30 August, 2014

Fewer Terns, Fewer Puns

Also fewer words.. Honest.

To the Nose this morning, where I managed to find some scarce migrants!

Scarce for the Nose, that is; Sedge Warblers!!!
An adult in the company of a juvenile, and very confiding [compared to previous bush-lurking subsong-singing examples] too. Sylvias were very much the order of the day, with a Garden Warbler, several Blackcap, and a heap of Whitethroat far outnumbering the few Chiffs.

Overhead, the Star Award was shared by a couple of Sand Martins and a lovely Yellow Wagtail - with only a few finches for compant, though.

At sea, there was another surprise, as I discovered the Ore Stone ledges to be loaded with roosting Kittiwakes! I counted an impressive 419 - mostly low down and away from the Geebs [and who would blame them]. The light was not helpful, and so a flock of 68 terns were Commic as they headed for the Bay, though the 8 behind them were Sarnies. I didn't see any shears or skuas, but at least 23 Gannet were still in the vicinity.

Wandering back up, a cracking Small Copper was sunning itself by the First Slope; a typically awful pretty pic may be added here in the future.



Small but perfectly formed.

While I'm at it, here's a Magpie Moth, too!

Looks like there'll be a few more about next year.

29 August, 2014

To Everything, Tern Tern Tern, There is A Season, Tern Tern Tern

Yes yes, sorry... Even worse than usual, I know but I couldn't resist.

After work today I nipped over to Berry Head and spent a merry 4 hours watching hordes of Common Terns. They spent most of the time hanging around feeding on poor unfortunate whitebait, with only the odd group getting bored and moving on. Even then they were only passing in small numbers - at least until later on, when a combination of vexing skuas and low-flying Red Arrows persuaded more to go. My final total passing south was a decent 481 [or twice the number that passed the Nose on Monday in less than half the time]. I say Common rather than Commic, because the light was good and every single 'commic' I zoomed in on was a Common and most were easily close enough to not need much of that.

As well as said Commons there were at least 4 Arctics [which stood out nicely] and 2 Sarnies [with more I didn't get on], plus two Black Terns, who despite hanging with the tern mob just to the NE of the Head, were evasive to the point of driving the poor observers - trying to get others on them - to near insanity...

5 or more Arctic Skuas - one staying about for more than an hour, and another a yellow-headed juv. - and a Bonxie were their tormentors, with at least 148 Manxies and 7 Balearics also coming in to join the Kitts and Gannets in the fun. Attacking from below were at least 10 Harbour Porpoises in two groups.

Non-seabird passage consisted of three [single] Swifts - all Common, alas - while there were both a Clouded Yellow and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth reported in the Quarry [but missed by me.. Drat]

It was a brilliant watch, with birds everywhere - though the irritating way the showers all missed made me wonder what else might have been out there - but that's seawatching. Especially when you look across the Bay to see the Nose getting hit.. ::Shrug::

26 August, 2014

The Birds They Are Moving

Got to work this morning to find a flock of 18 Mistle Thrush sat in a treetop. Must be Autumn, then...

Yesterday.. Ah, yesterday. 9 merry hours at the Nose in rain, sideways gunk, spot-on, and sunshine.

What a fascinating watch that was. A huge variety of species, some very unexpected numbers, and all in odd conditions to boot.

Where to begin?

There's just too much to be even vaguely comprehensive, so I'll try a few interesting points.

The weather started out really really promising in everything but the strength of wind, which was strangely absent, given what the forecasters implied. It did pick up, markedly so, and in direction did what was promised, but early on it was surreal - sat on the Steps in a SSE with my brolly almost upright.. It should have been torn from my hands as the spray drowned me!

I'm not complaining, mind.

Perhaps this was the reason behind the utter lack of early shearwaters.. I saw exactly 2 Manx in hour 1, and those in the last 5 minutes of it! I was shaking my head, thinking back to how optimistic I'd been.. Ah, the moon is away AND the tides are high, the wind's been blowing.. Should be good. Ho Ho Ho. Evidently there's a floating laptop out in Lyme Bay, with assorted seabirds sat around it going "Oh, they think THAT, do they? Right.."


