumn (with permission from the farmer) but it was clear straight away that there were more birds in there than usual this evening. A Linnet flock flew up and several Meadow Pipits took to the air. Over the noise of the many varied calls I could hear a 'chup' but I initially put it down to an odd calling Linnet. I looped around the top of the field and would normally have moved into the field on the opposite side of the road, but the odd call was niggling me. As I headed back through the field I again picked up the call, only this time it seemed more distinctive. I locked on to the bird just as it dropped in to the grass and was met with a pale 'blob'. I thought 'this is going to be Short-toed Lark' but realised the call was wrong. Crazy thoughts of Lesser Short-toed Lark entered my head but I knew this was fanciful. At this point I made the decision to go back to the car for the scope, as I didn't want to flush it. As soon as I found it in the scope I could see it was a Tawny Pipit, a new Devon bird for me and, as it turns out, Brian.
I stuck the news out and waited in the gateway for other birders to arrive. It showed well and, due to its paleness, was easy to keep track of. I did the initial check of the lores to rule out Blyth's Pipit but to be honest it was always going to be a Tawny, purely on the paleness and plainness of the plumage. Occasionally it would get spooked and get up and fly around - always uttering the loud and distinctive 'chup' but it soon settled and would call from the ground. It produced another sound that it is very difficult to describe - a weak, lark-like, faltering 'seeip' perhaps - quite odd and maybe part of a song?
I had to leave to go to the dentist just before 5pm but great to see Terry, Brian, Spencer and Chris before I left.
Also this evening - 3 Stonechats, 1 Wheatear, 3+ Chiffchaffs and the Yellow-browed Warbler in the usual spot.

Very plain underparts indicate this is an adult bird.

Crap photo but note the much darker and smaller Meadow Pipit in the background.

For a 'large' pipit this bird generally appeared quite small. This was partly due to the fact that it was always partly obscured by grass but also because it wasn't feeding alongside Meadow Pipits for most of the time.

Sunday 9 October 2016

Autumnal Rustic


Autumnal Rustic - Martin Wolinski casually mentioned he'd trapped this species overnight as we spoke on the phone this afternoon. I've never seen one before so I was delighted when he said he was on his way in to Exmouth and that he'd bring the moth along. It's a beautiful moth and one that I wish I could trap here in Exmouth. I'm not sure how likely that is as its habitat preference is woodland and moorland. Still, you never know.........
Nick and I did Orcombe from first light this morning. Hopes were high for some overhead movement, with nice clear skies and a light north-easterly, but in the event it was very quiet. I went back up in the afternoon to meet up with Martin but very little was added. The totals for today include the Yellow-browed Warbler, c20/30+ Robins, 2 Grey Wagtails, c15+ Chiffchaffs, 3 Goldcrests, 2 House Martins, 19 Swallows, 3+ Song Thrushes, c15/20+ Blackbirds, 9+ Starlings, c20+ Pied Wagtails, several Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Goldfinches, 4+ Wheatears, 6+ Chaffinches, 3+ Blackcaps, 1 Stonechat, c20+ Skylarks, 11 Common Scoters, 1 Sandwich Tern and the 2 Eider.
The Yellow-browed was still in its preferred copse, just in on the left where the footpath to the Geoneedle starts. It was however very elusive, calling only occasionally and staying well hidden.
Good to see Martin and Andy Bond today and a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Nick! 

Many thanks Martin - a truly lovely moth.
The Eiders were close inshore when I looked this afternoon - just off the point. I was up on the cliff-top though so the photo is awful. Nevertheless it's the first time I've photographed this species in Exmouth. They're attracting quite a bit of interest as Eiders have been very scarce in Devon over the last couple of years. I think the last time I saw Eider in Exmouth was the drake that was present off the seafront in June 2014. I failed to find the drake Velvet Scoter that Dave had this afternoon (cheers for the call Dave) and Martin and Dave Hopkins had last week.