Wise Birding Holidays

Friday, 2 December 2016

Velvet Scoter

A sizeable flock of Common Scoter have been feeding off Chiselbury Bay (South of Ladram Bay) in recent days with counts of 200+ which is an excellent count for here. I have checked the flock a few times, hoping for something interesting but it was Doug C who let me know about 2 Velvet Scoters in the flock a few days ago. Frustratingly, I had already checked the flock on that particular day, but Doug informed me that there are actually two Scoter flocks! One out from the STW and the other nearer to Brandy Head which is often not visible without getting onto higher land. Anyway, yesterday I picked up one bird below Brandy Head and the same bird was present today, but closer to Chiselbury Bay. It would appear to be a juvenile due to the contrasting pale belly (see video) and prominent face markings. A great bird for the patch and the first I have seen on the patch. Also present in recent days: 1 RT Diver and 6+ Guillemot.

If you do visit the site, please take great care at the cliff edge as there have been a number of landslides in recent days!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Hen Harrier

Despite having been away in Namibia, Botswana and Zambia seeing some great wildlife, I always love returning to beloved Devon and getting back on the patch! A wander on Woodbury Common during the last couple of days produced a cracking male Hen Harrier, only the 4th male I have seen here. Hopefully, it will stick around for a while.

Male Hen Harrier, Woodbury Common - Clearly not a full adult, but not far off

Male Hen Harrier, Woodbury Common

Male Hen Harrier, Woodbury Common

Friday, 28 October 2016

Yank Wigeon on the Exe

A check of the west cliffs Budleigh this morning resulted in 2 new Firecrests, a few Chiffchaff, Redpoll and groups of Chaffinch overhead. I then headed over to the mouth of the Exe Estuary to look for the American Wigeon which good friend Matt Knott found a couple of days ago. I arrived at the Imperial to see a fairly large flock of Wigeon and scanned through a few times and was just about to give up when I picked up the bird in the flock. I was immediately struck by the purplish tinge to the breast and flanks as well as the fairy obvious pale crown and dark green mask patch behind the eye, so clearly a male bird. However, it was amazing how different the bird looked in comparison to the photos that Matt took when he first found the bird HERE
Matt's photos show the bird in the water and so the purplish breast and flank are lost in the water and the contrasting head pattern seems far less obvious. Therefore possibly even suggesting a well-marked female.

Anyway, I called Matt straight away and it was good to watch the bird with the original finder! We discussed the difficulties of ageing the bird and it seems that Matt's first impression was correct. Clearly a male and possibly a 1st year bird rather than an adult male coming out of eclipse. Perhaps the most useful photo for ageing below, is the one showing the upperwing. Various literature suggests that 1st year birds have greyish centres to the otherwise white median coverts therefore making the white wing panel less obvious than on an adult which should be exclusively white. However, there doesn't appear to be much information on eclipse plumage. Also the photo showing the tail seems to show very pointed tail feathers, maybe also indicative of a younger bird? 
I am no expert, so comments welcome!

All interesting stuff and great to see the bird with Matt and even better to have tea and cake at his house to celebrate after! Thanks Matt for another great find! 

Species, Age and Sex Identification of Ducks Using Wing Plumage
Ageing of American and Eurasian Wigeon
A review of the status and identification of American Wigeon in Britain & Ireland

Click on the photos to see larger view

Male American Wigeon, Exe Estuary 28th October - Video Grab

Male American Wigeon, Exe Estuary 28th October - Video Grab

Male American Wigeon (far left bird) with Eurasian Wigeon flock

Male American Wigeon (far left bird) with Eurasian Wigeon flock

Male American Wigeon (middle of flock) showing some grey areas to median coverts and spiky tail feathers

Though out of focus, the pure white axiliaries of the bird can clearly be seen in the overcast conditions

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

YBW Number 3?

