Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Finally!

By failing to respond to any number of snoozed alarms, I missed out on the chance of a really smart 2nd-winter Little Gull at Cogden this morning. So I hoped an afternoon walk from West to East Bexington and back might offer some compensation...

Driving past the Freshwater Beach Holiday Park was a revelation. Yesterday it was rammed, with a 'Full - No Vacancies' sign which had been in place for weeks. Glancing at it today, I could see many patches of faded grass where once were tents. I reckon two-thirds or more had gone. The summer season is over for another year.

The best bird at West Bex was a Redstart, yet another one 'pished' from a thicket of foliage. It almost posed for a photo, but changed its mind, darted round some buildings and vanished. Otherwise there was just a thin supply of migrant warblers: 4 Blackcaps, and singles of Chiff, Whitethroat and Reed Warbler. A bit more life down by the coast path though, with the magic Whinchat field producing at least eight birds, and the beach Wheatears bringing my tally of that species to 21 for the day...

The magic Whinchat field is pretty enormous, which enables all the birds to be as far away from you as they fancy. Which seems to be very far. The field is packed with flowery growth, as this photo shows, and must be home to a zillion tasty invertebrates. No wonder the Whinchats love it.

A little hint of white tail flash on view. Mmmmm.

Bird of the day was at East Bex, and almost slipped past me...

In late July and on into August my Twitter feed presented me with a steady stream of juvenile Yellow-legged Gull photos. Everyone was seeing them. Meanwhile I saw absolutely none at all. A bout of illness coincided with some of that period, but before and since I have been making at least a bit of effort to try and find one. To no avail though. Until today.

As usual I had checked the beach. Nothing. But good gulls don't necessarily need a beach, so I wasn't that surprised when a really good YLG candidate flew past me and across the farmland. It plonked down with a few Herring Gulls in the middle of a huge stubble field. Not close, but yep, I was sure. A juv Yellow-legged Gull. At which point something spooked the gulls and it was off again...and away.

My handful of tenth-rate flight photos just about saved the day...

This collage shows a surprising number of excellent features, despite how tiny the images are. The usual superbly black & white tail for example.

And from below


It felt good finally to see one of these, even if the whole event was a bit subliminal.

So that's August done and dusted. Let's see what September has to offer...

Monday, 30 August 2021

Wired For Sound

Yesterday morning was the first time this year that I've gone birding with the digital recorder running. Unfortunately I still had it switched to 'external mic' as per nocmig set-up, so actually recorded nothing, but my intention was good. No such schoolboy errors this morning, and I got a couple of corkers...


That was Tree Pipit followed by Yellow Wagtail. The wagtail went over within a minute of switching the recorder on, but despite its loudness I couldn't actually see it! The Tree Pipit calls were recorded later, when two birds flew over together. Out of curiosity I went through the whole recording, nocmig-style, to see if I'd missed anything in the field. Some of it was uncheckable due to the massive amount of noise I make just walking about - shingle is deafening - but I did find two Tree Pipit calls which I hadn't heard at the time, and what sounded like a small flock of Yellow Wags.

It really is satisfying to capture a decent sound recording of birds you see in the field, but there is another reason I like the idea of using a live recorder...

Many years ago I found a Dotterel on Beer Head, and my first views - just after first light - were of a plover circling the Head, calling. I couldn't place the call and, when the bird went out of view, found myself stumped. I put it down to odd Golden Plover. Thankfully it had landed close by, and was waiting for me to stumble across it a little later. In situations of that kind I see my recorder as the audio version of a camera, ready to capture the event in a way that leads to the solid identification of a bird which might otherwise slip through the net. Hopefully I'll one day get the chance to test it out in that fashion.

Apart from that single Yellow Wag (or flock?) that I didn't see, I can add flocks of 19 and 11; also 8 Wheatears, an alba wagtail and the 2 Tree Pipits. That was it. Apart from a few [probably] local Whitethroats, not a single warbler. The bushes were anything but leaping.

A long walk this afternoon produced a few bits and pieces, but it was very slow going. Best were singles of Hobby, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat and Sedge Warbler...

Spotted Flycatcher at Cogden

Makes a change from 'Wheatear on the beach' pics

Whinchat beside the West Bex Mere field

Almost a really pleasing shot. Curse that blurry reed

Sunday, 29 August 2021

A Bizarre Fluke

Just for a change I walked the beach first on this morning's visit to Cogden. Apart from a few Yellow Wagtails over, and three Wheatears on the deck, it was very quiet. Back along the coast path was little better. At first. And then suddenly there were Whinchats everywhere. In no time at all I'd counted seven. Where had they come from? And then my phone rang. It was James M. He'd just found a Melodious Warbler near the car park!

