Monday, 19 April 2021

Common Redstart and LRP

It has been slow going for migrants on the Otter but recent highlights have included two Little Ringed Plovers (31st March and 12 - 14 April), a male Common Redstart (10-14 April), Common Whitethroat (13 April) and Reed Warbler (10 April).

Common Redstart in Blackthorn

Little Ringed Plover on the Scrape


Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Glaucous Gull and Water Pipits

Yesterday on the Otter my first Willow Warblers of the year with a number of birds feeding on the flowering Blackthorn in the early evening sunshine.

Today the clear highlight was finding a presumed 2nd Cal Year (1st Winter) Glaucous Gull in the early evening. Although I only had binocular views it seemed to show a dark iris from the photos and a dark tipped bill with no hint of a pale tip. Typically for the Otter, it was completely random and present with a relatively small number of gulls and then flew off and headed east along the coast after just a couple of minutes. It was a particularly striking white plumaged bird and quite similar to the last bird I found here on April 9th 2018

Also today, two Water Pipits coming into summer plumage were present in the morning.

Glaucous Gull - Otter Estuary, presumed 2nd Cal Year / 1st Winter

Glaucous Gull - Otter Estuary, presumed 2nd Cal Year / 1st Winter

Glaucous Gull - Some flecking on the Undertail 

Glaucous Gull departing the Otter Estuary

Willow Warbler, Otter Estuary

Water Pipit - One of two birds present today

Peacock Butterfly on Goat Willow



Thursday, 25 March 2021

Osprey over the River Otter

A nice evening walk along the river Otter and the clear highlight was when Helen found an Osprey at 6.15pm heading SW from Otterton towards East Budleigh. Certainly the earliest one for me locally and possibly the first of the year for Devon?

Osprey, River Otter

Osprey, River Otter

Osprey, River Otter

Monday, 15 March 2021

Two Cattle Egrets

I haven't seen any more Spring migrants since a couple of Sand Martins on the 6th March and since that time, the weather has returned to feeling very much like winter still. However, today a beautiful near full breeding plumaged Black-tailed Godwit on the estuary certainly brightened up an otherwise mostly gloomy day! Also, the long staying Cattle Egret has been joined by a second bird this evening with a slightly brighter bill colour. The birds are feeding with 11 Little Egret and also present in the field were two White Wagtails in a flock of 40+ Pied Wagtails.

Black-tailed Godwit (islandica) Otter Estuary

Two Cattle Egrets with Little Egrets


Friday, 26 February 2021

Black Redstart and Barn Owl

 A lovely sunny day today with Dartford Warbler singing on the East Devon Commons. However, yesterday's highlights around Budleigh were a dapper male Black Redstart and my first Barn Owl on the patch since 2018.

Male Dartford Warbler, East Devon Commons

Male Black Redstart, Budleigh Beach

Barn Owl hunting along the River Otter

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Garden Brambling x2

The Mrs is a bit of a Pro when it comes to Bramblings. Helen found the first record for our garden in 2016 and then she did it again last weekend! It took me a couple of days to actually see it myself and it is still present today. However, the real excitement started whilst we watched the female this morning and suddenly, from nowhere, a beautiful male appeared! 

The first Brambling in the garden was on the 9th Jan 2016 and was a female, followed by the female present since 14th Feb 2021 and then a male today!

Male and Female Brambling with Chaffinches in the garden!

Monday, 15 February 2021

Mealy v Lesser Redpolls

Redpolls are like Gulls(!), they are great to learn from and you often need a full suite of characters to be sure of an identification. Some birds are even best left "unidentified" as it is just not possible to be 100% sure in the field. Therefore when friend and local birder Matt Knott posted some photos of a group of 8 Redpolls that he found on the East Devon Commons a couple of days ago, I really wanted to see them for myself. Both the photos and Matt's field views strongly suggested Mealy Redpoll, a rare bird in Devon. You can see Matt's Blog and his Redpoll photos HERE and HERE.

After a soaking wet walk on the Commons yesterday, I had only seen the 8 birds in flight. This afternoon I found the flock in the same area, but this time the flock had increased to at least 18 and maybe 19 birds! They were always flighty and tricky to view or photograph, but below are the results which I have not manipulated in any way, just simply cropped. 

My feeling in the field was that there were certainly some very striking cold toned birds within the flock, almost to the extent that if I had first discovered them myself, I would even be considering the possibility of Arctic Redpoll within the flock! I am not suggesting that, but simply trying to highlight how striking some of the birds appear in the field.