After the torrential rain of yesterday, I was keen to get out this morning and it just felt rare! Sadly, I only had an hour before I had to head off for some survey work. A quick check of the West Cliffs produced 3 Mistle Thrushes, 5+ Chiffchaff and more Robins and Goldcrests than recent days. Redpoll and Siskin overhead. Then, just as I was about to leave a Yellow-browed Warbler called from pretty much the exact same spot as the one I found on 7th October. I am guessing this is most likely a new bird as I haven't seen that bird since 11th October, but I would like to see it to be sure.

Thursday, 20 October 2016


Today I did my usual circuit for this time of year and headed up to the top fields to the east of the Otter Estuary. It was a lovely sunny and very calm morning and there were definitely more Meadow Pipits around than usual. As I reached the cliff top footpath at around 09.30hrs one of the local residents stopped to chat to me. After about five minutes of chatting, I was keen to get away and continue birding when all of a sudden I heard the distinctive call of a Serin coming from the south of me out to sea. I quickly had to explain to the woman that I needed to try and find this bird! I soon picked it up with a small group of Meadow Pipits as it continued calling, but the light was pretty awful. However, I could clearly see a small finch with bouncing flight (smaller than the adjacent Meadow Pipits) with an obvious cleft in the tail. Frustratingly, it continued heading away from me in the sky and then seemed to turn inland towards the weedy fields and as it turned I could just make out some yellow/green colouration on the underparts of the bird before it turned again and headed back out to sea. It headed straight towards the sun and seemed to be turning inland again, but I lost it in the sun! 

A very pleasing patch tick and such a distinctive call to me from numerous overseas trips, but slightly frustrating that I never managed to see it on the deck or photograph it. I found it strange it chose not to join the Linnet flock and the ideal weedy fields, but I spent a good 90 minutes checking with no luck. A few Reed Bunting and a Brambling were new birds in later in the morning.

A second look in the afternoon resulted in no further sign of the Serin, but an immature male Merlin was a bonus. All in all, a pretty good day on the patch!

Brambling and two Reed Buntings were new in on the cliff top fields

Immature male Merlin hunting the top fields this afternoon

Sunday, 16 October 2016

New YBW on Patch

Yesterday, after the excitement of Spurn and more importantly overnight heavy rain and I was keen to get back out on the patch! Highlights were 2 Firecrest on the West Cliffs footpath and best of all a new Yellow-browed Warbler on the east side of the Otter. It seemed like it was fresh in zooming around and staying at the very tops of the mature Sycamores looking around before disappearing.
An afternoon look at the Otter produced a colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull from the Channel Islands. During the evening, the top fields produced 2 Wheatears, 70+ each of Linnet and Skylark.

Yellow-browed Warbler on the Otter Estuary, 15th October

Yellow-browed Warbler on the Otter Estuary, 15th October

Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed in the Channel Islands. A number of birds have been recorded on the Otter in recent years

The Mrs on the patch

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Siberian Spurn!

Siberian Accentor is a species which breeds in the boreal and subarctic zone of extreme NE Europe and West Siberia and the entire population winters in C & E China and Korea. 
Amazingly, last Sunday the 9th October, a bird was found in a small quarry on Shetland and represented the first record for Britain. It stayed just 2 days leaving many envious birders across the UK. 

Fast forward just 4 days later to Thursday 13th October and Britain's 2nd bird was found in the village of Easington, near Spurn Bird Observatory, East Yorkshire. This was just too much temptation for what is generally considered to be a tricky bird to see anywhere in the world. Therefore, during the early hours of Friday 14th October I picked up Kev Rylands in Exeter and we drove north in the hope of seeing this mega!

The photos below should give you a feel for the day. It was simply a brilliant and memorable day for birds. The Siberian Accentor aside, the migration spectacle in this part of the east coast was so exciting. Thrushes, Robins and Goldcrests were literally everywhere and seemingly falling out of the sky and there was a continual feeling of birds moving both by sight and sound. Brambling, Siskin, Redpolls heading over calling and lots of scarce and rare birds too. We spent the day birding the area and came frustratingly close to finding some new birds whilst in Easington. Kev had brief views of a "ticking" bunting and we both heard what I was pretty sure was a Dusky Warbler. It called on 2-3 separate occasions but never showed itself and unfortunately, it was coming from a private garden that we just could not access! Today, there were 7 Dusky Warblers recorded at Spurn and amazingly, Britain's 3rd Siberian Accentor was found in Cleveland.

