Wise Birding Holidays

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Patch Bee-eaters!!

Well it has been an exciting 24 hours in Budleigh Salterton! It all started yesterday with news of a great find by a local Exmouth birder with a group of 13 Bee-eaters (flocks of 6 and 7) in his garden at 10am for just 2 minutes before they flew off east. 
Most birders in the UK are very aware of how notorious the species is for never staying long and so often being seen by only the finder!
As a result, I wasn't very optimistic about seeing them, but as the east side of Exmouth is only 3 miles away, I felt compelled to jump on my bike and spend an hour checking suitable farmland and the Golf Course at Budleigh. However, it did not take long for a reality check when I realised just how much suitable Bee-eater habitat there was between Budleigh and Exmouth! I started to accept that the birds were probably long departed and I headed home at around 1.30pm.

Fast forward to 7pm that evening when I visited the beloved local patch on the Otter Estuary. My aim was to look for Spotted Flycatchers in an area where birds had successfully bred last year. Of course, Bee-eaters were still on my mind, though very much at the back of my mind as it was now 9 hours since the sighting in Exmouth. I cycled along the wooded lane above the River Otter and spent some time watching the Flycatcher trees. Whilst standing in the lane I thought I heard the distant "pprruk" call of a Bee-eater! It is a sound, like most birders, I am very familiar with but surely it was my mind playing tricks? Somehow, I concluded it must have been the noise of my bins against my jacket!! 

I headed round towards South Farm where I knew there were some "Bee-eater friendly" telegraph wires, just in case it was real! Then, as I cycled around the bend by the lone cottage I could clearly hear Bee-eaters calling without doubt!! I looked towards the nearest trees and there sitting at top of them was a stunning Bee-eater! I was then aware of at least 4 birds hawking for insects along the tree line and out over my head - What an incredible sight to behold on my patch!! I immediately rang the Mrs who I knew was setting off  for a run and her route clearly needed to divert this way! I then phoned Matt Knott, Doug Cullen and a few other locals with the exciting news and it was good to know people were on their way to share the experience. 

However, just as I could see Helen running down the road towards me, the birds vanished! Now, that was just cruel - Surely, the Mrs couldn't dip on this technicolour patch mega!!?
We quickly headed back along the wooded lane hoping we could re-find them. Luckily, after a nervous 250 metre walk, there they were hawking over a golden sunlit grass field. 
I passed the bins to Helen and the immediate "Wow" confirmed she was watching them! Incredibly, there now seemed to be more Bee-eaters than before and I counted at least 10 birds! In hindsight it seems to make sense there were in fact two small flocks and the first birds I found then joined these other birds to make the complete flock. 
The rest as they say is history! It was great that so many local people were able to enjoy views of this notoriously difficult bird to see in Devon. 

This morning (16th May) 13 Bee-eaters flew out from their roost at 06.40hrs on what was quite a chilly overcast morning. They were typically vocal and gained height on a number of occasions, heading south and east and then back and then eventually heading out SSW and were lost to view at 07.40hrs.

Ordinarily, I would have put this exciting bird news out far and wide, but with this very strange time with Covid-19 and the first weekend free from travel restrictions since lockdown, I felt it was right to simply keep the news local. Particularly as the birds had roosted and were therefore sure to attract more attention and from further afield.

I visited the patch again this evening and it almost seemed like yesterday was a dream! No Bee-eaters calling tonight, but the magic of yesterday will remain with me for a very long time!! Now time for the celebratory Cream Tea - cream first of course!

Amazingly, the Bee-eaters are thought to be the same flock of 13 birds that were seen in North Wales on the Lleyn Peninsula last week. Last seen on the 13th May! 
See Maps below.  

European Bee-eater facts for Devon:
Thanks to County Recorder Kev Rylands for the data

Previous largest flock size: 
12 birds in 1995. Brixham 12th May & Holsworthy 18th May
Previous twitchable birds staying long enough for people to see:
Although nearly annual in Devon, not many stay long enough for people to see.
Axmouth in 2014
Bideford 2004
Ottery St Mary Oct 1963
Then not until 1949 when 4 birds spent three weeks around Beer/Seaton during June!

European Bee-eater, Budleigh Salterton May 15th 2020

European Bee-eaters, Budleigh Salterton May 15th 2020

The trees where I first clapped eyes on the glorious colour of these amazing birds!

European Bee-eater, Budleigh Salterton May 15th 2020

European Bee-eater, Budleigh Salterton May 15th 2020

The trees where the whole flock relocated - I have since found out there were Bee hives behind the ridge!
European Bee-eaters, Budleigh Salterton May 15th 2020

11 of the 13 Bee-eaters on Saturday morning before they departed!

Bee-eaters from Exmouth sighting to the patch - approx 3.5 miles East

Bee-eaters from Lleyn Peninsula to Exmouth - approx 165 miles SSE

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Nocmig 5 weeks on

The Nocmig set-up ready for another evening in the garden!
It is now approximately five weeks since I started recording the nocturnal flight calls of birds over our garden. Therefore I thought I would summarise the results to date. 

Species positively identified = 20 
The list below shows the number of nights each species has been recorded over a minimum of 25 nights between the 9th April - 12th May 2020. Sometimes more than one bird was recorded during the night.

Tawny Owl - 16 (only species not actually flying over)
Moorhen - 13
Whimbrel - 9
Canada Goose - 7
Dunlin - 5
Mallard - 3
Oystercatcher - 3
Nightjar - 2
Little Grebe - 2
Coot - 2
Stone Curlew - 1
Arctic Tern - 1
Common Tern - 1
Sandwich Tern - 1
Spotted Flycatcher - 1 night up to 3 birds
Little Ringed Plover - 1
Ringed Plover - 1
Teal - 1
Black-headed Gull - 1
Grey Heron - 1

I find it quite fascinating and incredible that in a relatively short period of time, I have managed to record such a diversity of species! I am certainly hooked and although migration is now slowing down, you just never know what might fly over next - Still time for a Quail!