The numbers themselves were interesting.. Remember how I saw zero Kittiwakes at Prawle? Not today. Oh, no. Counting the flock of 76 who plonked down on the edge of the slick, there were more than a thousand. Not bad.

In fact, here are raw numbers for you - for a change - my hourlies of Manxie, Gannet, and Kittiwake [the latter two rounded down to nearest ten, for simplicity].

M:    2,    6,      3,   7,    9,     3,    0,  27,  29
G: 120,  70,    40, 10,  10,   10,  10, 10,   20
K: 180, 100, 220, 30, 100, 120, 20, 20, 140 [+76]

Also notable was the proportion of juvenile Kittiwakes - I reckon about 30% - which was very pleasing to see  :)

I tallied 259 terns - almost all either Common or Commic - and 33 skuas [plus one lingering dark morph Arctic which was doing circuits well out]. There were 5 species of waders, including a nice group of Dunlin, [and a funny Redshank without it's white back wedge - looked very odd, that one] but not the famous 17 Whimbrel. I had 20 in all, but my biggest flock was 13.

My first Balearic came past at 1025, and I had to wait for the other six - they all passed in an amazing 7 minutes just before half two - including a group of 3 at close range. Speaking of close range.. Alas there were no Storm Petrels, but several passing shearwaters did come in to investigate the slick, giving wonderful views. As did the odd tern; one Common pulling such a beautiful snatch in perfect light that I found myself twitching for the camera I do not own. Maybe one day [after I win the lottery...]

There were Scoter, a couple of Teal, a couple of duck spp. [in the gunk early on], Fulmars of course, lots of assorted gulls, 3 Razorbills.. Oh yes, and at 1503 - well out and moving - it looked like a Cory's to me [pressed carpals and very white underside].

Finally, on the way back up, a male Emperor Dragonfly was stuffing its face with small flies in a sheltered spot on the Rock Path; evidently very hungry, it didn't even bother to perch to eat its catches, which was a shame, as it looked a bit funny [dark eyes, most notably]. Oh well, probably just cold or something.

Anyways, it was a very enjoyable day, even though the visibility was a bit of a bugger at times and that blimmin' bulker evidently scuppered any chance of the Prawle Great - though at least it did eventually move!

And yes, that was the very short version!

24 August, 2014

Look! Up In The Sky!

I'm not chasing any yearlists this year.

Why did I tell you this [again]? Well.. Just because I'm not chasing doesn't mean I'm not keeping count, and I happened to find myself on 199 for Devon yesterday [ok, been there a little while, but what the what]. And there was this ten minute stint which hadn't read the script. Plus spotty cripes. All at Bowling Green.

What to do, eh?

So, after a day spent doing other things, I figured I'd wander over late afternoon, when things had quietened down a bit, and see if I could get a notable 200.

This may well have happened smoothly, except for Topsham fair, which they hold in the evening on the frickin' August bank holiday weekend, and to do so close most of the roads. I had seen no advance warning of this, so it came as a lovely surprise...

A far less sarcastic surprise came not long after I'd arrived.. What is that sound??



They flushed everything, coming over very low, but not a single person minded.


So, Bowling Green, now with near-finished bonfire for the local chavscum [don't the RSPB remember what happened? No, of course not, and breeze blocks are evil, aren't they? Certainly not stronger, longer-lasting, better insulation, better waterproofing, better soundproofing, and oh yes, fireproof... Good grief.]

Ahem, where was I?

Oh yes, I arrived to find the Crakes hiding and no sign of the Stint for about 4 hours. Oh joy.

Still, keep looking, it is here, just hiding in the dead ground. Also here was 200 for the year - an Avocet! I'm not sure which is funnier, that there was an Avocet in August, that I hadn't seen one yet this year, or that it was 200 for the Devon year...

