Friday 27 March 2009

Whoosh Netting

If I were to tell you my 'Birdy Highlight of The Week' was a Ringed Plover at Coronation Corner on Wednesday, you'll know why I haven't blogged since Saturday. Actually there was another highlight, also on Wednesday, which was ringing a Moorhen, caught in the Abberton Traps along with three Shelduck retraps. I was back out with the AERG this evening at Seaton Marshes, where we were 'whoosh netting' for the first time this year. We only had a small catch of 5 Shelduck and amazingly a massive 60% of them were fresh birds, that's three of them (just to prove what a great mathematician I am). Terry from the Radipole Lake Ringing Group had joined us hoping to get to ring a few Corvids, these stayed well away for the most part though, probably something to do with the immense Burmese cat that frequents Seaton Marshes, creeping about in the bushes overlooking our catch area.

Here are a few photos of the 'action'. Not very good quality I'm afraid due to the rapidly fading light, I resorted to flash on a couple.

The small team only just outnumbered the ducks.

Fraser and Terry removing the catch....

... And a closer view. At the back is the only female we caught, I got to 'process' her (which incidentally means fit a ring, measure the wing, head /bill, tarsus and weigh her, not put her in a blender, which is what 'process' always calls to my mind) , she was very petite indeed, a real cutie.

After processing all the birds we re-set the net so that those who hadn't seen it in action before could do so. Here Fraser's pulling one of the bungees into position.

Securing bungee to the net and trigger mechanism.

This shows one side of the net set and ready to go, when the trap is sprung the bungee pulls the net out and height is gained by the net being attached to rings which slide up the angled pole.

If that's not clear then take a look at this little video of it in action. It's fast, blink and you'll miss it! Have the sound on and you will hear the sibilant sound it makes, hence the name 'Whoosh Net'.

Saturday 21 March 2009

Another 'Run O't Mill' Visit to The Woods

The weather this morning appeared to be much the same as it was last Sunday, so what better place to take Rex for his walk than Trinity Hill Woods. We arrived at about midday and as soon as we approached the usual Crossbill spot, there they were. They were actually on their way down from the trees for a drink. What great timing! I'd brought a scope along today 'just in case' and quickly set it up to try and get a photo of them drinking. It's amazing that they weren't in the least bothered by mine and Rex's presence. I couldn't get a good view through the scope however, due to the 'drinking puddle' of choice being in a ditch and behind some dry grass, hence this stunning result:

There are actually four of them in this appalling photo, you'll have to take my word for it though.

When I lifted my head from the scope, two more Crossbills were drinking on a puddle only feet away, giving amazing views! I'm afraid I absentmindedly missed the chance to count them accurately, there were at least six though, this time including two adult males.

Once they were back in the trees I did get a few better shots, it would have been hard to get worse ones! Here are (forgive the repetitive self indulgence, but I'm quite pleased with them) LOTS of them:



Upside down

Just about to drop a pine cone (which isn't a euphemism!)

This second adult male was in the same tree.

For equality's sake - a female too.

If anyone wants to go and look for them I suggest a still, sunny day, at around midday. Here's a helpful map of the area of the woods in which I've seem them on three occasions now.

Location of Crossbills.

Later, back at home I was having a cuppa in the garden when one of my regulars visited the bird feeders, a finch, but nothing as beautiful and exciting as Gav's temporarily resident Fringilla. A Fringilla non the less, but of the boring old Chaffinch type. She's been around for about five months now and has a steadily worsening case of Fringilla papilllomavirus (FPV). Last October it was localised on the top of one of her feet but today it's rampant! A couple of pictures of her below are definitely NOT for the faint-hearted or squeamish, it's HORRIBLE!

Enlarge this at your own risk. You have been warned!

Apparently they can live quite normally with this condition until it prevents perching, which doesn't look too far off in this case. It's nice to see that she has a mate though, despite her 'unconventional' looks.

