Friday 27 February 2009

Another Yeartick For The Patch

I spent most of this morning birding with Steve, we started in Branscombe but I don't remember exactly what we saw, which means it wasn't anything very exciting. The sea was lumpy and the light rubbish too. I was pretty gripped to get a text from Ian M much later in the morning saying he'd seen a Slavonian Grebe there. It looks like late morning's the time to go there at the moment. After Branscombe we went to the 'Woodcock Woods' near Colyton so Steve could do his monthly bird survey. There were no Siskins or Redpolls today and only one or two Woodcock, which was a shame because I was hoping to get a photo. The two birds we did see flew out of the woods and straight in again foiling my attempt to get a flight shot over a field. Nevertheless I pointed the camera in the vague direction of one of them and... Hey Presto!

There IS a Woodcock in this picture and in true Woodcock fashion it is virtually invisible, not due to camouflage though, just naffness! If anyone can see it I'll award them a quality prize. Go on look for it, you know you want to!

Most of the birds we recorded were heard only, and included all the usual suspects, including Treecreeper. Why mention that specifically? Well, when Steve heard it calling he said "Treecreeper! Can you still hear Treecreepers Karen, they're the first one to go" Charming! I'll say this for Steve, he sure knows how to humour a woman of a 'certain age'! ;-)

At lunchtime I was feeling too lazy to take the dog for a long walk so took him to the beach instead. I'm glad I did because two blobs fishing off the river mouth turned out to be something more interesting than Cormorants for a change. They were a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, not a rare bird obviously but scarce on patch, these being the first this year. I sent out a text or two saying they were close in, but almost as soon as I did so they began to drift further and further out. They were still around an hour later though apparently. Here's a few snaps I took. I like the third one, the female's in mid-dive.

I had a quick look at the estuary before work and saw....

...Well I never - the 'dark one'

That's enough from me, it's half-ten and time for my Horlicks and Sanatogen.

Nighty-night! :D

Thursday 26 February 2009

Whoo-hoo Whoopers!

I love Whooper Swans, so when I got a call from Phil telling me he'd found four in with our wintering flock of Mutes just north of Axmouth I rushed out there to see them. I had to be at work in less than half an hour though so it would have to be a real quickie. I arrived on the scene, set up my scope, enjoyed lovely views of the swans and had a chat with Phil, all in a relaxed and leisurely manner. I took out my camera for the obligatory photos, held it up to the eyepiece and it said "BATTERY" I hate it when it does that!! I wasn't going to be denied though, so I rushed home to get my emergency reserve camera. The clutch is dying on my car, so in my haste I ground and crunched my way through the gears as I drove off. To all those who witnessed this, it really was all the clutch's fault and nothing to do with my driving ability! ;-)

Anyway in the three or four minutes I had when I got back, I took a few snaps and a short video thus:

All four Whoopers

A closer view of two and a half of them.

And a video although they didn't exactly do much.

Local Patch Featured on TV

Remember my post from a few weeks ago called 'Ringing with a Twist? ' (if not see it HERE) Well the results of that day's filming were screened last night on the southwest region's version of the program Inside Out. I managed to stay well out of shot, (or they chose to keep me well out of shot!) but if you have eyesight better than the average Peregrine, then you may just spot about 1/8th of my trademark hat for one millionth of a nanosecond. My advice therefore is don't even try! Great performances from Mike, Fraser and Chris Packham of course! :-)
Even if you don't live in the southwest you can still see it because all the different regional editions of inside out are viewable on the BBC iplayer. So (if you wish to) you can view the program HERE (I'm not sure how long it stays available for mind, it is working today though)

Also a little moan. I recently added a gadget to show followers of my blog but have now had to remove it because Blogger have reformatted the gadget to show a border and buttons and horrible advert/link. So sorry to my followers for removing your icons. I know it doesn't really matter what it looks like but it sort of offends my aesthetic sensibilities. I'm a bit weird like that I suppose!

Wednesday 25 February 2009

Some Old News

Anyone who reads Steve's blog will know about all this already, he's so bloomin' 'quick out of the blocks '! You'll know I started the day at Seaton Marshes with the AERG where we caught 7 Shelduck, three of which were 'fresh' birds. After this I took the dog for a long walk on Axe Cliff while Steve went to Branscombe and saw amongst other stuff, a Red-necked Grebe. I decided not to go for it. Firstly because I was already a long way into my walk, and secondly, I vaguely remember my very first Red-necked Grebe off Seaton seafront last October being particularly underwhelming.

