Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Otter on the River Otter

Since lockdown 3, I have mostly been wandering the River Otter as part of my daily walk and I was very pleased to see my first Otter for a number of months on Monday 10th January. It or another animal was also present on the 11th January.

Birds of note in recent days have included at least 2 Dippers singing at times, Grey Wagtail and at least 1 Water Pipit.

Otter, River Otter Devon 

Friday, 1 January 2021

New Year Listing again!

Well, once again Helen and I ventured out to try and crack the magic 100 species within an 8 mile radius of Budleigh. Frustratingly, we finished the day on 97 species, the same total as for 2015 and 2016! However, 97 is a very respectable total, even though not the hoped for magic number, and still a very enjoyable day!

It was a bitterly cold day as we started at -3 C and the temperture did not rise above +3 C all day. As a result our starting point at Bowling Green was pretty much entirely frozen!

First bird of the day was Tawny Owl and by 1pm our tally was 70 species. 

Last bird of the day was Dartford Warbler. 

Highlights included:

Red-throated and Great Northern Diver, Velvet and Common Scoter, Purple Sandpiper, Firecrest, Water Pipit, Cirl Bunting and Dartford Warbler. 

Notable Omissions:

Avocet, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Woodcock, Yellowhammer and Treecreeper.

There is always next year..........😀

Sunrise at Bowling Green Marsh RSPB by the Mrs

Sunrise on the Exe Estuary by the Mrs

Velvet Scoter, off Otterton STW

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Wildlife Highlights of 2020

Well that was certainly a very strange year for everyone! Regardless of all the doom and gloom of Covid in the world, it certainly reinforced just how very lucky we are to be living in East Devon where we had access to such great countryside on our doorstep during lockdown. It was somewhat ironic that although a difficult year in many ways, it was also my personal best year for rarity finding! 

I enjoyed "purple patches" locally in Devon during May and then on St Martin's, Isles of Scilly during October. The tally of personal finds for Devon was particularly satisfying because all the birds were within walking distance of home! 

15th May: 13 Bee-Eaters on my patch! 
23rd May: Blyth's Reed Warbler and Devon's first spring record. 
26th May: Golden Oriole singing on the Pebblebed Heaths. 
29th May: Marsh Warbler although not found by me, it was still exciting to identify the bird at Tipton St John, just 7 miles from home! All thanks to friend Dave White who called me about an odd song that he had heard earlier that morning and I knew I needed to check it out! It was the first accessible bird in Devon since 1990. 

During the autumn, it was the Isles of Scilly and beloved St Martin's that once again produced some exciting birding. 
7th October: Red-eyed Vireo. My only BB rarity of the year and amazingly my 3rd Yank passerine "find" on this island in just 12 months! 
14th October: Radde's Warbler 
16th October: Pallas's Warbler and RB Flycatcher 

Aside from the personal rarity finding excitement, there were still plenty of other highlights and excluding the months of Jan and Feb, all were in South West England.

Below are some of my most memorable highlights from the year.......

JANUARY - FEBRUARY: Spain & the United States

It is always a pleasure to return to the beautiful Sierra de Andujar each winter in search of Iberian Lynx and it was another successful tour. Jan 2020 Tour Report

Female Iberian Lynx, Sierra de Andujar by Roger Wasley

Ferruginous Ducks and White-headed Ducks, Laguna Dulce

California in winter has so many wildlife spectacles with hundreds of very confiding waders, California Condor along the stunning Big Sur coastline, fantastic cetaceans in Monterey Bay, Bobcats around Point Reyes as well as many other great birds and a superb spectacle of thousands of Snow Geese! Feb 2020 California Trip Report
Minnesota was spectacular as always with wonderful views of Canada Lynx and some quality birds too! Feb 2020 Minnesota Trip Report

Northern Right Whale Dolphin in Monterey Bay, California and my first sighting since 2001

Bobcat at Point Reyes, California

Snow Geese in the Sacramento Valley, California

Waders at San Francisco Bay, California

The fabulous Varied Thrush at Point Reyes, California

An amazingly confiding Barred Owl at Sax Zim Bog, Minnesota

The stunning Canada Lynx seen well for our 5th consecutive year

MARCH - APRIL: Patch Ruff & Garden Goshawk
Only my 2nd sighting of Ruff for the patch
Fine weather in April during lockdown allowed for many hours sky watching!
The rewards were Red Kites and a Goshawk (above) which was new for the garden list.