Friday 20 March 2009

Obliging Ruff

Driving along the estuary late morning I spotted some pretty close waders from the car, one looked like it could be the/a Ruff, I stopped the car to get a better look and indeed it was. Too good an opertunity to miss I thought, seeing as I'd previously only had distant views and therefore took some dodgy snaps. These I believe, are somewhat better:

Alongside Redshank and Blackwit it looks smaller than on Sunday, I'm not at all sure it's the same one.

I haven't seen much else of interest, except a couple more Sand Martins and a Wheatear at Colyford Common. There were oodles of big gulls on the estuary too but they were 99% Herring.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday morning I joined Ian M at Colyford Common, no Sand Martins again for me though. We spent a while looking at the Rock Pipits on the reserve, some or all of which appear to be 'Scandinavian' Rock Pipits. Ian had previously seen one in full summer plumage but we didn't see it on this occasion.

'Littoralis' Rock Pipit? I think so.

It appears to show a white outer tail feather.

There were at least three Water Pipits on the marsh too. These appeared to be moulting and were very scruffy looking, perhaps they'll still be around when they've acquired their summer plumage, I do hope so! We also saw some interesting footprints, neither of us knew what they were so I took a photo and checked it out when I got home, here they are:

See how the top one is so much smaller, that means they're Badger prints. The larger one being the front foot. I didn't know that, but now I do. There's a strange mark to the right of the print, which I think looks like it was made by the snout sniffing the ground.

This morning at about ten o'clockish I popped up to Beer Head and I was only about 50 yards from the car when I saw a couple of Wheatears on a fence, they saw me and flew into the adjacent sheep field (spring Wheatears are so much more wary) where I counted another nine of them. So eleven of them in total and they were ALL males too. Seeing as I was so near to the car I went back to get 'my' scope and hopefully got some better photos than I did on Sunday, which wouldn't be difficult! I think I succeeded.

Yes, it's the customary 'post shot'

A couple more standard poses...
and why not?

I also saw another Adder in the Dell but nothing else of interest. I still needed to take the dog for a walk before doing some errands, so I took him for a quick jaunt up Axe Cliff, not much in the way of birds up here but a look underneath the usual tin sheet produced these:

A big fat Slow Worm...

... And this handsome creature.

Later in the afternoon I had a quick glance at the gulls by the tram sheds and straight away saw this:

Bog standard Axe Estuary fare, Norman I believe.

Later in the afternoon I visited Colyford Common again, where the scrape's been drained. It looks great and was teeming with Teal (over thirty) and Green Sandpipers (over three). No sign of the Ruff though. What I did see was a flock of six Sand Martins (at last), which spent just a couple of minutes feeding over the hide before gaining considerable height and moving off north. Guess what was with them though? A Swallow! I wasn't expecting that, it looked superb gleaming in the evening sun. It's always a real thrill to see your first Swallow of the spring isn't it? - Well it does it for me anyway. Brilliant! Other birds here were a singing Cetti's Warbler and four more Wheatears, two males and two females. I didn't bother taking any more photos though... Who am I kidding?! Of course I did!

Sunday 15 March 2009

Lovely Weather for Crossbills

I had a much needed lie-in this morning and when I eventually ventured out I took the dog to Trinity Hill again because I figured it may, just possibly, NOT be windy there. It's a rare occurrence but I was right, there wasn't a breath of wind in the woods and even though there were lots of dog walkers around, there was very little noise apart from birdsong, the drumming of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and the surprisingly loud sound of falling pine cones, which could only mean one thing, feeding Crossbills. I soon located them too, there must be at least eight altogether because there were two males today (last time I saw six females) a really red one and a younger orangy one, I counted three females but there were probably more. I tried to get some photos but it was difficult because they remained high in the trees, and were more often than not in front of the sun or behind lots of twigs. It was made extra difficult by my inability to look up for very long, due to my painful neck. I was determined though, because it's not often that they show themselves at all! I came away with a few half decent attempts. Not very long after leaving I was back, hoping to show Nick the Crossbills but predictably they had disappeared. There was also a Brimstone butterfly, my first this year, I haven't even seen a Red Admiral, mind you it's been A LOT colder than normal this year.