Plenty of other things to watch, but then Bailey Junior arrived, and before he could even finish setting up his scope, out came the Temminck's Stint. Which showed rather well [ok, I had the Big Scope - so I should say 'at 75x it showed rather well']. Certainly better than the other one.

After the TS decided it had shown enough, I gave the Crakes an hour but they were feeling bashful. A Common Tern plonked down, some Sarnies flew over, a Ruff was about, as were 3 Snipe, 19 Greenshank, and 11 Whimbrel [and plenty of other stuff]. A Sedge Warbler worked through the far reeds, but no Ospreys came to sit on the crane, which was rude of them.

Temminck's is not a common species, and perhaps deserves more exultation at getting good views [it even ran at one point!], but I must admit the Lancs totally overshadowed it, both literally and figuratively.

In other news..

Today the Nose was vexingly quiet, with a Marbled White the closest to quality.
On Friday, I stopped off at Stover for a late lunch, where there were hordes of Common Darter, quite a few Emerald Damselflies, a couple of Migrant and a Southern Hawker. The birds won, though, with a lovely family group of Spot Flies by the Dragon Pool - adults feeding one or maybe two juveniles! :)

A couple of phonebins from Stover;

 Male Common Darter
Look at those huge yellow stripes on the thorax

Terrapin sp.!!
Never seen one at Stover before.. 

EDIT: And now a picture too!

Juvenile! Mandarin

Right then.. As it is the August Bank Holiday, there is the inevitable rain on the way, and oh I can hear the wind has already picked up.

What to do, what to do...???


18 August, 2014

Should've Gone To Prawle - Oh Wait, I Did

I've been doing some research.

What sparked this? Well, the latest Devon Birds came through the door and it included a phrase which got me wondering;
"When the moon's away, the shearwaters play"

Having just seen a whole bunch, with variety and quality if not huge quantity, under [so to speak] a full moon - indeed a supermoon - I wondered a great deal.

So, instead of going out for a yomp on't Moor as I had planned, I spent far too much of Saturday digging through my records. I recorded which watches I had seen something special on, and also those with large numbers of Balearics [not always the same]. For each I noted the location, phase of the moon [to nearest phase], and the weather type. I eliminated out of Devon records for consistency* and then it was a case of looking for correlations..

What did I find?

Of large shearwater days; roughly half were 'with' a full or near it moon, and half 'without' [more or less], but looking at it another way, the full and new moon watches outnumbered the half moon watches by 4 to 1, and of the half moon watches, 3 to 1 were on waxing moons.

Of 18 big Balearic days; 6 were full, 6 were new, 5 were waxing half, and 1 waning half.

Counting everything, including notable events for storm petrels and skuas, there is an overall 3 to 1 ratio in favour of new/full to halves.

I rather suspect that the true harbinger of birds is not so much the moon itself but the tides. This is not proper science by any means - you'd at least need proper tide height data - but there does appear to be a pattern.

The logic behind a lack of moonlight - darker nights encourage birds inshore - is certainly true, breeding site analysis has shown it. It also seems to me that there is another piece of logic at play; as birds may have an opportunity via darker nights to come inshore, but they also need a reason to do so. Stronger tides mean a more disturbed water column, especially inshore, meaning more available food for both birds and their prey. As The Boss says, 'The birds have to be there'. Stronger tides would encourage birds to come a bit closer, sustained winds do the same, as does a long warm spell, or a surge in numbers of a food source. Then you just need a weather event.

Nice theory? Something to think about, anyway.

Anyway, I have a new saying: "When the tides are high, the birds are nigh"

So, yesterday.

Waning half moon, but after some very high tides and with sustained westerlies and a weak cold front coming to say 'hi'.

What to do?

Yup, I went to Prawle. I've not been there this year, which is scandalous, so I had to rectify the situation, plus I figured with the wind that way, any showers would be dried out before they got to the Nose, but Prawle might catch some.

I took my time getting there, as it was an on spec watch [they usually are at Prawle] and only started at ten. Ah, what could have been...