A look over the estuary later revealed two of the Iceland Gulls, the dark one and one of the really pale ones. I wont bore you with further pictures of them. Instead here's a nice one of an estuary first for me, a shoe, not an espadrille, jellie, or flip-flop, of which I've seen plenty, no a man's dress shoe!

A lone shoe-totally alone!!

Whilst looking through the gulls a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits approached quite closely, one of which was adorned with some colourful legwear.

No need to send the details off because this is the bird ringed by the AERG early last Autumn. It's probably been in the Axe Valley all winter but today's the first time I've spotted it for a while.

Then off to the seafront after a 'mystery birder' told Steve and myself a gripping tale of Slavonian Grebes off Beer. We could see them but they were way off to the west and after Steve left for work I tootled over to Seaton Hole to see if I could get a better view. They were still relatively distant from here though, so I decided to go to Bransconmbe and look for the Red-necked Grebe, after all it had only been about four hours (!!) since it was last seen. Optimistic or what? Once at Branscombe beach I paid my £1.00 for the carpark, glimpsed a distant Red-throated Diver, and a single Great-northern Diver and availed myself of the sumptuous washroom facilities. Then I left. A real bargain I thought!

I returned to Seaton Hole and was pleased to see the Slavs much nearer and showing well. They were keeping company with a couple of Great-crested Grebes just to the east of my vantage point. I got a few photos, well after a fashion anyway!

Mixed Grebes

Three Slavonian Grebes - a patch record.

Tuesday 24 February 2009


Well, actually Iceland Gulls, but the ones on the River Axe do appear to be giving the chameleon a run for it's money in the colour changing stakes! I'm getting really confused trying to work out which individual I'm looking at at any one time. I've seen several over the last three days including ( as you know) three together on Sunday afternoon. So I'm certain there are at least three! I got a photo on Sunday with two individuals in it, though one is pretty blurry. They are one of the 'pale ones' and the 'dark one'.

A pretty staightforward pair

Today at around 3.30 pm I spotted what I thought was one of the pale ones just south of the creek outside Seaton Hide, it looked really white like the one in the above photo. After a while it walked southwards towards the tram sheds, I followed in my car to get a clearer view and when I got there it had changed colour!! It now looked much darker especially on the underside, it was definitely the same bird though, they obviously look very different depending on the light conditions, background, angle of view etc. Here it is looking not quite so pale.

One of the 'pale ones'

I wish I'd taken a snap of it when it looked paler to show the difference. However, I do have two photos of the bird from my last post (Friday) showing the same phenomenon.

These two are the same bird.

It shows you can't rely on first impressions of shade alone, so need to at least look at the plumage in some detail to recognise different individuals, although that said the plumage could change subtly over time too I suppose. Quite a thankless task really.

Here's a nice distant shot of today's pale/ dark/intermediate one taken from my bedroom window. It'll be a sad day when this view is eventually replaced by a huge block of flats!

Here's a view of Coronation Corner after most of the gulls have flown off to the roost. To the top right you may just be able to see parts of a birder hiding behind the wall. "I know who it is, but I'll let you name him for yourselves" ;-)

Also today, I walked to Jubilee Gardens via the cliff path and I had a typically brief glimpse of a Firecrest skulking in a holm oak. I also took a photo of a seabird that ISN'T an Iceland Gull! :-)

A Fulmar

Friday 20 February 2009

Name That.... Iceland Gull

I only had time for a quick half-hour look at the estuary before work today, long enough to see an Iceland Gull though obviously! I also saw three adult Med Gulls without even trying, so there were probably a few more than that.

The question is "which Iceland Gull did I see today?" I took a few snaps and think I can 'Name That Gull' in two! Doesn't mean I'll be correct though!

I've chosen these two photos because of their 'uniqueness'. Yes, that old hackneyed excuse again!

Here's a good one of the top of it's head.

This never to be repeated shot is of an Iceland Gull gazing up at the Devon Air Ambulance!