Unfortunately there is no fairy-tale ending here. The Melodious Warbler performed a vanishing act, so my morning's final tally was 17 Yellow Wags, 3 Wheatears, 4 Sedge Warblers, 2 Willow Warblers, 2 Blackcaps and a Lesser Whitethroat.

It's worth mentioning that I wouldn't have seen a single Sedge Warbler if I hadn't bothered with a bit of pishing...

Hypnotised Sedge Warbler catches the early-morning sun.

I ended up at West Bex for an afternoon walk, and made up the route as I went along. Apart from a trickle of hirundines overhead, migrants were at a premium, and by the time I found myself in the Mere field I had just ones or twos of Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and Chiff noted. At which point I saw a bird flick into a hedge, and lifted my bins to check it out. But the bird had gone deep, and never reappeared. While I was waiting hopefully, peering at a birdless bit of hedge, I suddenly realised there was a dragonfly in my field of view, hanging on the twiggage...

A recent happening at West Bex has been the appearance of at least one male and one female Southern Migrant Hawker, a rare but increasing vagrant to the UK. Despite the upward trend in occurences it is still a rare enough insect that Steve recently discovered the first ever for Devon at Beer Head (write-up here) and needless to say, I've never seen one. But the striking, blue-eyed male is the latest addition to my tiny gallery of Odonata search images. The other day Mike Morse posted a photo of the female which he and Alan found at West Bex, and I remembered two things about it. One: it was a dull thing. And two: it had a long, pale triangle on the upper abdomen, a bit like the male's (though not blue) and noticeably different in shape to the Migrant Hawker's 'golf tee'. Through bins, my dragonfly definitely satisfied thing one. It was dull. For thing two I needed a photo...

My first shot, from some distance, definitely shows a pale triangle.

I got a bit closer and took some more, downloaded one to my phone and sent it to Steve.

'...what do I have here? Please say Southern Migrant Hawker.'

Long story short: my photo does indeed depict a female Southern Migrant Hawker. I am slightly blown away by the bizarre flukiness of my discovery, but to be honest it fits the pattern of how so many good finds occur. Like the Red-backed Shrike that appeared in my field of view last year when I lifted my bins to look at some Linnets. Nothing clever, just complete and utter jam. The only constants are being out, and looking at stuff.

So that was the high point of my afternoon, the discovery of my own Southern Migrant Hawker, a very smart dragonfly lifer. But there was more...

Although it was slow going, I did wind up with a few quality migrants: a Whinchat, 2 Redstarts and a Spotted Flycatcher. The first Redstart prompted a comedy moment. It whizzed behind a short hedge, and I realised that a good photo opportunity was up for grabs if I sneaked carefully round the far end of that hedge. I prepped the camera and eased slowly forward. But before I'd rounded the corner the Redstart suddenly popped into view and perched on a twig, quivering, no more than 15 feet away. I was mid step, front foot literally in the air. I froze. The Redstart froze. I lifted the camera slowly to my eye and tried to swivel my body, all the weight on my back foot. The camera was waving about so much that I couldn't even find the bird in the viewfinder. Three seconds felt like an aeon of time, and I had to plant that front foot. So I did...

Needless to say, you're going to have to make do with a photo of the second Redstart, which was hundreds of metres away...

This afternoon's Nanostart

The Spotted Flycatcher wasn't much closer...

This bird was in exactly the same bit of hedge which produced my first Spottted Flycatcher of 2020

Finally, here is probably the best pic of the dragonfly. I've carefully compared it to Mike's photo, and they are two different individuals. Interesting...

Female Southern Migrant Hawker. West Bexington, 29th August 2021.

There's plenty of autumn left, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful but I hope this jamminess also manifests itself in a birdy way over the coming weeks...

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Effort and Reward

Much quieter at Cogden first thing, but there was a major prize even so. As I walked the coast path a bird flushed noisily from the adjacent hedge and headed off over the reedbed. It was a Cuckoo, my first for a year and three months*! Silhouette views made it impossible to age, and as it approached the beach I was fumbling with the camera for a record shot. It was easily in the air long enough for a photo, but I couldn't lock on to it. Chance blown. It appeared to land on the beach just beyond the reeds, but there was no sign when I eventually made it round there.

Otherwise it was definitely a lot quieter than the last time I got out early. Just 5 Wheatears, 2 Whinchats and 10 Yellow Wagtails, plus a few odds and ends like 7 Med Gulls, 3 Manxies and a Little Egret.

Beach Whinchat

Inquisitive Whitethroat

Late this afternoon I tried West Bex again, where it is dead easy to avoid the bank-holiday weekend crush by staying on the higher ground, well away from the beach or coast path. Very, very quiet. A lot of effort for little more than a handful of warblers - 3 Blackcaps, 3 Chiffs, 2 Willow Warblers and a few Whitethroats. So I found myself checking out the butterflies again. Which paid off nicely...