Other exciting news from the garden was witnessing the now regular movement of young wandering Red Kites as they venture west along the coast. On Saturday the 9th May we enjoyed a total of 9 birds (garden record) including a single group of 7 birds! 
One of the 9 Red Kites over the garden on the 9th May

Monday, 27 April 2020

Nocmig Nightjar

So the nocmig garden list continues!The best of the bunch being a calling Nightjar at 04.55hrs this morning! This is only the second time we have recorded Nightjar in the garden, the last time was on the 29th May 2011 when one was over the park at dusk. 

Other recent highlights over the garden have been Teal and a very close Barn Owl which you can hear on this link: https://soundcloud.com/user-436430468

Monday, 20 April 2020

Stone Curlew over Garden!

Since my last post the garden lockdown list has increased to 38 species with some of the latest additions being Great Black-backed Gull, Heron and Swift. The swift was on the relatively early date of the 16th April. This appears to be 6 days earlier than Devon's first record for 2018 in the Devon Bird Report.

I have continued with the addictive "Nocmig" recordings and had some nice wader passage in the early hours of the 19th with Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Whimbrel moving through - Listen below.

However, the biggest shock was getting a faint but pretty distinctive Stone Curlew at 10pm last night! Ironically it was the only bird I recorded before it became too windy. 
You can here the recording below, though I would suggest listening with headphones, as it is a distant call. Despite the unwanted "noise" on the recording, to my ear I still think it is distinctive enough to identify. My suggested id also received a positive response from other more experienced sound recorders.
The sonogram, though pretty poor, also seems to be a similar fit to a couple of calls from the Xeno-Canto website. See below.

So, in the the last 10 nights the more notable birds I have recorded  flying over the garden include: 
Barn Owl
Common and Arctic Tern together (id thanks to Nick Hopper)
Sandwich Tern
Ringed Plover 
Stone Curlew

I find this quite amazing, particularly as I am not even using an external microphone at the moment, simply the recording device only. It is certainly very addictive and I can thoroughly recommend getting involved. A simple recorder like mine only cost £100. 

I look forward to the next few nights analysis.......
You can listen to more of my recordings HERE

Sonogram of my recording (top) versus one from Xeno Canto 
 You can listen to the above Xeno Canto recording HERE which is most similar to my recording below.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

More Nocmig

As we are all very much tied to our homes more and more with the current Covid-19 pandemic, I have become somewhat obsessed with recording nocturnal migration (Nocmig) over my garden. I find it fascinating and very educational too, as so many birds give some very different calls at night. 

I only started less than a week ago and have already added some species that I have never recorded anywhere near the house in daylight during 10 years of living here! These include 3 species of Tern, Barn Owl and Moorhen, the latter being surprisingly regular over the house at night. Though this is often the case for most Nocmiggers around the country. You can here some of the recordings below:

The mixed tern flock is particularly interesting as I first thought the recording was of a somewhat distant group of Dunlin. However, when you listen more intently, you can just make out they are tern calls and thanks to Nocmig Guru Nick Hopper, he identified them to Common and Arctic Tern. "the higher pitch call Arctic Tern (along with an accompanying kip call at 2.5 seconds) and the lower pitch Common Tern"

I cannot wait to see what passes over next......

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Raptors and Nocmig

Spent much of the day scanning the sky today with the Mrs and we finally managed to catch up with one of the numerous Red Kites that are being seen around the county. We narrowly missed a presumed Kite or Osprey yesterday when nearly every gull in the town was alarm calling like crazy, but we just could not get a view of the gulls or any raptor from the garden! During my daily excercise walk from the house this evening a single Wheatear and more significantly, a singing Firecrest in breeding habitat.

Being in "lockdown" has also prompted me to finally join the numerous "Nocmiggers" (Nocturnal Migration) around the country. Recording calls of migrating birds that pass over the garden during the night. Best bird to date is Moorhen which is a surprisingly regular species recorded during nocmig sessions. The nearest breeding birds to home are probably 1.5Km as the moorhen flies.
Surprised at the quality of the recording considering it is just the recorder with no shotgun microphone as yet. 

Lockdown Garden List: 32 species since 23rd March
Plus Nocmig Species: Canada Goose and Common Moorhen

Sound Recording of Common Moorhen below.

Female Sparrowhawk over the garden

Pale Common Buzzard over the garden

Typical Common Buzzard over the garden

Red Kite over the garden

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Staying at Home and a year older!

Another day at home at this strange time. We are so lucky to have a garden and be able to walk to the coast as part of our day's exercise. Highlight birds from the garden today included Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Willow Warbler, House Martin and a Swallow during our walk. Great to see so many House Sparrows and Starlings breeding around our neighbourhood this year too.

House Sparrows using our box

Great to be able to walk to the coast today

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Garden Hog!

Spending more time at home means more time to use the trail cameras! We only saw our first hedgehog in the garden last summer, so really pleased it or another is still around.

Saturday, 21 March 2020


A wander down to the scrapes beside the River Otter this evening produced only my 2nd Ruff for the patch. The last one I saw here was on 13th April 2013.

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Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Back for a while!

Having spent the last month in the US leading tours (see some photo highlight HERE if interested), it is nice to be back home and on the patch. Highlights around the Otter have included at least 2 Firecrest, 3 Med Gulls and a group of at least 24 Brent Geese.

Mediterranean Gull - two of three birds on the River Otter coming into breeding plumage

Firecrest - at least two birds around of late

Brent Geese - River Otter

Common Pheasant - I know it is non native, but the males are pretty impressive at this time of year!