This one's the closest I got to the red male, nice view of the under-tail coverts though!

Look at the size of that bill, looks like a Parrot.

I really like this one even though I had to filter it for noise pretty heavily.
Crossbills are great. I really can't get enough of them.

This afternoon I managed to miss Sand Martin again, not to worry though, they'll be EVERYWHERE soon! I spent a couple of hours at Colyford Common this evening with Gav, we were hoping to see at least a summer plumaged Water Pipit or even a 'Scandinavian' Rock Pipit. They remained well hidden though. I'd love to see a summer plumaged Water Pipit one day, it will have to remain on my something nice to look forward to list for now. :-) There were two Green Sandpipers on the new reed bed, a few Reed Buntings and' Itchy' the Pale-bellied Brent Goose. I'm sure she has parasites of some sort, her plumage is really gammy and she's always scratching!

While here we had a text from Bun saying that the Ruff which Phil had found on Bridge Marsh this morning was now at Coronation Corner, I hadn't seen it this morning so had a quick look on the way home. It was getting dark but at least I saw it. It was keeping company with our Black-tailed Godwit flock. I digiscoped a couple of 'likenesses', as you do. It looked very nice, coming into summer plumage, though you wouldn't know from looking at these:

Ruff amongst Godwits

It really was getting too dark.

I really love spring, such a surprising time of year, all the same things appear but always feel new somehow. I love this quote from Ellis Peters it sums up what I'm trying to convey nicely." Every spring is the only spring - a perpetual astonishment"

Saturday 14 March 2009

More Signs of Spring

I haven't been out for long today after spending most of the morning in Exeter, but as soon as I got back I joined Nick, who was really keen to be shown the delights of Kilmington Quarry, and who better to show him than a self confessed quarraphobe! He was actually keen to see a Jack Snipe too, as was I obviously, but we'd really left it much to late and will just have to forget about one until next winter now.

After this I still needed to take Rex for a walk so decided to try my luck on Beer Head. Bun had seen three Wheatears here late in the morning and I was hoping they may still be around. Happily two of them were. I wanted to get a photo of them, the first Wheatears on patch this year, what a scoop that would be! I couldn't get very close though, possibly due to Rex's presence, but more than likely due to the overpowering aroma of Ralgex which has been accompanying me today, (my arthritis has flared up for the first time in eleven months) My scoop wasn't to be, however, because a while later I told Gav that the Wheatears were still showing well on Beer Head and naturally he popped up there to see them, and take some photos, which he's posted on his blog, they are much, much, MUCH better than my abysmal effort. Oh yes, you haven't seen it yet have you?

See! Abysmal.
Taken without the aid of a scope obviously! Note how he's crouching down trying to escape the noxious fumes!

The above photo is Wheatear number 5 of the 100 I promised to put on my blog when I started it in September, so plenty more to come, yippee!! I promise most will be better ( but not necessarily any more interesting) than this one, hopefully starting soon, as I have been lent a scope by someone who has kindly overlooked my reputation for clumsiness! A big THANKYOU, you're very brave! I WILL be careful. :-)

I did get one scoop though, with the first Adder of the year. I thought the fairly warm conditions may tempt one or two out today. I didn't have time to look in many of the usual spots but a regular spot in 'The Dell' came up trumps with this nice big female, there was also a Slow Worm here, unusually basking out in the open.

An Early Adder

I've somehow managed to cunningly avoid all of the numerous Sand Martins seen on patch over the last few days...Tomorrow for sure.

