Sunday, 31 December 2017

New Year's Eve...

It’s New Year’s Eve and a family walk by the sea at Seaton was on the cards. No rare birds to twitch this year - no Blue Rock Thrush, no Brünnich’s Guillemot, no White-billed Diver. The Hawfinch is still kicking about in the garden at Whitestaunton and a male Siskin plus 50ish Brambling just 300 metres from the house, which went some way towards consolation though.

Rough seas at Seaton today, great day for a walk.
Stonechat above the sea front, Seaton.
Hawfinch, still showing occasionally at Whitestaunton.

Highlight of the day though was chatting to a retired gentleman in Pebbles cafe in Seaton. An interesting guy who spends six months of the year living in the UK (near Axminster) and the other six months living in the south of France. Prior to moving to the UK 20 years ago he’d spent his life in South Africa where he was born, raised and managed a private game reserve on the outskirts of Kruger National Park.

After discovering my interest in wildlife he started to recount tales of the times he came across Puff Adders, Boomslangs, Cobras and a large resident Black Mamba that he saw on numerous occasions. Once, while trekking along an overgrown path through the bush with his head tracker, he came face-to-face (literally) with the mamba. It had sensed their imminent arrival and reared up (they can elevate a third of their body length off the ground). It looked him in the eyes! Luckily they knew just what to do and froze on the spot. No longer feeling threatened the mamba lowered itself and hurried away into the scrub. This individual was as thick as his forearm and 15-16ft in length - it must have been a scary moment for all concerned. I could have spent a lot more time talking to him - fascinating stuff! But as the rain set in, it was time to head home.

Here's to an exciting and wildlife filled 2018 for everyone - catch up again next year!

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Hawfinch on the feeders...!

I don't think I've ever posted so many times about a single bird. But then I've never been in the position before of having a Hawfinch regularly visiting the garden daily for the last month. It's a beast of a bird, dwarfing almost every bird that dares to sit near it. To watch it feed and take apart the field maple seeds so deftly at such close range is a treat I'll probably never get to experience again. So here it is again from this morning, shortly after which it turned its attention to our bird table feeders where it's been coming and going ever since.

Friday, 8 December 2017

The long-staying Hawfinch...

I've been seeing this bird every morning recently and today when I got back from dropping my son at school I took a quick look and sure enough, there he was. Happily munching his way through the supply of Field Maple seeds just beyond the garden. For a brief moment the sun came out and I managed to get my first reasonable photos of him in good light. Without the Nikon P900 none of this would be possible...

Hawfinch, male: R. Harris

Hawfinch, male: R. Harris

Hawfinch, male - chewing on a Field Maple seed: R. Harris

And a little video too, though the sun had vanished by this time:

Sunday, 3 December 2017

At last...the Hawfinch shows well!

There have been between 1-3 Hawfinches hanging around Whitestaunton now for about a month. One in particular has been showing from the garden each morning but only for a minute or two at most before disappearing to feed somewhere.

Yesterday that changed. Yesterday it showed well for half-an-hour and although the light was poor (it still only appears early in the morning at first light), it allowed great views. Thankfully my brother, who missed it last weekend, was on hand to see it this time around and it put on a fantastic performance:

We also had at least one other flyover bird whilst we were watching this one, so still a few in the area. Just as well as I never tire of seeing them and looking for the regular single bird has become a morning vigil for me now and will continue to be so until it chooses to depart.

UPDATE: 5th December, 2017 - nine in the garden briefly this morning! An amazing sight to see and totally unexpected. Not sure how long they had been there as it was too dark to see any prior to doing the school run. Unfortunately they flew to the west all too soon but hopefully some sunflower seeds can tempt them back.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Red-necked Grebe...

Great find by Dave Helliar this evening, Chard Reservoir's 2nd record of Red-necked Grebe!

Red-necked Grebe, Chard Res: Dave Helliar

Red-necked Grebe, Chard Res: Dave Helliar

Red-necked Grebe, Chard Res: R Harris 

The first and only previous record was one found by myself way back in 1978 so this is the first for nearly 40 years!

Prior to this discovery, I'd been visiting Portland Bill with my father-in-law. He'd never been beyond the prison (no reflection on his character, that's just a far as he'd ventured on to Portland), so he was keen to have a stroll at the southerly tip of the Isle.

The (lower) Lighthouse Portland Bill

West cliffs with Purbeck coastline in the distance.
It was very windy and there weren't many birds but a Short-eared Owl, flushed by a dog walker, was the best on offer. Back at Ferrybridge we found a handful of Brent geese, 15 Mediterranean Gulls and this Ketrel, which hovered in the wind just a short distance from us.


