I couldn't go and see the White-spotted Bluethroat that was showing so well on Portland last Sunday, I'd been birding on patch in the morning but had developed an awful headache and wouldn't have been able to manage the drive there. I was going to go on Monday on hearing news but the news I eventually heard was of the negative kind. Then yesterday news came out of another male White-spottedBluethroat, this time I was in Exeter for most of the day and when I got home I felt too tired for the drive over to Portland.....so decided to give it a miss... what a huge mistake! When I saw the photos on the web later, especially these I was horribly gripped, so much so that I had to give up on the day entirely and went to bed at twenty past eight! A clear night was forecast so I feared there'd be little chance of it being around today, so when I got a text from Bun this morning with the news that it was indeed still present there wasn't a moment to lose and we were very soon on our way there. When we arrived at around 10am we had just missed it showing really well out on some dung heaps. We had to wait almost an hour to see it and then it was just a brief view, but at least I'd seen a Bluethroat at last....It was a lifer for me! Although the view was brief I thought I'd be able to get a quick photo of it. I had it nicely lined up in the viewfinder, I pressed to focus but it wasn't to be because I was suddenly clobbered by an ill-controlled rucksack which almost knocked me off my feet. The joys of twitching! I really wanted a better view and the chance for a record shot at least, so we waited for around another hour in the biting cold wind before it eventually did the right thing and came out into the open. This time the views were more prolonged and I was able to get a few shots, although from a fair distance away. It was good to see the bird was getting something to eat as can be seen in one of the following photos. What a stunning little bird! A real thrill to see one at last...and what a one to see!
When I got simultaneous texts at 8.31 this morning from Steve and Gav both with news of a Ring Ouzel on Beer Head, I changed my plan from a morning of housework to a morning on Beer Head. When I arrived I met Steve, Ian M, and Ian P on their way back to their cars. I received the necessary gen on the bird's whereabouts and set off to find it. It wasn't in the place it was last seen. In fact I couldn't see it anywhere and after almost an hour of searching I'd all but given up. Then, while I was trying to photograph a typically flighty spring Wheatear all of a sudden I was looking at a gorgeous male Ring Ouzel. It had just emerged from under a bush on the cliff edge and immediately flew over to the fence on the southern side of 'The Dotterel Field' or 'The Wheatear Fence' as it is known...well, by me anyway! I sneaked up to the fence line about fifty or so metres from where the bird was and got a photo.
No.78 Ring Ouzel
When it flew off, I was very surprised that it didn't fly back to the northern boundary of the field where Steve had seen it earlier but instead just flew around me and landed on the other side of me...and
a bit nearer too!
It then started feeding in the grass alongside the fence and came quite close a few times...
It suddenly became quite agitated and started 'Chacking' and this was why...
A second male Ring Ouzel.. The bird on the left flew in and the original bird didn't like it....
'Seeing it off'
This is the second bird which I didn't get anymore photos of because shortly after taking this they were both flushed by a low flying helicopter. The views had exceeded my expectations and needless to say I was very happy I decided on Beer Head instead of housework.
The only other migrants I saw on Beer Head were five Wheatears and four Stonechats.
Wheatear only just on a post!
Right on the cliff edge and managing to cling on in the strong NE wind.
There were no less than TWELVE Little Ringed Plovers on Black Hole Marsh this afternoon. A patch record count! At one time this afternoon Gav and I saw all twelve on one small patch of mud, quite an unusual sight. We tried to get of photo of all twelve together but I hadn't got my super-zoom with me, which would be the right tool for the job. Gav had his with him and may have got a decent shot of them all. One thing's for sure though it will be better than mine.
There are twelve Little ringed Plovers on the middle island in this photo...you'll have to take my word for it though. Even though it's a huge picture when opened you will probably only see four or five...who am I kidding? You'll be lucky to see any!
Seven of them actually visible in this photo.
A few came near enough to be digiscoped....
Whilst at Black Hole Marsh I also added three ticks to my patch photo year-list, firstly I finally caught up with the pair of Gadwall which have been knocking around for a while.
No. 74 Gadwall
No.75 Green Sandpiper
This Sparrowhawk flew down along the perimeter of the marsh, probably looking for tired and hungry Chiffchaffs to feast on. There are just so many of them, they're everywhere! I had three hopping around on my lawn first thing this morning and one was even investigating one of my bird feeders. It such a sad sight to see them struggling in the cold with no prospect of the weather improving anytime soon.