My first bird was a Balearic. There were 13 in hour one and 30 in total for the 6.5 hours I gave it. 30 Balearics!!!! Manxies? 225 in hour one, 954 in all [plus 52 east, all in the PM].

3 Bonxies, 4+ Harbour Porpoises, 473 Gannets, 0 Kittiwakes [!!] and 33... yes, 33 Med Gulls..

If that wasn't enough, a couple of juvenile Hobbies came past at high speed - straight down and yarking their heads off! I've never seen juvie Hobbies playing like that before, so it was a treat, albeit a brief one..!

And all this without getting rained on once. While listening to England mangle India.

Twas a nice day.

I even managed to find amusement in the sheer cowering incompetence of the grockles trying to navigate the lanes. Seriously, one fellow - whom I had seen coming and pulled into a passing place {that would fit a tractor} for - came up and instead of passing by, stopped in the next passing point up from the one I was in! It took several seconds to compose myself sufficiently to check my mirrors to see if there was a combine harvester that had magically appeared behind me - there wasn't - and then move off. I did try not to laugh too obviously, really I did....

[[*Though the ratios stand up, as it happens]]

14 August, 2014

Working All Day? Bird At Night!

Short and sharp, folks.. ;)

Tuesday night and with something approaching clear skies, I had a look for Perseids before I hit the hay. In 15 minutes I scored an amazing 3. Amazing as I have no view to the NE, which is where they radiate from! The third was a real corker, too; big glowing ball, not just the usual streak.

What really made my night though, was what I heard. Oh yeah, audiomig strikes again and it strikes gold - Little Stint!!

Not that I'm good enough to have known the call - how many calidrids can you ID on call, other than Dunlin and Purple Sand? - but with the wonders of BWPi readily at hand, I soon found it.

My first wader here, it's not just a Home Tick, but also a full Patch Tick. What a wonderful little bird.


Ok, gloat over.

No, wait... Yesterday I saw a Painted Lady here, too.  :)

10 August, 2014

A Hot Date With Bertha

Up at aaaauuurrrgghh o'clock this morning to be at the Nose for 6.

I got there with what turned out to be the tail end of the really heavy rain, though there were still bands of the sideways stuff - powered by a blustery warm SSE-SE with some nasty squirrelly bits - up until about 9. There was a nice [if a bit pushed-in] slick in play, though only large gulls were on it. Unfortunately, the lack of ongoing rain [95% my arse] meant it died off and spread out when the wind kicked to hard offshore [W pushing WNW]. So no storm petrels today, more's the pity.

What there were a lot of were Gannets! In 2.5 hours I counted 477 [at which point I stopped counting, due to having other things to pay attention to] - a good mix of all ages too - though quite a few lingered to feed and that number's probably an undercount [not withstanding the gunk early on that they {and a whole ton of skuas and shears, it seems} were passing in].

In my first 1.5 hours I had an amazing 18 Manx. Yes, 18.
No complaining, as 2 Sooties started things off, so not that bad, but still... I was a little concerned. Then Bailey Junior arrived, and so did the shears! My first Balearic came through and a kick in the numbers of Manxies started right before he got down, and soon there was a half-decent passage. The Balearics were coming roughly every ten minutes, and in the hour and a half he was there, I counted 130 Manxies. I think they must like him.

Then Mark mentions the Great Shears that have been tarting about off the Exe.


So we watch and we wait.

I'll not mess about any more, all three came past - two together were vexingly distant [outside the wreck], but the later one showed reasonably [though as it came in it bowed its wings just like Cory's do, causing me to think it was one until it showed better once past both the Ore Stone and the sun - the light was abysmal, I must add!]. The single also conveniently waved a wing at The Artist, who was at Berry Head.

The sunshine did not let up, and even as I type now, there's still not a sniff of any 'squally showers', [or any showers]. I kept on until 11. Hoping, really. There were a few more bits; another Bonxie to make two, a seventh Balearic, a few more Manx, a juv Med Gull..