Mediterranean Gull, Ferrybridge

Mediterranean Gull, Ferrybridge

Brent Geese, Ferrybridge

The Red-necked Grebe was a brilliant end to the day.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Plume-toed Swiftlet...

It looks as if the Glossy Swiftlet's I saw in Malaysia last year have now been split (along with 9 other new species), following MDNA analysis of this broad ranging species. The species found in Peninsula Malaysia (as well as Borneo, Sumatra, Natuna and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands) has been renamed Plume-toed Swiftlet Collocalia affinis according to findings published here by the ICO.

Plume-toed Swiflets, Bukit Fraser
Unfortunately the differences between the new 'splits' are not obvious in the field. Such is the complexity of birding in modern times.

Straw-headed Bulbul.... still cause for concern

It seems the plight of this beautiful species is still a huge cause for concern. This article was published today:

My original post on the subject can be seen here:

Monday, 20 November 2017


2017 will be remembered by birders for many things, not least the current Hawfinch invasion that's taking place throughout the country due to a shortage of food in other parts of Europe. Hawfinches are an impressive species, our largest finch. These normally scarce, shy species are appearing anywhere and everywhere at the moment, including around the village where I live. I'm still seeing one bird fairly regularly in the mornings as it pitches-up on top of a tree at the rear of the house before calling and departing to wherever it's feeding during the day. Despite extensive searching, I haven't found out where that is yet.

Hawfinch, Whitestaunton: R Harris
Hawfinch, Whitestaunton: R Harris

You can never have enough of a good thing, so I went to see the half-a-dozen or so Hawfinches at Shute Church near Axminster just across the Devon border on Saturday morning too. Unfortunately they didn't show well enough for decent photos while I was there but on a walk by the sea with Jacob at Seaton Hole we saw this lovely Little Egret on the edge of the beach. I can remember when these were rare visitors to the UK and I twitched my first at Sutton Bingham Reservoir in the early 80's!

Little Egret, Seaton Hole: R. Harris

Little Egret, Seaton Hole: R. Harris

And it looks like we are experiencing the same phenomenon with other species too. A drive around the Blackdown Hills over the weekend produced around 100 Brambling! In recent years we have struggled to find more than half-a-dozen among the local Chaffinch flocks but this year is a complete reversal of fortunes.

Brambling: R. Harris

Brambling: R. Harris
Brambling: R. Harris
It looks like the weather is going to change a little this week and become wetter and windier but the recent prolonged dry spell has been very welcome and has certainly brought some beautiful November days for a change.

Incredible sunset from Seaton on 17th November

Sunrise from Whitestaunton at 07:30 on 18th Nov
was incredibly pink/purple to begin with...

...before turning a fiery orange 5 minutes later
All photos in this post taken with the Nikon P900.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Lyme Regis...

One of the benefits of my son's new secondary school being in Axminster is that on stunning mornings, like today, I can nip down to the coast after dropping him off to take advantage of the peace and quiet that early morning brings.

After dropping him off this morning I popped down to Lyme Regis for a quick walk around the Cobb Wall and gardens. I was rewarded with 5 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Ringed Plover, a single Guillemot, a few Turnstones and half-a-dozen very tame Rock Pipits.

Lyme Regis, looking beautiful this morning and quiet for a change too!

View of the town from the Cobb

Lyme's famous Cobb Wall, which shelters the harbour

Rock Pipit: R Harris

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit: R Harris

Guillemot: R Harris

Turnstone: R Harris

Purple Sandpiper: R Harris

Saturday, 4 November 2017

(Another) Black Redstart...

After dropping my son off in Axminster for his drama club this morning, I decided to take a walk around nearby Trinity Hill LNR. I often visit the site, for reptiles in the spring and summer and for birding just about anytime. Today it was pretty quiet though. After navigation large waterlogged sections of track (and nearly loosing my wellies twice to the mud), all I had to show for my efforts were 4 Snipe, a couple of Stonechat, half-a-dozen Reed Bunting, a few Meadow Pipit and a Yellow Hammer.

As the weather was still good, I decided to take Jake to Seaton for a walk along the beach (I promise you, he's my son, not the family pet). As we neared The Hideaway cafe at the western end of the promenade we decided we didn't want to head straight back and instead chose to continue along  the beach to Seaton Hole and walk back to Seaton along the main road. A hundred meters along the beach a small bird flitted up onto the boulders placed at the base of the cliff to act as a sea break. Before I even lifted my bins, I knew it was going to be a Black Redstart but I wasn't expecting it to be a cracking male!

