Saturday, 12 December 2015

Of Other Common Birds...

Dear Mr Scilly
Yesterday's post disgusted me. Beautiful living creatures callously referred to as 'dross', as if they were so much worthless scum! You don't deserve to have such a wealth of wonderful birds to slowly and laboriously pick through in pursuit of your pathetic '24-carat gulls'. How vain. How shallow. Each and every seagull is of equal merit in my book, because they all look exactly the same.
Indignantly yours
R. Stroker

Yes, Robin is dead right, generally when it comes to gulls I am a vain and shallow ingrate. BHGs, Herring Gulls, etc. are just so much sawdust in the lucky dip barrel. However, I'm really not as bad as that sounds. From time to time I can get easily as much of a buzz from common birds as the rarer kind. One of those times is when they are in spectacular numbers. Like five years ago...

18 December 2010

Parting the curtains this morning revealed a couple of inches of snow. It looked so fantastic I was inspired to head out on foot, and was striding towards Black Hole Marsh by 08:00. I expected the sky to be full of birds on the move, but no, it was initially rather quiet. Heading up the river I spied a Ruff with some Lapwings, but little else to excite. The scenery was great though - here's a shot looking SW across BHM towards Seaton...

Gradually I became aware of calling Skylarks, and by the time I reached Colyford had seen about 300, mostly moving in a direction between W and SW. A quick check of Colyton WTW revealed the continuing presence of the popular wagtail that might be Eastern Yellow. The big field across the road looked highly dead, but I thought I should at least walk the footpath. A good decision. Lo and behold...

In total I saw 5 Woodlarks, including this one prodding about in the base of a hedge
Although the field had initially seemed empty I could see a few Skylarks shuffling around in the snow too, and immense fluke had me looking in exactly the right spot at the right time to see what appeared to be a Lapland Bunting fly briefly out from behind a weedy tussock. A careful approach confirmed my suspicions and gave me reasonable views but, being with Skylarks, I couldn't get close to it.

By now though Skylarks were becoming quite a distraction - flocks were dropping into the field, stopping for a short time, then moving on, relentlessly westwards. Scanning towards the coast I could see other parties crossing the valley further south. The notebook was busy. Phil joined me for a bit, then went to check the sewage works. Meanwhile I couldn't tear myself away from the field. By the time Phil and I headed home shortly after 11:00 for a late breakfast the Skylark tally had reached a staggering 11,250 - a spectacle I don't expect to see again in a hurry!


A cold weather movement of eleven thousand plus Skylarks! It was fantastic! And writing this in 2015 I can safely say that no, I certainly haven't seen anything like this spectacle again. A spectacle imprinted just as indelibly on my memory as any 24-carat gull, and more so than some!


  1. That is the sort of spectacle that I long for Gav. You cannot order them, or twitch them, you've just got to be lucky, or persistent, and even then they come along once in a blue moon. Priceless.

  2. Gavin, as Steve has eluded to - moments like that are to be savoured/treasured. They are a case of being in the right place, at the right time. Steve was equally kind in his comment upon a post in which I was witness to a massive winter thrush fall in the fields of Newland's Farm. Skylarks are a very scarce sighting around my patch - eleven thousand! That's just greedy! - Dyl

  3. Steve, Dyl, thanks for your comments. As you both say, events like that are very rare indeed and a real privilege to witness. There is something particularly special about cold weather movements too, and during my time in Seaton I was jammy enough to be present for a couple of others. There is a poignant mix of awe and pity at such mass desperation...