Goshawk over the garden

MAY: Purple Patch Birding & NOCMIG Garden Quail
Like During the Spring lockdown, similar to many other birders in the country, I soon became hooked on recording nocturnal migrants passing over the garden (NOCMIG). It was very addictive and I had some exciting species including Stone Curlew, Quail and Nightjar! More NOCMIG recordings can be heard on my Sound Cloud
One of 13 Bee-Eaters on the patch! Full account HERE

Blyth's Reed Warbler - Honest! Full account HERE

Blyth's Reed Warbler recording above and Golden Oriole below

The full account of the Marsh Warbler cab be found HERE

It is always great to see the first beaver of the Spring
Hobby hawking Mayflies on the River Otter

JUNE - JULY: Insects, Reptiles & Dartmoor Dunlin Monitoring
White-legged Damselflies on the Axe thanks to Matt

A chance encounter with a Smooth Snake on the Pebblebed Heaths

Lunar Hornet Moth on the patch thanks to Matt

Discovering Brown Argus on the patch was a great surprise.
A previously unknown site for the species

Helen and I did some more monitoring of the Dunlin on Dartmoor in July and proved breeding at one site.

AUGUST: Breeding Firecrests & Beaver Kits
I finally proved local breeding with Juvenile Firecrests!

Late Summer is always the time to see the newly born Beaver kits on the patch!

SEPTEMBER: West Penwith Birding Week with Pals
A brilliant week in a caravan near St Just with good friends Russ and Andy.
Black Kite (top), Red Kite (bottom) and Buzzards near Land's End!
A tame Lapland Bunting at Porthgwarra, Cornwall
A Wryneck was a welcome surprise one morning near Cape Cornwall

Cape Cornwall

One of many Chough seen along the coastline

OCTOBER: St Martin's Isles of Scilly Rarities
Red-eyed Vireo, Middle Town on St Martin's

Radde's Warbler, Little Arthur Farm on St Martin's

Pallas's Warbler, Lower Town on St Martin's

Red-breasted Flycatcher, Lower Town on St Martin's

One of the many beautiful beaches on St Martin's
More from my Scilly visits HERE and HERE

NOV & DEC: Cattle Egret, Water Pipits, YBW & Velvet Scoter
Cattle Egret on the patch is now almost regular!

For the second year running I had double figures of Water Pipit
on the patch in early December with a count of 13 birds!

Yellow-browed Warbler on the patch

Velvet Scoter with 100 Common Scoter off Budleigh today (30th December) and my first record off Budleigh seafront! Happy Days....

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Pipits, Egrets & Starlings

I had some frustrating views of at least one Water Pipit a few days ago and suspected there were more, but the light was disappearing quickly. Despite looking over the last few days I have failed to re-find them until yesterday, when I counted 12 birds and then 13 birds today. Pretty much the same time last year I had at least 12 birds in the same fields - I wonder where they spent the Summer?
One of the flock of 13 Water Pipits

Cattle Egret 24th Nov. thanks to Dave White.
Funny how regular this species has become in Devon.

The roosting Starling flock has reached an absolute minimum of 1,500 birds
during the last couple of weeks.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Interesting Crossbills

Over the weekend Helen and I came across a flock of around 25-30 Crossbills on East Budleigh Common. Whilst watching the flock I was struck by at least one bird which appeared to show a fairly large looking bill but I was very aware of the poor light and I didn't have my camera. The flock then disappeared but I did get some sound recordings. 
I returned on Sunday with my camera to find the flock still present and I obtained some photos and more sound recordings. The weather was quite wet, so I focused on getting as many photos as possible rather than taking time to study the birds in the field.

In summary, I managed to obtain sound recordings of "flight calls" from the flock and "excited calls" of at least one bird but I was unable to attribute the recordings to specific birds that I photographed. The recordings can be heard below and all clearly suggest Common Crossbill by ear and from the spectrogram. 

On reviewing my photos, most birds' bill structures seem as you would expect for a "normal" Common Crossbill, but I was interested to see at least of couple of birds appeared to show quite obvious deep bill structures. One bird in particular (bird 4 wing-barred) looks strikingly large billed in the last photo of the sequence, with a strong gradual curving of the upper mandible and quite a stout lower mandible, superficially similar to Parrot Crossbill. Despite being very rare, it would be odd to show wing bars in this species.

I am very aware of how different angles and open bills in photos can give very misleading impressions. Some of these birds appear to be large-billed Common Crossbills and the sound recordings suggest nothing other than Common Crossbill. 

Despite some good photos, they were surprisingly secretive and not easy to study as they disappeared into the pine trees to feed. I had a look today but couldn't re-find them. I will keep looking because I am very keen to see the flock again as Crossbills are certainly an interesting and variable group!

Bird 1 male

Bird 2 female

Bird 2 female

Bird 3 female and Bird 4 wing-barred

Bird 4 wing-barred

Bird 4 wing-barred

Bird 4 wing-barred

Bird 5 female 

Bird 6 male

Bird 7 female possibly same as bird 2

Male Brambling - One of at least 3 birds in same area as Crossbills