Friday 13 March 2009


Friggatriskaidekaphobia, what a great word! Clearly it means an irrational fear of Friday the thirteenth, which today just happens to be. I do not have this affliction myself and for the life of me cannot see how any name or number attached to a day can make it any luckier/unluckier than any other, pure mumbo-jumbo! In fact, I can categorically state that I can't remember a single unfortunate occurrence happening to me on any of the 66 Friday the thirteenths that I have so far lived through. (Yes I'm nerdy enough to have worked that out). So when a catastrophic disaster (for my birding at least) occurred this morning it had absolutely NOTHING to do with the date!

I decided to take Rex for a quick stroll on the beach, hoping to see a Wheatear (or better) and took along my scope to have a quick scan over the sea too. Well, I was setting it up when I noticed something was amiss, it was strangely limp - I'm no technical expert but I know a spotting scope should generally be rigid rather than floppy. It was inside the stay-on case so I couldn't see what the problem was. I assumed the eyepiece had come loose, yes, surely that could be the only explanation!? When I undid the drawstring covering the eyepiece end I was astonished to find that all of the scope from the back of the focusing ring to the eyepiece had fallen off, simply FALLEN OFF!! Three tiny screws were rattling around loose inside. How on earth could three screws unthread themselves when they were contained entirely within the scope! Weird.

So as I write this my scope is in the capable hands of the Royal Mail (eek!) winging its way to the Nikon Service Centre, where I'm told they will look at it and let me know what they can do. I got the impression the guy on the phone thought I was joking at first when I said it hsd fell in two. No doubt they will try and blame me when they spot the damage to the objective bezel, which it sustained when it blew over a couple of months ago. It's been fine ever since then (well up until today) so I can't see that that was the cause. Anyway I was also informed that IF they repair it I will have to wait at least 3 or 4 weeks!

I can only hope for a reasonably speedy (and inexpensive) repair and return- I'm not holding my breath though...I'm a bit annoyed... No one mention seawatching ... Please! :( :(

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Full of The Joys of Spring?

I've seen a few lovely spring-like scenes on my travels today. This morning driving through Axmouth a pair of Collard Doves were snuggled together one resting its head (lovingly) on the others breast, newborn lambs were gamboling around the fields, primroses and wild daffodils were adorning the lanes and over the road from my house the male Herring Gulls were trying to dismember each other!! The scene was reminiscent of a schoolyard scrap with eager bystanders egging on the combatants. It all got very nasty and the birds continued the fight on and off for a good half hour or more. Here are a few photos of the action:

One onlooker gives a bit of vocal encouragement.

The Neck-lock

The Wing-grab,
Note the nasty wound below the eye of the right hand bird.

The Tug-o-War
The right hand bird showing a nasty wound behind the bill.
Be warned! The next one (the eye gouge) isn't for the squeamish.

EEHEW!! Ouch!

A quick look along the river at around 2:30 revealed 'Derek the Dark One' (Iceland Gull, in case you've not been paying attention or haven't read my blog before) amongst the multitude of Herring Gulls.

A Warning: If you happen to spot an abandoned Guinea Pig on your travels, try not to be a soft-hearted sucker like me, just pretend you haven't seen it. Bramble is, as I type this, languishing at the vets in Axminster after having extensive dental treatment under anesthetic. I found out to my cost that the previous owner dumped him because he has a severe malocclusion problem, meaning his teeth are misaligned and do not wear down. They have become so overgrown that he can't eat, hence the treatment. He was struggling to recover from the sedation this afternoon and so had to stay at the vets overnight. I can't bear to think about what it's going to cost!! The vet's warned me that the prognosis is in fact poor and that he will probably ultimately have to be euthanased. I felt compelled to at least give him a chance though, which is more than his previous owners could do. I think leaving him to die in the countryside instead of taking him to the vets to be humanely killed was simply a cowardly shirking of responsibility.

Monday 9 March 2009

A New Iceland Gull...Possibly?

