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 

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....