This morning Steve saw the two Iceland Gulls that I'd seen on Tuesday and I suppose this could be the lighter one of those two, but I'm inclined to think it's the other pale one, the cuter one. Although Steve pointed out in his blog that they can look very different depending on stance, I think the plumage on this bird isn't as well marked as on the the one on Steve's blog, especially on the back where the markings are very faint and worn looking. I could be wrong though. I scoped this one from the house later, it would be a shame not to take advantage of the Iceland inundation, by getting it on the house list, wouldn't it? I also belatedly added Mediterranean Gull too.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Cotswolds and Lifers

A couple of weeks ago Nick had kindly asked me if I'd like to visit the Cotswold Water Park during half term week to look for Smew, so this morning that's exactly what we did. Bun also came along, he'd seen Smew there last year but was keen to repeat the experience. There has also been a Great Grey Shrike showing well near to the town of Cirencester, so naturally we had to go for that too, especially as Nick has dipped so many in Hampshire.

Here's how our day panned out:

First stop was the Great Grey Shrike location near Cirencester, and very scenic it was too, not exactly the sort of setting one would expect to be looking at a Great Grey Shrike in, it was a field of rank vegetation alongside a lay- by, on a dual carriageway, under some pylons, opposite a massive Tesco superstore! Gorgeous.

It was raining and the rain was fizzing as it hit the overhead powerlines..

Bun patiently keeps his scope fixed on the one tree in the field...

...This shortly appeared.

It sat in the tree for a good while, giving superb views. Unfortunately the rain and murk made photos a bit ropey, as you can see, but so what! It was a bostin' bird and a lifer for Nick and myself!

Great Grey Shrike induced smiles, Nick's obviously particularly pleased.

After this successful twitch we made our way to the 'several million' lakes which make up the Cotswold Water Park. When we arrived it was quite foggy and so chances of spotting distant ducks were small.

Lake 43, after the fog had started to clear!

Despite the poor visibility we soon spotted some of the hundreds of Red-crested Pochards, Nick's and my first 'wild' ones. There were also plenty of Goosanders, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Pochard and Tufted Ducks, millions of them! Right at the back of lake 43 in the murk Nick spotted the ducks we'd come to see, Smew! We expected them to be too wary for us to get any closer, but fortunately they had their minds too firmly fixed on each other to notice us. We had really nice views and they were very entertaining . There were nine redheads and three simply stunning drakes! It was still a bit misty for photos to do them justice but we had a stab at some. I say we because Bun had his new camera and was somewhat pleased to have got a recognisable result!

"Look. Look I've got a photo of some Smew!"
(If you look closely you can see them on his camera's screen)
Bun isn't as portly as this photo suggests; that's an enormous flask of coffee subtly hidden inside his jacket!

Here are a couple of my better efforts, great birds and every bit as stunning as I imagined they'd be :-)

As we were leaving a few started to fly around a bit and I got a 'nice' flight shot!

Now I know what to look out for flying past Seaton. It could happen!

Also a short video clip:

When we arrived back in Seaton we saw Steve at Coronation Corner, he'd seen two Iceland Gulls, the darker one from yesterday and the smaller pale one. We enjoyed good views of the former, rounding off an excellent day, nicely. :-)

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Two New Iceland Gulls....Well For Me......I Think!?

I didn't really expect to see any birds today having been in Sidmouth for most of it with visiting relatives. I was back in time for a quick pre-work look along the estuary though, Ian M was already at Coronation Corner and was already looking at an Iceland Gull, which not long afterwards was joined by yet another! I took some snaps of both and I'm inclined to think they are both new birds for me at least. I think one was the individual seen by Phil and Gav on Sunday (the one I missed) and the other possibly the Saturday bird which was also probably the same one that was on Beer Beach before that. It's all getting very confusing! No matter what they were great!

Here are some pics of them, do you think I'm right? Anyone have an opinion?

Could be the first of the Sunday Birds?

Unfortunately the second bird was always a bit distant to photograph at all clearly but it looked like the Saturday one.

Sunday 15 February 2009

My Evening Off

This evening was likely as not going to be my only free evening all week, usually I have Mondays off too, but this week I'm working it in order to be free on Thursday evening to watch Martha in the Seaton Pantomime Society's production of Beauty and The Beast, she will (rather fittingly) be playing the role of The Beast! Therefore I needed to make the most of it by staying out in the field as long as possible. Unfortunately I had promised Martha a lift to rehearsals at 4 o' clock so couldn't get out to look at the gulls until just after this, and consequently arrived just in the nick of time to miss yet another Iceland Gull, happily though Gav and Phil soon found another at Coronation Corner. I like Iceland Gulls, a lot, and never tire of seeing them, because unlike some birds, you definitely can't say "Seen one you've seen 'em all". I rather hastily counted this bird as my fourth different individual but on looking at Gav's photos of Wednesdays bird I could see they were one and the same. My recall is obviously not up to much, but in its defense I did only have a brief scope view of the bird on Wednesday, and had remembered it as being darker than it was. It's certainly a good job that we can get photos of most birds for later comparison.