I haven't seen 'much to write home about'* over the last few days, the cold northerly wind keeping me inside a great deal. I did venture up to Trinity Hill on Sunday morning and by doing so missed out on the spectacle of 2000 or so masochists running around a large part of our house, (The Grizzly- See Gav's Blog for full description) I distinctly remember the floor vibrating as they thundered past last year! I was a bit worried about the integrity of the plaster, so thought it best to employ the old out of sight out of mind tactic. Trinity Hill was as lovely as always, trees, heather, wind, trees and trees. It looks a bit like this:

Just Heavenly...Well Rex likes it at least (note the trees!)

It wasn't all trees and wind though I did manage to see a small flock of Crossbills on two separate occasions, once in flight over this clearing (the one pictured above that is). There were six of them and they were all females/youngsters. I thought I'd seen exactly which tree they'd landed in but on getting there they were nowhere to be seen. I did get a superb view of a Woodcock though, which Rex discovered underneath a fallen tree, he flushed it and it flew right past me just a couple of feet away! Steve and I saw another Woodcock there today and Steve was quite relieved to hear the Crossbills 'chupping' too, (I'd wandered off and missed them) meaning he probably only has to visit once more this year to see Nightjar and feed the midges!

The bird of the day was another Iceland Gull which Steve spotted by the Tram Sheds, it was a light one and looked like it might, just possibly, be NEW. It didn't look like Shirley or Martin but could have been Norman. (or without the anthropomorphism, it didn't look like the light one or the other light one but could have been the OTHER light one ).

These two photos will make it all 'as clear as mud' I'm sure:

New or Norm?

Here's a better view. I'm pleased with this photo, one of my better efforts I think. A really lovely looking specimen too!

Later on I bumped into Gav. He was looking at an Iceland Gull, "Is it new?" I asked. He replied " No, it's Derek" and so it was. Derek was on the tram shed roof, the new one had gone. After talking about the finer points of Iceland Gull ID for a while we decided to go to Colyford Common and look for a Sand Martin. Although I'm pretty sure we must have been there by 17:45 when Steve saw two of them fly up river, we didn't see them, not even with the aid of four eyes, two sets of bins and two scopes. Perhaps some of our optical equipment is past it's best!! :( We got the Little Egret total of 27 correct though, so at least we can still count.

The resident Barn Owl was still visible in it's nestbox, and as the evening wore on it kindly emerged and sat just outside the entrance, my second patch yeartick in as many days, ( the other being Crossbill of course.)

Here's another picture I took yesterday, when I saw this it made me smile because I remembered when we visited the Blue Cross animal shelter and picked out Rex ( we took an instant liking to him because he looked like a shredded wheat on legs). The staff there were a bit concerned that he wouldn't be able to get along with cats.

Au Contraire Blue Cross, Au Contraire!!

* This idiom is totally inappropriate because even if I saw a Caspian Tern and ' wrote home' about it, as it were. No one would give a monkey's. They'd say " A Caspian what? Oh, a Caspian Tern, what's a Tern?"

Thursday 5 March 2009

Snow Goose

Made you look! Sorry, that should be snow and a goose, the goose being a Pale-bellied Brent which was on Colyford Marsh this afternoon, I saw it distantly from the Farm Gate after hearing about it from Ian M. It's the only noteworthy bird I've seen today. It was a patch yeartick for me though after having missed a few earlier ones.

This morning I was very surprised to see just how much snow had fallen overnight, it was definitely the most I've ever seen on the ground in Seaton. It was the first time I've seen the beach white over, Beer Head too for that matter. Here's a couple of photos of the lovely scene after the sun had come out:

Seaton Beach as I've never seen it before.

Trying to be artistic.

Talking of artistic, Martha and I were itching to make a snowman but I was still feeling a little bit anti-human after yesterday's fine display of humanity in action. We therefore made a snow dog instead. Not exactly an ice sculpture but better than a boring old snowman any day!

A few hours later it was just three pebbles on a table.