It is always good to be cautious with Redpolls and I am certainly no expert, but it seems that as Matt first suggested, some of the birds certainly seem to tick some Mealy boxes, and today at least, there seem to be some obvious Lessers in the flock too. However, I am very aware not all birds are straight forward and some adult male Lessers can even appear surprisingly large and white! 

At the same time, I also think the photos don't convey the true colour tones witnessed in the field and I only managed to photograph some of the flock!

Regardless of the identification, in my book, Redpolls are a fascinating species that I just don't see enough of in Devon. Thanks to Matt, I am able to enjoy these birds close to home and try and learn from them too. Comments welcome.......

PHOTO 1: Three of the Redpolls within the flock of 18 or 19 birds.
Bird 3 clearly stands out as more buffy/ginger in colour and is presumably a Lesser Redpoll.

PHOTO 2: A crop of Photo 1 showing the distinctly
warmer colour tones of birds 3 compared to bird 2.

PHOTO 3: Bird 3 (presumed Lesser) with two different birds (4 & 5) below which again
appear to be distinctly greyer toned and bird 5 showing rump colour.

PHOTO 4: A bird photographed later in the afternoon and
possibly a bird already shown in Photos 1 - 3.


PHOTO 5: Again, possibly a bird already captured in one of the above photos.
Head shape and grey-faced look quite distinctive, but within variation of Lesser?

PHOTO 5B: Same bird as in photo 5 showing UT coverts.

PHOTO 6: The most strikingly cold toned bird that was photographed,
appearing almost Arctic like in the field. Meadow Pipit for size comparison.

PHOTO 6B: Same bird as in photo 6 but showing rump and mantle colouration.

PHOTO 7: Last bird of the evening, probably within variation of Lesser?

PHOTO 8: A classic Lesser Redpoll photographed a few days ago by the River Otter.

PHOTO 8B: A classic Lesser Redpoll photographed a few days ago by the River Otter.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Lesser Redpoll

 Redpolls on the patch are very few and far between and are usually just flyovers, so it was quite a treat yesterday to have a confiding bird feeding low down adjacent to the River Otter. 

Lesser Redpoll, River Otter

Lesser Redpoll, River Otter

Lesser Redpoll, River Otter


Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Staying Local: freezing cold!

I have been birding the patch pretty much daily during recent weeks and the last few days have become very cold! It is due to the biting NE wind which is part of a national cold front that has resulted in much snow in the east of England and much of Scotland. The scrapes, adjacent to the estuary, are all frozen and day temperatures have been hovering just above freezing but in the wind it feels like -7C! Today saw the first real sign of any cold weather movement with a lone Avocet on the estuary and perhaps more surprisingly, a count of 85 Dunlin which is huge for the estuary! 

The Cattle Egret that I first discovered on the 4th Feb is still roosting on the River or Estuary.
Other highlights over the last couple of weeks have included a single drake Pintail, up to 10 Shoveler, 29 Brent Geese and 9 Stock Dove. Also a female colour-ringed Wigeon that has been returning since it was first ringed in Nov 2016.

Finally, earlier in the week I took a different route and cycled over to Exmouth where I was lucky to see the Northern Mockingbird late in the day with just one other local birder there watching it. 
I always consider myself to be very fortunate where I live, and during this difficult time of restricted travel I am exceedingly lucky to live so close to Exmouth! Great to see the local residents have also embraced the rare avian visitor and have put up an NHS donation bucket for local visiting birders.

The Otter Estuary looking towards Otter Head

The Wigeon flock has been a minimum of 230+ birds

Colour-ringed Female Wigeon AJ although the ring is very degraded.
First ringed here in 2016  and  last reported in Oct 2020 after an absence of a couple of winters. Sadly, one of the male CR birds on the Otter was shot 5,551 km east in Khanty-Mansi on the Ob river, in Russia on 30.05.2018. He was last seen on the Otter on 14.3.18 RIP.🙁
Many thanks to Peter Bennett for this info.

Shoveler numbers have peaked at 10 birds on the scrapes

A single drake Pintail has been present on the scrapes for the last couple of weeks


One of the fock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese ranging between 24 - 29 birds

Avocet is still a very scarce bird on the estuary

Part of today's mega flock of 85 Dunlin!


This Cattle Egret I first discovered on the River Otter on the 4th Feb
Cattle Egret, River Otter

Northern Mockingbird, Exmouth.
A truly amazing discovery of this North American passerine, found by the owner of the
 garden whilst carrying out the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch!

Brilliant to see one of the local residents had put up this donation bucket for the NHS 👍

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