Finally, it was worth highlighting the excellent Spurn Bird Observatory website. A huge thanks to the team of volunteers who arranged site access to the area the Accentor was feeding and their hard work in managing the crowd and parking throughout the day.

Siberian Accentor, Easington, East Yorkshire

Siberian Accentor, Easington, East Yorkshire

Siberian Accentor, Easington, East Yorkshire

Siberian Accentor, Easington, East Yorkshire

Part of the appreciative crowd!

Ring Ouzel over Easington

Ring Ouzel, Easington

Ring Ouzel, Easington

Song Thrush - The place was full of thrushes including these very grey looking Song Thrushes

Redwing - Many feeding groups were seen

Goldcrest - these were literally everywhere feeding at your feet!

Shore Lark, near the Blue Bell Cafe

Tundra Bean Geese - part of a group of 9 birds

"Tundra" Bean Geese - the bird with a more orange bill was being reported as possible "Taiga" Bean Goose but
the structure would seem similar to the "Tundras" and bill presumably within possible variation of Tundra

Pallas's Warbler - This bird was in the Crown and Anchor car park and the last bird of the day seen at 6pm

Spurn Lighthouse

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

More of the same

Nothing new today in terms of migrants other than 2 Wheatears on the top fields, but I am lucky to have some great coastline on my doorstep.....

The view from west cliffs looking towards the mouth of the Otter estuary, Otterton Ledge and the "top fields"

I am seeing Peregrines most days. This bird seems to show some orange staining from the Otter Sandstone cliffs

Yellow-browed Warbler - last seen yesterday with Firecrest

Painted Lady

Monday, 10 October 2016

Tawny Pipit and YBW

This morning I walked the west cliffs again, nothing new but there seemed to more Chiffchaffs around and nice to see the Yellow-browed Warbler was still present (now its 4th day). 

This afternoon, I had a call from Matt to say he had just found a Tawny Pipit off Gore Lane, Exmouth so I headed over and the bird was on show immediately. A Devon tick for me - Good to see Matt, Brian, Terry and Spencer. A nice relaxed twitch!

Total respect to Matt, he always pulls it out of the bag and certainly inspires me to keep going! After seeing the bird, I felt I had to give a quick check of the Top Fields my end. Nothing new, but lots of Meadow Pipits, Skylarks building in number, Linnet and a single Wheatear. Top work Matt and thanks! You can read his account of finding the bird HERE

Tawny Pipit, Gore Lane Exmouth 10th October

Meadow Pipit, Top Cliffs, Budleigh Salterton

Saturday, 8 October 2016

YBW and Ring Ouzel

A good day on the patch today with lots of variety. Finally a calm day and it felt rare too!

The Yellow-browed Warbler was still present this evening, but pretty elusive and not very vocal, similar to when I found it yesterday. It seems to favour the hawthorns and sycamores and is in pretty much the exact same spot as the one I found in 2014.
Best bird of the day was a Ring Ouzel just below West Down Beacon and surprisingly, the first I have seen on the patch. 
Other birds included Firecrest, 1 Wheatear, 1 Whinchat, Crossbill and Siskin over, House Martin, Swallow and good numbers of Song Thrush.

Also yesterday, I had an unseasonal count of 12 Sandwich Tern off the west cliffs. I was first alerted to them as they were calling a lot and then as I moved up the coast path they vanished!
Yellow-browed Warbler - 2nd found and 3rd seen on patch

Yellow-browed Warbler

Ring Ouzel - a 1st on patch "just"

Ring Ouzel



Common Chiffchaff