Monday, 11 November 2019

Dodgy Birders - Part 5: What to Do About Them

This is my third attempt at writing this post. It's strange really, because the title question is very easy for me to answer. You want to know what to do about Dodgy Birders?

Answer: whatever you feel is appropriate.

Simple as that. If you encounter a Dodgy Birder some day - and you will - the decision about how to handle it is obviously going to be yours. And who am I to presumptuously suggest you ought to do this or that? But as you might have noticed in part 4, I have wrestled with this question myself and struggled to decide what is 'appropriate'. So in this concluding post I simply want to offer some of my thought process for your consideration.

We live in a 'name and shame' culture these days, and on social media we regularly see it in birding too. The twitchers in the Forbidden Field, the flushers caught mid-boot, the photographers too close or blundering where they ought not. Naming and shaming might appeal to our baser instincts, but is it right? And is it an appropriate way to deal with Dodgy Birders? Well, you decide. Personally I've come to the conclusion that I don't like it, and I could make a strong case against it on moral grounds, but that's not for this post.

But there is another way, and to illustrate it I would like to tell you about Alan Vittery...

If you visit the Wikipedia page on the British Birds Rarities Committee you will find Alan Vittery referenced several times. Here's an example:

'One of the observers who Wallace claimed was blacklisted, Alan Vittery, also contributed to the debate, stating that he had been informed by the BBRC that they would not consider any single-observer record he submitted, unless supported by a photograph.' 

It's pretty obvious from this and other references, that the BBRC had judged Alan Vittery a Dodgy Birder. And reading between the lines, probably a birder who sees too much.

As far as I can discover, Alan Vittery now lives in the Azores, but for some years he was resident in a remote part of Scotland. In 1997 his book The Birds of Sutherland was published. He is in fact responsible for a good deal of serious ornithological writing going back several decades. And not just about birds within our shores; his output includes much on birds in the Middle East too, for example. Could it be that Alan Vittery is simply the archetypal red-hot birder? Perhaps. I don't know. However, I do know that I met him on Scilly in September 1987...

It was on Tresco, and he told Mrs NQS and me he'd recently seen a Citrine Wagtail and Spotted Sandpiper by the Great Pool, and suggested where we might try for them. Neither is an easy bird to identify, but having no reason to be suspicious we duly went and had a look. Although we never found the wagtail we did see the sandpiper. It was quite elusive, but eventually we had excellent views and as it was only my second or third Spot Sand I took quite a lot of notes. Later, to my surprise, I was asked if I'd kindly submit a description of the bird because...er...well...Alan Vittery...you know...

Well, I didn't know, but the nudging and winking made it plain. He wasn't trusted. Anyway, in the BBRC report for rare birds in 1987 you can find this entry...

I don't know whether AV submitted a description, but know from my own experience that for your name to appear in a BB Rarities Report you don't necessarily need to have submitted one, or, as in my case here, to have actually found a rare bird.


However, I want to go back to the Wikipedia reference. And here's the point. I don't know exactly when it was done, but at some stage the BBRC grasped the nettle and actually told Alan Vittery they thought he was dodgy. Maybe not in so many words, but nevertheless the message was evidently clear.

You can argue the rights and wrongs, and while I am only surmising here, I would guess the BBRC was concerned for the integrity of its records, and AV most likely felt hard done by. But if you (or a body you are part of) has similar concerns about your patch, county or regional records, isn't this the proper way to handle things? Be straight with the person?

In my experience the worst Dodgy Birders tend not to submit records. Perfect! And as mentioned in part 3, if they're truly awful they effectively excuse themselves from the birding community anyway. But if they're kind of bad but not that bad, but still they keep telling you about stuff that never gets seen by you or anyone else, then what? I dunno. I'm afraid you'll have to decide.

Anyway, before I leave this firmly in your court, here's a final thought...

In late December 1981, Mrs NQS and I were in North Norfolk on our first proper birding holiday. One afternoon I stupidly drove down a remote track and got us stuck fast in muddy ruts. We were in the middle of nowhere, and more than an hour later we were still there. By now I was sweaty, exhausted, and a bit panicky. The daylight was slipping away rapidly and we were still buried up to the axles. Unbeknown to us, a birder walking the distant shingle ridge by the sea had spotted us in trouble, and came striding up the track to offer assistance. It turned out he'd lived abroad, was familiar with this kind of predicament, and knew exactly what to do. Looking back, basically he rescued us. I was an impetuous 22 year-old. This guy was in his 30s I would say, perhaps the age our sons are now. Before we parted ways he introduced himself. His name was Alan Vittery.

I guess he must be 70-something now, and no doubt blissfully unaware of how deeply grateful for his unsolicited help we were that day. And I still am. Dodgy Birder he may be in the eyes of some, but the name Alan Vittery means something very different to me.

My point is this. Birding is a hobby. It is not life. Birders are just people, with all the potential complexities that fact implies. I don't know why some birders are dodgy. I don't claim to understand what drives them, how they are wired. It's a total mystery to me, if I'm honest. But outside of my hobby - and their hobby - they have a life, same as I do. I hope I've learned enough in 60 years to remember that, and treat them appropriately.


Sunday, 10 November 2019

Local Gleanings

This post is probably going to read like a very dull diary entry...

Saturday
Chucked it down all morning. Vile. Stayed in bed.
Afternoon. East Bex. Struggled. Met Alan B at West/East border checkpoint.

Sunday
Morning. Questing. No prizes.
Afternoon. West Bay and Eype. Struggled.

I really couldn't face a morning seawatch yesterday, especially with rain forecast so early. A lie-in then? Coffee? Toast? Okay.

One might question the wisdom of regular, short, morning seawatches carried out even when conditions look totally rubbish. And I do. Often. But I'll press on for a while and see what happens. This morning was a slow 40 minutes, but 4 Common Scoters came by, and 3 Red-throated Divers. Two of those divers were close, which was nice. A few distant Big Auks.

Afternoon birding yesterday at East Bexington, a gentle stroll from the Abbotsbury Beach car park to the West Bex coastguards cottages and back. Freezing. The chilly NW was blowing straight along the coast, and now that I'm nearly old and definitely a bit ragged at the edges, I feel the cold more than I used to. Never mind, out on the fields there were a few gulls to warm me up. None of them was exciting per se, but a Med Gull and a Great Black-backed wore colour-rings. Excellent! I haven't had a go at this game for ages, and I'd forgotten what a great way it is to turn a dull day into something really...well...less dull. Let's do this! The Med Gull promptly flew away before I could get anything at all, and the GBB marched about rapidly for ten minutes, pausing only when the ringed leg was in a dip, behind a stone, or in some other way hidden. Eventually I got it - S89, white on dark green, left leg. I get home, go on the Euring website, look up the GBBG projects that use 3-digit alpha-numerics on green rings and...there aren't any. Strewth! So either I misread it, misidentified it, am now colour blind, or there's a rogue ringer out there dishing out disappointment in little plastic doses.

The afternoon's highlight was bumping into Alan Barrett, one of the West Bex patchers, at the coastguard cottages. He confirmed that East Bex is very underwatched, and told me about some goodies that a birder who used to live there had found in the past, like Cirl Bunting, Lapland Bunting, adult Long-tailed Skua on the beach. That'll do.

I've taken to actually bothering with a scope at East Bex, because there are big fields with tiny, tiny birds in, miles away, and a scope helps a lot. I used it quite a bit, but all the tiny birds were common ones. There was one other highlight...

A buck Roe Deer, idling in the sunshine

The deer too was tiny and miles away, but my new camera did a good job of making it bigger. A post about the camera is on my to-do list.

Finally, this afternoon. A walk from West Bay to Eype and back. I worked out a circuit that would include some new ground for me, and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, bird-wise it was a pretty unexciting two hours for the most part. Up to 5 Firecrests have been reported at Eype just recently, and I was hopeful of scoring at a spot I've seen one previously, a birdy little gully that runs down to the sea. If it was in Penwith it would host Red-eyed Vireos (or better) every autumn. But it's not. I'd have been happy with just one Firecrest though. Evidently my happiness was not a matter of concern to the birds of Eype. Anyway, I'd nearly got back to the car, and was on the phone to Mrs NQS, organising the placement of slippers and size of whisky, when a blue flash whizzed past me along the river. A cracking little Kingfisher perched on a bankside twig, dived in, caught a miniscule fish, gave it a good shake and swallowed it. I've seen very few local Kingfishers. Result!

It's the small things...

Friday, 8 November 2019

Dodgy Birders - Part 4: Seeing Too Much

Today we're going to examine the interesting phenomenon of birders who 'see too much'. This is a tricky one, with many nuances, as we shall see. To illustrate, consider this imaginary scenario...

It's late August and you are visiting a popular coastal reserve. As you are about to enter a hide the door opens and out steps a birder.
"Much about?" you ask.
"Couple of Curlew Sands and a Spotted Redshank earlier, but not seen them for a while," he says.
"Nice. Thanks."
Half an hour later you have tallied many Dunlin and juvenile Redshanks, and are wondering if you've just been unlucky, or if the guy is maybe a bit rubbish at waders.
Later, working an extensive scrubby area, you meet him again. He generously shares the fact that he's had four Redstarts, that there's a Pied Flycatcher just around the corner and, best of all, a Wryneck in the clearing. Naturally your step quickens excitedly. Half an hour later your tally is one Redstart, and you are really not quite sure what to make of this bloke.
In the afternoon you meet again. He's on the beach, seawatching.
"Twelve Arctic Skuas and two Long-tailed," is his response to your query. "Plus I had an Ortolan low overhead twenty minutes ago, heading towards the paddocks."

Driving home later, you muse upon the day's outcome. Four Arctic Skuas and a Redstart. That other chap, meanwhile, bagged an Ortolan, two Long-tailed Skuas, a Wryneck, a Pied Flycatcher, four Redstarts, two Curlew Sands and a Spotshank.
"Or did he?" you accidentally say out loud.

A great way to see too much. Seawatch alone. Mid-week.

So, is our jammy friend simply that, or is he one of those birders who sees too much?

There is no doubt that such birders exist, and they can be exasperating, especially when they frequent your patch. But what do we mean by seeing 'too much'? And who decides how much is too much? To answer the first question, let's consider a couple of aspects of 'too much'...

1. Rare/scarce birds.
If you bird an area regularly, you soon get to know the relative status of its birds. If a birder repeatedly claims species that, while not necessarily uncommon elsewhere, are patch gold locally, well, the old alarm bells start ringing don't they? They are seeing too much.

2. Counts.
Let's say you have noted 5 migrant Willow Warblers during a circuit of your patch. You realise there will likely be others you haven't seen, but you don't reason that you've seen perhaps 10% of the actual number present, and therefore record 50. Only dodgy birders extrapolate. They are seeing too much.

What about the second question, who decides how much is too much? The short answer is: you do. And here's how it might happen...

When Derek Stringer first moved into your area and began to publicise his birds, initially you were impressed. Evidently, Derek was a birder with skills, dedication, and not a little jam too. You were delighted when he found that long-staying Dotterel, for example, a nice patch first. But soon you were noticing how many of his quality birds were fly-overs, or unphotographed, and how his counts were always much higher than yours, even when you were there at the same time. Eventually you began to doubt everything he claimed, if it wasn't photographed or in some other way verified.

Yes, that was your choice. You decided to doubt, to label Derek Stringer a 'birder who sees too much'. Why? What made you take that step? Hard to quantify, isn't it? Probably it wasn't a decision made overnight, but rather the result of steadily increasing activity on your dodginess radar. But most likely you won't be alone. Chances are, others will have noticed too, and before long Derek Stringer's 'sightings' are a frequent topic of birdy gossip, and his name added to the long, unhappy list of Dodgy Birders.

So, how do you handle the birder who sees too much? Should they be confronted? Outed? Ignored? Helped? Tolerated with resignation? Hmmm...

The Derek Stringers of our hobby exist on a spectrum, which ranges from the lying fantasist of part 3 to the birder who simply defaults to 'wildly optimistic' when a bird is seen badly and briefly. Add a dash of poor numeracy, carelessness, ignorance of a species' field characters and/or status, plus a host of other variables, mix it all together, and goodness knows what we're actually dealing with.

But how about this? Derek Stringer is simply a red-hot birder. He has vast experience of birding abroad, which has given him an intimate familiarity with countless species that are scarce or vagrants in the UK, including their flight calls and the colour and pattern of their briefly-seen undertail coverts. He has abnormally acute 20/20 vision, phenomenal hearing, a photographic memory, immense stamina, doesn't need to work and is half your age.

Would it be fair to label such a fortunate soul a 'birder who sees too much'?

Absolutely!! The swine.

Anyway, dear reader, I wish to be straight with you here. The catalyst which prompted this Dodgy Birders series was an incident of heinous dodginess that took place locally not long ago. We have a pretty awful stringer in our midst. His dodgy claims are now legion, and to the best of my knowledge nobody ever sees any of his birds. It all came to head a few weeks back when another unlikely (though typically plausible) claim spiralled wildly out of his control when the 'supporting' photos were picked up on Twitter, misidentified as something much rarer and given wide (and, I would imagine, very unwelcome!) publicity. The fall-out was no doubt embarrassing for the bloke, and actually quite sad to witness. At the time I was not sympathetic though. My gut feeling was that Premier League dodgy birders need outing. After a bit of thought I reconsidered. "Well, maybe not, perhaps they're best ignored." Five minutes later, and I'm "No, unmask the blighters!" Evidently I was conflicted on this issue...

It also reminded me that I am part of a wide network of birders of varying abilities and strengths, all of whom wish basically to enhance their enjoyment of local birding by contributing and sharing birdy news when they get the opportunity, and can be doing without all this nonsense. Is there a way to handle it without getting all bitter and twisted?

So, what I did was sit down and begin to write Dodgy Birders - Part 1. The process of getting it down on paper, so to speak, has helped me to be a bit more rational about the matter and get some perspective, which I hope will be helpful to anyone else who finds such folk a bit of a wind-up. However, I still haven't answered the question 'how do you handle the birder who sees too much?' or indeed, any and all categories of Dodgy Birder? Because that's for the concluding installment: Dodgy Birders - Part 5: What to Do About Them.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Questing On...

The Questing Rock, early doors today. Note closed-cell foam Rock topping. Essential.

Well, it's still on the cards. There was one at Dawlish today, and they're along the E coast still. All it'll take is a bit more northerly, a gentle prod in the right direction, and I'll be in with a chance.

Yes, we're talking Little Auk.

An hour's questing yesterday morning was quite lively, with a single Great Northern Diver flying W the highlight. Also 2 Brents, 3 Teal, a Little Egret, plus a steady trickle of auks E, a constant reminder that I am still rubbish at separating Guillemots from Razorbills -  a real blind spot, considering I've seen thousands and thousands of the things. By the way, my Lyme Bay Little Auk will not be out on the horizon where most of the auks live. Hopefully, like the previous ten I've seen locally at this time of year, it will be one of the closest birds, and instantly recognisable.

After that I popped into West Bay before heading for work. This was a Black Redstart mission. I checked all the spots I thought likely to hold one. Nothing. Finally I thought to try the Esplanade and promenade. At the end, beneath the cliffs, it was sheltered from the cold northerly, and there were indeed Black Redstarts. Four of them. Too distant to bother with photos, but very pleasing nonetheless.

I did get the camera out a couple of times though...

Through bins I suspected these were Wigeon, but the range involved meant I wasn't 100% sure. The camera confirmed it. Useful!

Couldn't help myself. Friendly Rock Pipit prancing about in the sunshine. Always good value.

Work took me to Seaton, and on Bridge Marsh, beside the road that takes you into Colyford, I came across this Greylag. I dutifully put the 'news' on the Patch WhatsApp group. A little later I was informed that it's been around since June. Ah. A reminder of my birdy lapsing. I was also informed that it has been given a name. It is called Gav the Greylag, supposedly. I suspect I am having my leg pulled...


So once again, this morning I headed for Burton Bradstock. Just a riffle of northerly. En route, Dan in Sidmouth had messaged that Woodpigeons were on the move. Getting out of the van I peered upwards for a while. Not a Woodpig in sight. After some questing I had another look, climbing the nearby hill to get a proper view of the surrounding landscape. Although I saw a few flocks of up to maybe a hundred birds, there was certainly nothing spectacular going on locally as far as I could tell. I have fond memories of vis-migging with Steve up at Axe Cliff some years ago, with enormous flocks of Woodpigeons whooshing past. And on Beer Head, with the flocks writhing and twisting as the local Peregrines got stuck in. Great stuff. None of that at Burton though...

The questing was a dull endeavour this morning. First bird was a drake Shoveler E. A portent of some nice duck passage perhaps? I gave it about 20 minutes I think, and it's virtually the truth to say that the last bird was also that drake Shoveler E, 20 minutes earlier.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Dodgy Birders - Part 3: Don't Lie. It's Not Worth It.

In parts 1 and 2 we hopefully established two fundamental principles of birding:
  1. Correctly identifying birds becomes important only when birdy gen is shared with other birders. Up until that point, it is perfectly okay to live in a parallel universe where every other bird is a BB rarity; knock yourself out...
  2. Notwithstanding principle #1, all birders make mistakes. Knowing this, all birders consequently are (or should be) very tolerant when mistakes are owned up to.
And now, in part 3, we're going to discuss something that involves a fundamental principle not just of birding, but of life. It is this:

People hate being lied to.

In part 2 we touched on one scenario where there could be a temptation to lie, ie, in order to cover up an embarrassing misidentification. We might call this 'understandable' perhaps, but would never condone it, and any birder caught doing this (or simply suspected of it) is going to have a tough time preventing their reputation from suffering. But in birding, as in life, there are countless opportunities to lie, many of them far less 'understandable' than covering a mistake. Let us examine one or two...

Here's an example from real life. Birder X is doing a regional year list. It's late in the year, and a Leach's Petrel turns up on one of the region's vast reservoirs. Birder X needs it, and Birder X claims to have seen it. And Birder X produces a ropey photo to 'prove' it. Some of Birder X's fellow enthusiasts smell a rat and put this photographic 'proof' to the test. [I am not party to all the gory details but believe Birder X's regional tally was by now under the microscope anyway due to factors other than simply unfeasible hugeness.] Some careful sleuthing reveals that Birder X's photo has actually been nicked off the Internet. The image has been tinkered with too, prior to being presented as his own, which somehow makes it worse.

There is a birding blogger in the US who sometimes writes about this kind of stuff, and with reference to one individual similarly caught using photos fraudulently to back up his 'sightings', put it this way: 'That birder has since been excused from the birding community...'

Very sad.

The obvious question is why on earth would anyone do that?! One can only speculate. To me though, a more interesting question is this: why is such behaviour not tolerated? Really, REALLY not tolerated. After all, each of us is well aware of the various manifestations of human frailty, so can't we just live and let live when something like this happens? The short answer seems to be no. Here's my take on why...

Because birding is based very largely on trust, and trust is a sacred thing. When another birder tells you they've seen 4 Redstarts and a Pied Fly, you trust them to be telling you the truth. If they rush up to you, all red and breathless, gasping about the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper they've just found down the road, and urging you to come quick... well, you might think 'Ooh, I hope they haven't mucked up a Wood Sandpiper or something', but you don't for a second doubt their sincerity; you trust them in that sense at least. When the county recorder receives a load of seawatching counts from someone, he trusts those numbers to be pretty accurate. When you share your own sightings with others, you expect them to be taken in good faith, to be trusted. In birding we just expect the truth from one another, simple as that.

Therefore, in birding, as in life, betrayal of trust is a cardinal sin. To simply lie to other birders is pretty gross, and they won't tolerate it. In fact they will resent it. Even more so if they realise it is not a one-off.

And what the liars don't seem to appreciate is that resentful folk will seek retribution. That feeling of being taken for a fool will galvanise the most easy-going birders into a remorseless squad of vigilantes, intent on catching and unveiling them for the lying fantasists they are.

There is just a slim chance that someone reading this is thinking: 'Hmmm, he's talking about me. What he's described is exactly the kind of deceitful dodginess I get up to. But I'm careful. I will never be caught'. Well, perhaps you are not aware that they are already very much on to you. If you use social media, they will be taking screenshots of your nonsense and sharing it with one another, gathering evidence, building a case, trying to catch you in a lie. They will be discussing you among themselves and biding their time. Because eventually you will trip up mightily, will be confronted with your birdy crimes, and will be forced to come up with lame excuses like how in your excitement you accidentally posted a photo from a holiday taken six months ago, or accidentally typed 'Icterine' instead of 'Willow', or accidentally let a vindictive hoaxer have all your account passwords and post the stringiest garbage imaginable in your name...

Or maybe you're right, and actually you will never be 'caught' in the fullest sense. Nevertheless, while it may be true that no-one will ever be able to say of you: 'That birder has since been excused from the birding community...', you have already, in effect, excused yourself.


Coming up in part 4 of the Dodgy Birders series: the Birders Who See Too Much

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday

To follow on from the last post: tomorrow came, and it was yesterday. First thing in the morning, the SW wind was quite possibly as strong as I've ever witnessed. I'm not one of these nutters who venture out to precarious places and take photos of massive weather in all its roaring glory, so I don't have anything like that to show you. But I did drive to West Bay shortly after 07:00, park up in a sheltered spot and walk into town. My plan was to cross the river, stroll up past the harbour and on round to the Esplanade to see how rough the sea was. Well, I got half way up Quayside, the road that leads to the Esplanade, and bottled it! And there was no 'strolling'! It was a struggle to stay upright at times. As I headed home for breakfast I realised that seawatching was going to be a challenge...

And it was. There were rewards for some Lyme Bay birders though. At the far eastern end, in the Portland Harbour/Ferrybridge area, 160 Kittiwakes, at least 4 Leach's Petrels, 2 Little Gulls and a Pom Skua. But elsewhere it was slim pickings, just a handful of Little Gulls, the odd Grey Phalarope or skua. In the end, I managed about two and a half hours seawatching, from two different spots, split 50/50 morning and afternoon. It was like the wind had scoured the sea clean of birds. Apart from a handful of distant Gannets and the odd foolhardy gull I saw absolutely nothing.

However, it wasn't all bad. For example, at 11:00 I turned green. This doesn't happen often, but is an absolute given when Steve texts from the Axe saying he's found TWO Caspian Gulls together on my old patch. Please see Steve's blog post here for ghastly details: 'Grippin' Gav, Big Time!'

Though I notice Steve has changed the post title now.

So, in the afternoon, when the wind shifted to WSW and moderated to something like a force 11 or 12, I thought I should get out and see if I could find any loafing gulls. I didn't know whether East Bexington would be any good, but nothing ventured, and all that...

It was rubbish. All the gulls had been blown away. So I made the best of it by walking west for around 15-20 minutes to check something out...

On the beach is a great big concrete bunker, thoughtfully constructed in WW2 for future seawatchers. It is so tall and massive that I felt there was good chance it might offer some decent shelter, and was keen to try it out in proper weather. It was perfect! Sheltering in the lee of the thing was utterly serene, after being pebble-dashed by horizontal rain and spray on the walk out there. I thought I had a photo of the architecture itself, but cannot find it. Instead, here's the view...

I guarantee you, not one fraction of one pixel of this shot has been spent on a bird. It is 100% sea, sky, shingle and scope.

I shall doubtless be returning to this spot in the future, because until now I've had little success in finding decent local shelter for seawatching in wet and windy conditions. The only birdy action was a flock of 22 Wigeon that manfully struggled into the wind over my head. They were making such slow progress that I was easily able to count, sex and age each one. And triple-check my findings.


Today

This afternoon I tried East Bex again. A new warbler in the Sallow Clump of Delight: female Blackcap.

And I thought briefly of Steve when I encountered this lot...

40-odd opportunities.
Actually, I'm liking the new camera. This 1st-winter Great Black-backed Thing of Beauty is approximately 100m away.

Caspian Gull is one of the few decent birds I seem capable of finding in recent years, so I will keep looking. In the meantime, I did see something else today that impressed me...

That speckly blur is several thousand Starlings in the air together. They are as far away as those cattle, and in the next shot they have just landed...
What a swarm!

Probably the largest feeding flock of Starlings I've witnessed. Quite a spectacle. I'm enjoying these early jaunts to East Bexington, and most visits have turned up something noteworthy. But that's about it for today. I am inundated with material for NQS right now - a couple of interesting things on Twitter that have made me want to opinonate vigorously, plus the 'Dodgy Birders' series to work on, and the Little Auk Quest has been extended...er...until a Little Auk happens. Might be a long-term thing...

Friday, 1 November 2019

Today and Tomorrow

Today

This morning I managed an hour at East Bexington before work. The Sallow Clump of Delight was leaping. Chiffs mainly, but also Goldcrests, Robins and a Firecrest again. Also a Merlin cruised overhead in a leisurely way. That's my third Merlin sighting since I've been venturing out here, compared with just a handful in umpteen years on the Axe patch. Not so many gulls around as previously, but obviously all of them were Med Gulls. There are very few dwellings at East Bex, but as the apex of nearly every roof in southern England bears the silhouette of a Black Redstart, I was hopeful. So far in this exceptional autumn for them I've seen none at all. Unfortunately, heading off to work, that was still the case.

I ate my lunch overlooking the sea at Freshwater Beach, between West Bay and Burton Bradstock. There's a holiday park here, with two or three hundred static caravans. More than enough roofs for a Black Redstart surely? Driving back through the park I crawled along very, very slowly, glancing left and right. Suddenly...

What a corker! And not on a roof!

That was more like it! Encouraged now, I ventured into West Bay, and in about five minutes of carefully trying not to bump into other road users while peering upwards I came across two more...

This somewhat smaller one on a building just south of the main car park...
...and this really tiny one on the tall apartments opposite the Bridport Arms Hotel

It would surprise me if there weren't more Black Redstarts in West Bay; I'm sure my rapid tour of the tiles didn't net all of them.


Tomorrow

I could bore you stupid by outlining the tedious DIY chore that awaits me, but no, instead allow me to tickle your fancy with this...


All this before breakfast, even!

My BBC Weather App is forecasting gusts in excess of 70mph at West Bay! See that dark pink bit there? In my imagination it is a vast, throbbing horde of helpless seabirds, barreling wretchedly into the deepest bowels of Lyme Bay, that grim shore where seawatchers go to die. Those of us brave enough to be out there in it tomorrow are going to be clutching our chests and hyperventilating as a steady stream of Leach's Petrels and Sabine's Gulls struggles past at eye-popping range, and Grey Phalaropes pour down upon us like feathery hail...

As I say: 'in my imagination'...

The reality will be a lot of salty optics and cursing, which will last no more than one hour, tops.


I'm not quite sure what's going on here, but six posts in six days suggests that someone else must be writing NQS at the moment...