My first Brown Argus of the year

I was quite surprised to encounter this Brown Argus among the myriad Common Blues, but it looks the real McCoy to me. Unlike these...

This battered specimen had me going for a minute but it looks like there are some blue tinges to the body, so that's a female Common Blue I reckon...

...and this one definitely is.

Despite the lack of birdy action I was still carefully checking every single hedge I could see, and finally...

Tiny Redstart. Yay!

A few minutes later I came across a little tit flock. Among them was a Coal Tit. No big deal probably, but I don't recall seeing Coal Tit at West Bex before.

So that's another day ticked off the autumn calendar, and another decent result. Effort is definitely being nicely rewarded just now. Long may it continue...

 

* Not strictly true! A fellow birder politely reminded me that I saw (and photographed) a Cuckoo at Seaton Marshes back in June (evidence in this post) so the bird mentioned above is actually my first local Cuckoo for a year and three months. That's no excuse though - I had completely forgotten about the Seaton bird. I should probably be concerned...

Friday, 27 August 2021

Lots to Look At

A quick catch-up. In a nutshell, birding is genuinely exciting right now. Not only are there good numbers of regular migrants to bump into, but you can sense the very real possibility of a bit of superior quality too. None of the latter for me just yet, but lots of the former. Cue many photos...

Cogden. It's 06:45 on Wednesday, and I'm nowhere near the beach yet. Whinchat and Wheatear. A flavour of what's to come.

And down on the beach...Wheatear...

...and Whinchat

Nice juv Ringed Plover, evidently weary after its overnight travels

It was also a ringed Ringed Plover, a first for me I think.

Whinchats are even more demanding of camera time than Wheatears. This one on Dock sp(?)...

...this one on Sea Kale...

...and Yellow Horned Poppy.

There were two of these on the beach. I'm a lot more cautious with Alba wagtails than I used to be, but I would probably still call this one a White Wag. Elsewhere on the beach were a local adult and juv/1st-winter Pied, and the youngster was much duskier than this one.

Yellow Wag with breakfast. Great to see a few on the beach.

Oh, and a Whinchat

A totally different kind of Whinchat. A West Bex one.

Wednesday's Whinchat tally was an astonishing 24! And that was the minimum; I'd be pretty confident that the real figure was 30 or more. By location, it was nine at Cogden, 14 at West Bex (including at least 11 in one field!) and one at East Bex. Although I don't have historic figures I'm sure I've never seen more in a single day.

Wednesday basically went like this: 17 Yellow Wags, 47+ Wheatears, 2 White Wags, 3 Ringed Plovers, 2 Dunlin, Turnstone, Water Rail, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler.

Thursday and today were pretty full-on work, but I managed an after-dinner walk on both evenings. Thursday to Cogden, where it was obvious that Chiffchaffs are moving now too, with at least five seen, plus a couple each of Willow and Sedge Warbler. Highlight was a party of four Spotted Flycatchers, feeding together in the evening sunshine...

Spotted Flycatcher at Cogden - the 'birder's photo' version

This evening I tried West Bex, parking at the beach and walking east. Four Wheatears was all I could muster before heading inland to Labour-in-Vain Farm for the return leg. It was getting quite late now, and felt very quiet. About half way along Labour-in-Vain Lane I heard a phyllosc in the tall, dense hedge flanking the road. 'Yes', I thought, 'definitely a Willow Warbler'. A quiet, obviously disyllabic 'hoo-eet'. I reckoned it was a nice opportunity to test my pishing skills, and got to work. A few seconds later I spotted a movement in the foliage, then suddenly a head popped out and peered at me. Even before it flicked away with a louder 'hoo-eet' and dazzling flash of red tail I could see it was a Redstart! Well, that was a nice surprise, and a reminder to follow up 'Willow Warbler' calls at all times.

Pishing rules!

Ten minutes further down the lane a movement in the canopy of a small tree caught my eye. Very pleasingly, it was a Pied Flycatcher. Yep, this weather pattern has certainly spiced up the birding right now...

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Not Quite Blakeney Point, But...

What a difference the shift in wind has made! Migrant-wise these last few weeks it has mostly been a case of scratching around for not much, but suddenly I'm going out and expecting a few decent birds. This morning's pre-breakfast walk at Cogden was terrific. Within moments of arrival a flock of 18 Yellow Wagtails flew over, and the beach was peppered with chats. It didn't feel as busy as yesterday, but very decent totals all the same, mainly from the beach and coast path...