Black Redstart, male, Seaton: R Harris

Black Redstart, male, Seaton: R Harris

Black Redstart, male, Seaton: R Harris

Black Redstart, male, Seaton: R Harris
Black Redstart, male, Seaton: R Harris

This is my second Black Red this week and males are always a treat to see, what a handsome little bird.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Garden List...

It's been an unusual week to say the least. Having now lived at Whitestaunton for nearly three years, it's not often that I can add a new species of bird to the garden list. Red kite was the first addition for nearly a year back in the summer and then nothing. Until this week. Last Sunday I added Hawfinch and Firecrest to the list, amazing! Two new birds in one day. Then today I got home after the morning school run, walked into my office and saw this...

Black Redstart, female, Whitestaunton 
Just 4ft away, sat on the apex of the conservatory was a smart female Black Redstart - another 'first' for the garden! I ran to get my camera and managed a single shot before it was chased off by a Robin. I headed outside and relocated it sitting on the tv ariel.

Black Redstart, Whitestaunton 
Black Redstart, Whitestaunton 
At this rate I predict the next new bird on the garden list will be Yellow-browed Warbler...but only time will tell.

Sunday, 29 October 2017


I had every intention of going birding today. I wanted to take advantage of the ongoing mild weather to get out for a walk but as I sat in the armchair near the living room window munching on a piece of toast and contemplating where to go, two blobs caught my eye at the top of a birch tree 50 meters away. I regularly see things perched up in this tree and immediately knew from the size and posture that these were something different. Incidentally it's not the first time this has happened either. Earlier in the year I was pretty sure I had a bee-eater perched at the top of the same tree but the views only lasted a couple of seconds before it vanished...two days later a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater was seen three miles away in Yarcombe, maybe the mega that got away! But that's another story.

Anyway, back to today...luckily my bins were right at hand and to my surprise I soon discovered the two mystery birds were in fact Hawfinch, a new bird for the garden list and the first I'd seen in over a year. They sat quite happily, calling frequently for about 3 or 4 minutes before flying off out of sight. I'd heard one calling as it flew overhead a couple of days ago but hadn't expected to see one in the village - they are stonking birds.

Hawfinch, one of two, Whitestaunton: R Harris
Best I could manage in the early light.
The garden wasn't finished though. As I set up my scope and dug-in to wait for the Hawfinches to return the familiar call of a Firecrest exploded from the hedge in front of me and there it was, one of my favorite birds, a real gem amongst the foliage and yet another new bird on the garden list! What a start to the day. Although it showed well it was sadly too active to photograph. By now I really didn't want to go anywhere, this was too good to walk away from. Half-an-hour later all the birds went mad and I looked up to see a huge female Peregrine slowly gliding overhead and circling the garden - certainly not a bird I see in Whitestaunton very often at all. I can't remember a day as good as this for scarce birds in the garden, quite amazing.

The lanes around Whitestaunton are
looking great at the moment.
Also found this hornet on its last legs in the garden this afternoon:

European Hornet

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Rock Thrush...

After waiting nearly a fortnight, Dave Helliar and myself finally succumbed and made the journey across the Severn and into Wales today to go and see the Rock Thrush, which has been in residence around the disused quarries at Pwll-Du in Gwent since the 12th October.

The wind was howling from the North-West and it felt like it was freezing but that didn't stop the Rock Thrush from showing extremely well (could be something to do with the meal worms being scattered by the photographers!).  I'm just glad I was kitted out for the cold!  After our initial views it flew up to the quarry face to shelter but returned to the same spot by a pile of rocks on the ground 5 minutes later.

Rock Thrush, Pwll-Du: R. Harris

Rock Thrush, Pwll-Du: R. Harris

Rock Thrush, Pwll-Du: R. Harris
Rock Thrush, Pwll-Du: R. Harris

Rock Thrush, Pwll-Du: R. Harris

Rock Thrush, Pwll-Du: R. Harris

Rock Thrush: Dave Helliar

 Rock Thrush: Dave Helliar

Rock Thrush: Dave Helliar

Still drawing a crowd after two weeks.
Despite the overcast skies, the P900 did a fairly good job of getting pics and a short video too:

Rock Thrush, Pwll-Du, Gwent

The views from the quarry site were pretty cool too!