Monday 11 April 2016

Good Value!

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!

The Numbers
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.

The Context
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...

Sunday 10 April 2016

Here I am, tippy-tapping away on the laptop within the cosy confines of my nice new man cave. Life is sweet. Aside from the weather I have little to moan about. Except the seawatching of course - that's always ripe for a good moan. Here's a photo I took earlier today...

At around 5pm I drove to the Hive Beach car park in Burton Bradstock, positioned the van at a jaunty angle and pointed my optics seawards for an hour. The coast here faces more or less SW, and with the wind in the east I was hoping for a bit of late afternoon/early evening movement from right to left. Needless to say I didn't get any. Never mind, I am used to rubbish seawatching from years of regularly dashed hopes at Seaton. A flock of 50 or 60 Common Scoters was loafing offshore, and as I zoomed up to try and string something better from among them a gang of half a dozen largish waders flew distantly past in the murk. I'm pretty sure they were Grey Plovers, but pretty sure isn't tickable sure so I had to let them go. Shame. Grey Plover is probably not an annual gimme in this bit of Dorset. But Burton Bradstock isn't part of your patch, you say? Well it is now, for seawatching at least. I can easily add it as a little extension of the Cogden patch without troubling the 3km² limit.

Incidentally, have you ever tried seawatching from a vehicle? I'm useless at it. It's okay with bins I suppose, but when most stuff flies past just off France a scope is handy. Trying to coax my two legs and the tripod's three into some kind of spatial coexistence is a challenge I have yet to master...

The other day a fellow blogger asked if I was phasing again. After all, my only public face is this blog and Twitter, so a period of quietness in both media might be bound to prompt such a query. I thought about it and decided that it was too early to say. These past two months have been pretty stuffed with other things, meaning that yes, the birding, cycling and internettery have been moved onto a back burner, but have they been dropped entirely? No. I've managed a few rides, I've added Wheatear, Sand Martin, Chiff and Willow Warbler to my patch list, and I've been following Twitter and reading blogs, if not actually writing anything myself. So, quiet yes, but phasing? I don't think so.

One recent distraction was an unanticipated journey into the world of juicing. Mrs NQS made me watch a documentary she'd discovered on Netflix called 'Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead'. It's by a bloke called Joe Cross, a very overweight Australian with assorted chronic illnesses who goes on a 60 day road trip in the States, consuming nothing but freshly extracted fruit and vegetable juice. The results are a real eye-opener. My quackery radar is hyper-sensitive, yet I could detect none. Intrigued, I did a bit of research and found more, like this video on YouTube: 'Super Juice Me!' by Jason Vale. I was hooked, and with a 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' kind of attitude embarked on a 28-day experiment, living on virtually nothing but freshly juiced fruit and veg. It was totally fascinating! I figured NQS readers most likely already suspect I'm slightly not right, so resisted the day-by-day chronicle that would have confirmed the worst.

Consider yourselves spared.