44 Yellow Wagtails, 26 Wheatears, 11 Whinchats, 3 Willow Warblers and a Tree Pipit.

Beach Whinchat

And nice though it was, that should have been my lot for the day. However, I hadn't considered the possibility that Mike and Alan might find a Red-backed Shrike at West Bexington. I was just sitting down to an early lunch when the news broke, and immediately adjusted (aka 'abandoned') my plans for the afternoon. And boy, am I glad I did.

Thankfully it was on show when I arrived, and I was fortunate enough to see it before it saw me. It wasn't close, but despite a bit of heat-haze the photos came out nicely...

Female Red-backed Shrike. What a cracker!


As I'd made the effort it seemed sensible to cover a little circuit and see what else might be around. I'd already seen a Whinchat along a fence line, and could feel the expectation bubbling up a bit...

Forty minutes later, and nothing had happened. Plodding along a footpath I flushed a dragonfly, which landed again further on. Now, I always look at dragonflies if they perch up in a cooperative way, so raised my bins. My gallery of Odonata 'search images' is very, very small. Pitifully so. But among this tiny collection is a dragonfly with bright blue blobs on the upper abdomen - the male Lesser Emperor. It's been there since Steve found one at Lower Bruckland Ponds near Seaton many years ago. I did see it, buzzing distantly around the biggest pond, and recall how vivid those blue blobs were, even at range. And as I peered at this afternoon's specimen I couldn't help but notice blue blobs. Unfortunately the rest of the abdomen was much more brightly marked than the one in my search image. Hmmm. Just a moment though, what does a female look like? Obviously I had no idea, but I knew a man who did, and sent him a photo.

'Stevie, what do I have here?'

'A female Lesser Emperor!'

Cue restrained bit of air punching.

And here is the very first photograph of the very first rare dragonfly I've ever found...

Female Lesser Emperor. Photo taken at some range. I really didn't want to flush it.

And here's a closer one...


My Odonata knowledge is so scanty that I really don't deserve to find rare ones. But I do realise the potential of a south coast location, so will always look. And it turns out I am decidedly chuffed with that one, and wouldn't mind it happening again.

Shortly after the Lesser Emperor I came across a smashing little bunch of migrants...

Two Redstarts...


...a Spotted Flycatcher...

...and a Pied Flycatcher - my first this year.

I had obviously stumbled across a bit of a hot-spot, because apart from a couple of Willow Warblers I'd seen very little else in the way of migrants. And then, almost back where I started, that first Whinchat had now been joined by another, as well as a Wheatear and my third Redstart a bit further along the fence line. Another little hot-spot...

What a day!

And it is days like this one which reinforce my conviction that almost any classy bit of habitat along this coast (and of course countless other places) has the potential to provide some really exciting birding. Just imagine how much is out there, undiscovered. Yep, to bird where so few (if any) birders go, and to find your own stuff...

Can't beat it .

Monday, 23 August 2021

A Day to Remember

Today was an excellent day to take off work. A switch in the wind has cranked open the autumn migration floodgates. Cogden called, and I answered. To the tune of almost ten miles (18,417 steps apparently) split between a pre-breakfast session and another from mid-afternoon. I am pleasantly knackered, and have a really good tally of autumnal bits and bobs to show for it. Here it is in list form...

Yellow Wagtail 82
Willow Warbler 23
Whitethroat 21
Wheatear 17
Whinchat 8
Lapwing 5
Tree Pipit 3
Redstart 2
Spotted flycatcher 2
Garden Warbler
Turnstone
Ringed Plover

Fairly soon after arriving this morning, a Yellow Wag went over. My first of the autumn. 'Ooh, that's nice', I thought. And then 6 went past; then 12; another single; 11 more... You get the idea. Things were happening. In addition to the above, there was a constant stream of hirundines. It was brilliant. As well as the 82 Yellow Wagtails, so the Lapwings, Tree Pipits, Redstarts, Spotted Flycatchers and Garden Warbler were all my first of the autumn too. In fact the Garden Warbler was my first of the year!

It has to be said that the most exciting event of the day doesn't feature in that list. Shortly before 08:00 a rather smart falcon played an evil trick on me and earned itself a moment in the spotlight. But that's another story, and well deserving of its own post in the near future.

A few photos then, starting with Wheatears on the beach of course...

A stunning male

Sea Kale is such a weird glaucous blue colour...

More typical views

Another lovely male

And everything else...

For some reason Lapwing seem an incongruous sight in August

Whinchat at 06:57 in beautiful early-morning sunshine

This morning's elusive Tree Pipit. There were another two this afternoon, even less cooperative.

Lovely lemony Willow Warbler

The second of two female/juv type Redstarts. I couldn't decide which mediocre pic to include, so...


Spotted Flycatcher at the other end of the day, in the evening sunshine at 19:34

Before I left this evening, I took this last photo from the western end of Cogden, looking east. So much ground to cover, and I'm sure that list of birds above will be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg...