Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Happy as a Lark!

I was out early again this morning, down to the sea for a quick look and then a fairly brisk walk to Cogden and back. The sea was very quiet indeed, with a single Great Northern Diver flying W the major highlight, and the walk was no better. I did manage 2 Patchwork Challenge points via a lone Shag bobbing about offshore and a vocal Red-legged Partridge [Edit: 3 points actually. Shag is worth 2]. The beach was conspicuously devoid of Wheatears, which reminded me that we are now getting just the last dribblings of the spring flood. However, about half way along the beach I learned from a glance at Twitter that Portland Bill was hosting a Golden Oriole, which in turn reminded me that along with those dribblings you also get the occasional great big glob of quality. I wondered if one of those might be hunkered down on the patch somewhere...

It's 10:40. A text from Mike Morse:

'Possible Short-toed Lark on beach at Cogden east of line with boardwalk...have made six passes of the beach and can't relocate it though...if it's flown inland we're stuffed...'

I phoned Mike for the gory details. It sounded really, really good. Certainly much better than a 'possible' to my ears. A 'very probable' in fact, though I could understand exactly why he felt it was not quite claim-worthy. I arranged to head down there straight away. Although Mike needed to leave, I would help Alan search for it.

And search we did. Up and down the beach, walking nice and slow, several yards apart. Nothing. Eventually Alan too had to go, so I walked with him all the way to the West Bexington mere, a long way past my usual limit. We parted, and I turned back towards Cogden. Although I was resigned to the big fat dip, I also had a strong feeling that the bird might well still be on the beach somewhere and my intention was to try and cover as much of it as I reasonably could; the habbo is just so perfect for something like a Short-toed Lark. After a while I came across a Wheatear. Well, that had managed to avoid me thus far, so perhaps there was still hope for the lark. Suddenly a small bird flew from the ridge of the beach on my left, away ahead of me at a slight angle, landing 50 or 60 yards distant behind a clump of sea kale. I'd got nothing on it apart from 'small', so just trained my bins on the spot, more or less expecting the inevitable Linnet. And then I realised I could see its head through a gap in the leaves. Not a Linnet! It was alert and motionless for several long seconds, then seemed to relax, and slowly walked into view. Quite distant for bins alone, but no question, it was a Short-toed Lark.

Job number one: #recordshot...

Short-toed Lark, in almost all its very small and pixellated glory

Job number two: make the calls!

After what seemed an age, Alan, and then Mike, reappeared. I had stayed well away from the bird, but within a minute or so of my refinding it the lark had flown another 15-20 yards and out of view. I thought I knew roughly where it was, but when we tried to locate it there was no sign. Once again we began to comb the beach, and finally, finally, it showed properly for Alan and Mike. By now I was pretty rain-soaked, and left them to it. Mike too got a #recordshot with his proper camera...

Nicely captures the blobby black smudge on the side of the neck (photo: Mike Morse)

Arriving back at the van I bumped into Ian McLean from Seaton. West Bexington & Cogden is Ian's old patch, and he is evidently still intent on keeping the ex-patch ticks coming! Yes, Short-toed Lark is a perhaps overdue addition to the Bex/Cogden list. I am delighted to have been involved. Happy as a lark in fact...

I later heard that the little cracker was successfully twitched by several, and a lifer for at least one. I was chuffed at that too. Brilliant.

Finally, Ian M remarked that I seem to be enjoying a bit of a Purple Patch at the moment. I cannot deny it!


  1. This is remarkable stuff! Are there any rocking horses between your house and Cogden beach?

    1. Yes, you can sometimes glimpse them through the shimmering clouds of fairy dust.

  2. I do like a good story with a happy ending - great stuff!