Here are a couple of photos of today's Coronation Corner bird:

I liked this one because the 'Shelduck dominated background' makes it stand out nicely.

I put this one on for no reason whatsoever.

The glut of Iceland Gulls appears to have brought in quite a few birders over the weekend, there were three at Coronation Corner this evening and a couple more I noticed further down river. Here's the scene at CC.
A 'large' gathering for a Sunday evening at Cori Corner, although two of these are regulars you may recognise.

As well as the Iceland Gulls there were also plenty of Med Gulls on the estuary, I only saw a handful of them but Gav and Phil counted a record number. The female Common Scoter was still on the river too, for a reason only known to her. As the light faded I took this artistic snap of a (mostly ignored) estuary habitue:

"Red Shanks in the Sunset"

In the last of the twilight I popped over to Musbury and saw three Little Owls on Watery Lane, a year tick no less, "Softly softly catchee monkey"! :-)

Saturday 14 February 2009

A Weeks Worth of Waffling

Thought I'd better say something on here before my viewing figures hit the negatives (and they're not far off it already) . I haven't really been out and about much this week but have seen a couple of nice birds, one of which you'll be amazed to hear was an Iceland Gull. As you know these little beauties have been literally infesting the Axe Estuary of late, but unfortunately for me, have been timing their appearances to coincide nicely with my clocking on time of five o'clock. (I've checked the gulls most days this week at three to three thirty-ish) I did manage to get out for five minutes before work on Wednesday and see one, albeit for a few seconds through Gav's scope, I was subsequently a teensy bit late for work. Friday's gull prevented this from happening again by not showing itself until exactly five o'clock. Well either this, or Gav kindly waited until five to text me the news, knowing he would save me from any further incidents of bird induced lateness! There was an earlier one today, at around three thirty! But I'd decided to wait until four thirty to have a quick pre-work gull fix. I'm feeling 'a bit hard done to' having only seen THREE this year! Oh well, there're bound to be loads more.

The other good bird this week was the Cattle Egret near Lyme Bay Auctions. I didn't get the news of this for an hour or so because I was hoovering and didn't hear my phone, an excuse that was apparently a touch on the unbelievable side. As if! Ask anyone who knows me and they'll tell you that my housekeeping skills, and indeed the zeal with which I employ them, are almost legendary! ;-) Seeing as I promised that I wouldn't take any more photos of Cattle Egrets I didn't even bother to go and look at this one, least I be tempted and as some famous Irish bloke once said "I can resist anything but temptation"

On Wednesday I had a very welcome patch year tick with a Woodcock in Ox Hill Woods near Colyton. I very nearly got a photo too, which would have been a real scoop. The bird that I flushed from cover only flew a short distance and I could see exactly where it had landed, I started to creep up on it but to no avail because Rex got there first and the bird flew again, this time out of view. Woodcock was my 109th patch tick this year, a pathetic 13 behind the patch total and probably something like 11 behind Steve, who is year listing like a man possessed! He's obviously really eager to get his hands on my magnificent trophy! Who can blame him?

On Tuesday Bramble (the Guinea Pig) went to the vets for 'a small procedure' as they tactfully called it. You may be pleased to hear that he's made a full recovery, I however have NOT! Can you believe it cost £57.00!! I vowed to keep my eyes fixed firmly on the road in future and if I did happen to see another creature in distress to turn a blind eye. Yesterday this vow was tested and my resolve was found to be wanting. I was walking Rex over an apparently empty stubble field when a fluttering object caught my eye, 'just a leaf' I thought. It wasn't though, it was a Skylark, obviously injured and unable to take flight. As far as I could see it, I had three options:

1) Turn a blind eye and leave the poor thing to it's inevitable demise.

2) Get a camera and take a set of stunning, pin sharp, frame filling close ups of this obviously wild bird in it's natural surroundings and revel in the praise I'd receive for my photographic skill and superlative field craft. (Um, I wonder if this has ever been done!?)

3) Pick it up and take it home like a 'soft-hearted sucker.'

I've had it at home now for about thirty six hours. It hasn't died surprisingly, and it's eating and drinking but still can't fly. I'm hoping it's just a sprain, the wing doesn't appear broken. Only time will tell I suppose. Here it is:

I couldn't leave it to die, could I?