Also of note;
2 and 5 C Scoter both north and south.
The first two juv. Kittiwake of the year plus 58 adults
72 Fulmar, many in inner primary moult, and one flying in spot-on big shear arcs, the git.
Final Manx score of 172

Plus! Arriving home, I looked out of my kitchen window at just the right time to see a Clouded Yellow flying past. Backwards.

Bertha darling, you were Great.


09 August, 2014

More Work And Some Play

No, no Caspian Tern for thith little black duck..

Between work and the frickin' dentist [oh yes, just to rub it in] I had no chance to even dip.

Anyways.. Yesterday I got to the Nose both first thing and in the evening and actually managed to see something worth the walk. Truth be told that happened even before I set out, with a lone Crossbill flying over!  :D
Said Crossbill - or others - flew over me four times yesterday; I guess it had wandered down and was wondering where all its mates had got to, there's now no shortage of cones about.

Crossbills aside, the Nose had a good crop of migrants - but not phylloscs as you's expect, there were shedloads of sylvias! One little hawthorn had 5 Whitethroats sitting in it, a Lesser made a quick appearance, and most surprising of all was the insanely confiding Garden Warbler.. Yes, confiding and Garden Warbler don't usually go together, but this one - a juv. naturally - showed quite beautifully. I almost got a picture, even [which could have induced a coronary...]

Then to add some icing, hiding amongst the bracken [unsurprisingly] in the Lower Meadow was a Whinchat! Not a cracking male, but still a very welcome Patch yeartick and my first autumn one at the Nose.

My first Painted Lady of the year also showed up and there was more interest in the sea. Yes, in. The baitfish were running right inshore - and that's as in a few metres out! - with a horde of gulls above and a mass of Mackerel below. A Grey Seal had come along to chase the Mackerel, and the fishermen were doing pretty well too - one chap got four good-sized fish a time with two successive casts.

The evening was quieter, though in ten minutes 21 Manxies went north with a Gannet, while 6 Gannets and 11 BHGs went south. Juveniles of Med, LBB and YLG were also around.

Up in the air, I was bemused to watch 2 Swallows, which came in/off and headed away NE...

Be Seeing You

04 August, 2014

Things Are Moving

All work and no play makes Tom a bladdy tired birder.

Dragging up to be at the Nose first thing on Saturday didn't help, either. But it was the first seawatch in August, and that has History. Go on, look up seawatches in the first week of August and you'll find some pretty serious stuff. You don't have to go far, just ask The Boss about last year.

Aaanyways, with heavy showers and at least a moderate wind in the right directions, it looked.. possible.

There were no serious numbers moving - I had 177 Manx south in 6 hours - but with them were 6 Balearics and 2 Sooties, so not THAT bad at all  :D

It was a watch of variety over quantity, with only Common Scoter getting a 'oooh that's a lot'; 94 of them passed by. Contrast with 95 Gannet, 23 Kittiwake and 28 Fulmar. The other big number [relatively speaking] was Med Gulls! A 3cy and at least 17 juveniles!! WTF...?!? I say 'at least' because with the outfall kicking in [sporadically, anyway], there was some lingering going on and I only counted ones I saw leave.

Waders, terns, and auks passed in ones and twos; Sanderling, Turnstone, Whimbrel, Common Tern, Sarnie, Puffin, Razorbill, and Guillemot.

Eventually the shower clouds gave way to little white fluffy ones, and though Manx passage never truly stopped, it was such a trickle, so far out in the glare, that I called it a day.

I found no migrants in the bushes - not surprising, with the time, weather, and all the grockles.. - but there were a few butterflies on the wing, mainly Gatekeepers of course, with a surprise [for the Nose] Dark Green Fritillary the best of them.

Yesterday the effects of all that overtime, noisy days, and getting up far too early caught up with me, so I was only able to stagger about the Patch in the afternoon..

No Brown Hairstreaks [or any other nice butterflies], but I did find a few migrants, notably a fair number of Willow Warblers. A couple of juvenile Whitethroat showed well at the Nose, as did a couple of juv Med Gulls sat on the rocks. Stationary Meds are far and few between at the Nose, so I tried a shot with the trusty [ho ho] phonebins;

Juvenile Med Gulls

Sort of identifiable, anyway.

