Every spring a zillion birds pile up the English Channel en route to their northern breeding grounds. Ducks, terns, skuas, waders etc. I don't know exactly how it works, but for more than a decade I have been persuaded that what they do is head up the French coast until the Cherbourg peninsula points them at Portland Bill, then do a sharp right so they can parade past the over-indulged patrons of the Dungeness seawatching hide. My evidence for this is hard to refute - simply compare the figures of PBO and DBO with the pathetic gleanings recorded past Seaton. Anyway, I have a theory: given a very strong E wind I suggest that a number of those birds might just get nudged far enough W into Lyme Bay that they might actually fly past me for a change. When I lived in Seaton this happened once or twice, and is the reason I made for Burton Bradstock in yesterday evening's howling easterly. Unfortunately I forgot to allow for the well known fact that birds don't fly in heavy rain. Instead they just sit on the water, pointing and laughing at the distant fool on the land, huddled miserably behind his dripping scope. Still, ever the optimist I reasoned that there may yet be many birds languishing deep in Lyme Bay, desperate to escape its clutches come first light...
First light eluded me (eyelid malfunction) but I was back in situ by 06:40 and gave it two and a half hours.
Seawatching is a funny game. It's a bit like spending money, but instead of coins you use thirty minute portions of your life...
"Right, I'll give it half an hour."
Thirty minutes pass...
"Tsk! It's a bit slow. Still, I've had a couple of divers. Just another half hour."
Twenty nine birdless minutes pass...
"Okay, that's it then...oh, hang on, what's this? Ah, nice, a little flock of Manxies. Perhaps something's starting to happen."
Thirty minutes and no more Manxies later...
"Right, that's definitely it!"
And thus are 90 of your precious minutes of life spent on 2 Red-throated Divers, 12 Manxies and a little assorted dross.
I realise that many birders can't abide seawatching, but for me the temptation to part with another 30 minutes is often very strong. The above scenario is just the kind to sucker me into frittering away valuable chunks of my life. However, this morning I happily spent more than I could really afford and for once felt I'd got some decent value!
235 Common Scoters, 2 Velvet Scoters, 22 Common Terns, 41 Sarnies, 30 Manx, 1 Arctic Skua, 4 Shoveler and a Great Crested Grebe. The whole lot (bar a couple of Manxies) flew E.
my largest spring passage Scoter count from Seaton was 152 on 18/4/2005. This was my one and only three-figure tally, but unhappily comprised 77 birds W and 75 E, so who knows how many there actually were! It was notable that many of today's Scoter groups were initially heading towards the coast at a slight angle rather than along it, evidently coming in from further out in Lyme Bay. No wonder Steve drew a blank at Seaton.
As far as I can tell from my scant records, although I had spring Velvets fly past on a handful of occasions off Seaton, only once were birds among a gang of Commons - 2 in a flock of 55. Off Burton I had 2 singles: one with 4 Commons and another with 28. A great deal of motivation to carefully grill every flock!
When it comes to spring tern passage, well, what a delight to have 'commic' types actually close enough to ID to species without resorting to max zoom!
Skuas. Well, a skua is always a seawatching moment, so the first pale phase Arctic of the season is never going to be less than a joy to behold, and even more so when it is close enough to clearly see every detail, from bill tip to pointy central tail feathers!
Burton Bradstock is probably less than 20 miles from Seaton but, as one Twitter correspondent put it: "The difference a few miles makes!"
A lunchtime walk at Cogden added another 81 Manx, 12 Sarnies, 2 Brent Geese, 45 Common Scoters, 5 Common Terns, and a loafing flock of 40-odd Kitts on the sea. Also my first Whitethroat of the year (three days earlier than my earliest at Seaton!) and a few of these...