Sunday 8 February 2009

A Walk in the Black Forest......

..... Errm.... actually in Shute Woods, not quiet the same I know, but that's what it made me think of. I took Rex there for his walk this morning hoping to see or hear the Crossbills that Phil had heard yesterday or failing that at least see my first Redpoll of the year. I was to be disappointed on both fronts. The woods were so quiet you could have heard a Crossbill just thinking about chupping!! In well over an hour I only heard a Bullfinch, some Jackdaws, a distant Great Spot drumming, and a Great Tit and I saw one Bluetit! With green fields all around I wasn't expecting the blanket of snow which greeted me in the woods, it was lovely, a real 'Winter Wonderland'.

Rex looking decidedly grubby against the white of the snow.

While I was standing around waiting for a Crossbill to chupp, or anything to do anything, I began to feel a bit bored and lonely, in fact I must have felt very bored and lonely because I resorted to making myself a snow, moss, fir cone and stick based 'friend'.

My new friend wasn't exactly 'a barrel of laughs' but I can't knock him for his impeccable taste in hats!

Saturday 7 February 2009

Waking up to a Woodlark

I had planned a long lie in this morning, this never usually comes to fruition though (which I'm mostly glad of coz it's a bit of a waste of life really) I was woken first by a text from Steve who'd seen some Pintails, followed shortly by another about an Iceland Gull. Neither of these stirred me too much, the next one from Phil did the trick though, he'd seen a Woodlark near to Rousden Barns, after phoning him and learning that it was showing well, down to thirty yards and photographable! I was up, dressed and out in a flash!! I rushed out to the car only to find it encased in ice, so much so that the locks were frozen solid! When I eventually arrived I could see Phil and Steve packing away their scopes. Not good, not good at all! Yes, it had flown off, but as you are probably aware from Steve's blog Phil spotted a small flock of the little beauties in the next field, they were very mobile, giving us ample opportunity to count them but not take any photos. There were seventeen of them in the flock and the single 'Billy no mates' one was probably an eighteenth. I was keen to wait around for better views and a digiscoping opportunity but had rushed out in the wrong clothes and also without breakfast, so reluctantly headed off home ...

After breakfast and dressing up like a mountaineer I popped back up to Rousen to walk the dog. I had great views of a Peregrine having a crack at a flock of Skylarks and when I looked towards the fields where we had seen the Woodlarks earlier I could see a birder wandering around, I didn't recognise him from a distance but it turned out to be Nick.

Fields below Rousden Barns, Skylarks visible just landing to the right and the figure just to left of the hedge is Nick.

Nick had been looking for the Woodlarks without success. I showed him where we'd seen them this morning but there was no sign of the flock. We eventually spotted 'Billy no mates' though, who stayed put long enough to give some great views. As soon as I got my camera out though he started a thirty second countdown, allowing me about five shots! I made the most of them and got three of the ground, one beautifully focused one of its rear end, and one of them blurry, just running off the edge of the frame type ones. We also saw a belated patch year tick. a Red-legged Partridge, which appear to be very thin on the ground this winter. We also flushed three Roe Deer from cover, they looked superb gamboling across the field in the snow, very 'Bambiesque'. Here they are along with the blurry Woodlark:

Specky Deer , but the snow and sky look nice.

And in glorious close up

'Billy no mates'. Best viewed by standing (or sitting) several feet from your monitor and squinting a bit, or indeed removing reading glasses! (Don't waste any time opening this, it doesn't enlarge) If you want to know what Billy really looks like take a look at Steve's lovely photo instead.

While looking for the Woodlarks my scope blew over AGAIN. This time from the height of a fully extended tripod! I was very fortunate it wasn't ruined. It did sustain some damage, by landing on a rock or two!

Phew! That was close! As you can see it's dented the rain guard/outer sleeve thingy and chipped a piece out of the metal around the objective. A millimetre further to the side and I'd have had a cracked lens!

Guinea Pig Update

The Guinea Pig I found last Sunday is doing well now. After a massive stoke of luck being found in the first place, ( because he'd surely have frozen to death that very night otherwise) his luck has been continuing all this week. He's being thoroughly pampered:

'Bramble' looking well.

During the week I've provided Bramble with three wondrous gifts:

A swanky new pad...

and a lovely lady friend.

He has to wait until Tuesday for his third 'gift' and what a treat it will be. I've booked him into the vets to get castrated! Hard luck Bramble, you can't win 'em all!