I had a look at the sea and noticed shearwaters going north! A ten minute timed count gave 95 Manx and a Balearic [plus a Gannet] north, with 1 Manx south. I suspect this was not entirely representative, as said Manxies included a group of 41, while all other groups were half a dozen or so, but it's still quite a few.

Finally, I can finally give the news I have been suppressing* for some time now;

The World's Hardest Pair of Oystercatchers have fledged two young from their nest on the Lead Stone!!

Yes, the Lead Stone, that almost bare rock, loitering place for Herring Gulls and Geebs, swept by Crows and Ravens [not to mention the odd big wave!], is the site of breeding waders! I wondered what was going on when I first heard a ruckus and saw an Oyk giving a gull what-for. Then when I saw a chick wandering about..!! I've witnessed all manner of birds being seen off - including that unluckily brief Whimbrel on Friday! - with much indignant piping and those long red bills aimed for the vent [ouch..]

Here's the closest I could get to a pic;

Oyk nest site;
That black blob centre frame is the back of an adults head
[a chick had just wandered back behind the rock from the right...]

To say I am chuffed is putting it far too mildly, I'm over the frickin' moooooon!!! Oyks breeding on my Patch!!!!!


[[*While they're not Schedule 1, the site is theoretically accessible to anyone with a boat, so I felt caution was necessary.]]

Eat Sleep Work Repeat

As opposed to what it should be [delete 'work', replace with 'bird'!]

While it is nice to be busy, it's also bloody tiring when you're doing overtime every frickin' day. It also gets in the way of more important things, like swearing at the extortion racket they call IoW ferries....


Well, the weather's not ideal this weekend anyway, and when you're going that far [and paying maybe £95!!!!!] you want to at least have decent conditions to watch my Second Most Desired Birds do what they do. Speaking of, if anybody reading this is interested in a group field trip, please get in touch; next Friday or weekend [though Sundays look even worse] - even this Sunday if plausible - maybe even Monday if I don't have to do all the driving.

Right.. Tired birder makes for worse than usual posting, so a quick barebones roundup;

Last Sunday the local Swifts went - an early departure [previous earliest recorded was the 31st, in 2012]. I got about the Patch, finding Brown Hairstreak [though not having a chance at photos - even though I caught one coming to nectar, it settled out of sight, the git!] at two nearby locations. The Big Butterfly Patch had at least 8 SW Frits, but no sign of any Clouded Yellows, or even Painted Ladies. Also very good was a juv. Pied Fly in the woods along Bishop's Walk - definite migrant there! :D I also finally got an evening shearwater at the Nose - a lone Manxie! Also at the Nose were a few passing phylloscs; mostly Chiffs but at least one Willow Warbler, with several juvie Blackcaps that may well be locals. A Whimbrel was on the Lead Stone briefly and a smart juv Med Gull flew past.

On Monday, a juvenile Jay was outside my window.

Today, the Nose was very quiet - nice pulses of rain, wind in SSW, but no strength in it! Another juvie Med Gull and 3 BHGs was IT for my seawatch, though watching a Crow getting Oyked was most amusing ;)  Butterfly-wise, the Nose is alive with Gatekeepers [including loads of those irritating little bright ones] and a fair few Meadow Browns, but nothing sexier was showing.

Just about an hour ago, a lone Swift came over and lingered for a couple of minutes before heading south. I checked it carefully [well, if you don't check...] but it was indeed Common.

Finally, there was a stowaway on my li'l car yesterday afternoon;

Bush Cricket sp.?

It also had veeery long antennae

A much more welcome passenger than the big Horseflies - autumnalis, as featured on TBT - that have taken to landing on it at work recently. Imagine getting out of your car and turning to shut the door, only to find one of those things sitting on it.. Not amusing.
[I remain unbitten, fortunately - the bigger ones do seem to prefer bigger targets, plus I have my trusty nosilife shirt]