There was also a Female Pintail on BHM and a few Wheatears a single Dunlin and a couple of Ringed Plovers. Among the usual selection of ducks and geese (Mallards, Shelduck and Canada) were a good number of Teal which were a bit on the frisky side despite the not so spring-like conditions.
I returned to the estuary this morning to see if the Red-breasted Merganser that I dipped yesterday was still around. It was, I spotted it almost straight away and took a few shots of it in the gloom. Safely on the list now though. It's a real shame the weather was so grey and gloomy again today because while I was watching the Red-breasted Merganser all the birds on the estuary took flight.. I was being as dim as the weather because I never thought it could be an Osprey until one flew right past me, almost at eye level! What a lovely surprise! I lifted my camera and grabbed a few shots before - horror of horrors my card was full!! That'll teach me to erase the previous day's photos in future. I sent out a text to the local birders (and let Sue know when I spotted her parked along the estuary) but I think only Phil was about but by the time he turned up it had disappeared. Happily it soon returned and the three of us were able to get a few more photos although it always stayed quite high. I tried to get Steve on it over the phone from the co-op but I don't think he'd have seen it without his bins. Phil told me that there were some Sand Martins showing really well and close up at Lower Bruckland Farm Ponds so that's where I went next (after a trip home to download my photos and format the card) but boy was it difficult to get a clear shot of one, I certainly needed all that space on the card! After this my last stop of the day was Black Hole Marsh where there were several Little Ringed Plovers. They were pretty distant but with the aid of digiscoping they've made it onto the list.
No.70 Red-breasted Merganser
No. 71 Osprey
No. 72 Little Ringed Plover
There are still oodles of Chiffchaffs around on patch - this one at Black Hole Marsh
No 73. Sand Martin They did look cold, poor things but seemed to be finding insects on the surface of a sheltered corner of one of the ponds.
Today saw the first good fall of migrants on patch this spring. Unfortunately
this morning I had to go into Exeter and missed a valuable patch photo
year-list tick in the form of a Red-breasted Merganser on the
estuary, we usually only see them on the sea. I arrived about an hour
and a half after I had the text message about it from Gav but it
appeared to have gone. What I did see though were my first Sand Martins
of the year. There was a steady trickle of them flying in and up the
estuary low over the surface of the flat calm water, a lovely sight to cheer up what was a miserable day weather-wise. I counted around a
dozen but it appears that they didn't hang around because later in the
afternoon none could be seen anywhere. They'll be sorry they left so hastily when they reach
the snowfields of the Midlands and T'North! After lunch I went for a
look on the beach and around the Axe Yacht Club hoping to see my first Wheatear of the year too. I soon did, and guess what? It was a female! Here she is...
No 68 Wheatear.
I reckon that there's a good chance I'll be able to improve on this photo before the year's out but one simply MUST photograph one's first Wheatear of the season don't you know!
No.69 Great Crested Grebe
I probably won't improve on this effort because this is another bird we only get on the sea here- usually pretty distant too. This one very kindly came within a mile or two of the shore this afternoon.
My first Wheatear soon flew off over the harbour toward the large horse field on the other side I followed with my bins and noticed a familiar figure....
Something told me there were probably more Wheatears in the field .
Probably the same female I saw in the harbour
A more typical March Wheatear. A cracking adult male. Staying nice and distant as the first arrivals invariably do!
There was a lovely female type Black Redstart in the harbour area too. It could have been a recent arrival but may be the wintering individual lingering. Gav had noticed me and come over to see what I was photographing, whilst we were admiring the very confiding Blackred I spotted a familiar shape zoom past us .... A Swallow!! In the blink of an eye it was gone, heading off west along the beach. It must be my earliest ever sighting of a Swallow. What a welcome sight! If only it really was the harbinger of summer....
To end - some photos of the Black Redstart which turned out quite well considering the low shutter speeds I had to use. I had to employ a variety of objects as makeshift tripods: Breeze blocks, rocks, boats, my knees, etc... worth it though.
It was picking out bits of stem like this and breaking them open and eating the contents, which I assume is some sort of larvae.