Tuesday 2 May 2017


As I mentioned in the previous post, there has been some birding. Not serious birding you understand, but whatever the opposite of serious birding is. Half-hearted. Lightweight. No scope, no camera, no note-taking. Superficial birding then. Flippant, even. So basically I really, really didn't deserve what happened this morning...

But first I need to set the scene.

Back on April 21st I popped over to Cogden for a walk. I took my bins and was pleased to note 7 Whitethroats, a couple of singing Lesser Whitethroats and a single Wheatear. Also a Whimbrel was prodding about in a field and - best of all - a Grasshopper Warbler was reeling away in a hedgerow. All very pleasant, and typical spring fare locally. This nice collection of birds kindled sufficient enthusiasm to get me down to Cogden early enough on 23rd to see the sunrise. But instead of driving to the Cogden Beach NT car park I headed for Burton Bradstock; I've always felt the Cogden car park is a bit too vulnerable to opportunist thievery to feel 100% happy leaving the motor there, and anyway, it means I get to cover a short strip of the coast that possibly no one else does. A strategy which paid off very handsomely this morning...

I'm getting ahead of myself.

So anyway, on April 23rd I followed the coast to Cogden, walked a little circuit, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Between 6 and 8am I tallied 11 Wheatears, c6 Willow Warblers, 1 Whinchat, 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 1 Peregrine, a handful of Swallows and a spanking male Redstart. I was chuffed to see the Whinchat and almost all the Wheatears right on the beach, newly arrived. Migration in action. Superb! The Peregrine was only my second local bird; it's not like Seaton, where they're an almost daily occurrence. And the Redstart, well...

It was one of the last birds I saw. A line of gorse at the top of a slope, and as I walked along it I'd already been made to raise my bins two or three times by the ubiquitous Linnets. And then, not a Linnet.
"Oh yes! You beauty!"
I actually said that out loud, which surprised me. Surprised me enough to mentally note that I had said it out loud. I think I'm going soft. Mind you, a spring male Redstart, fresh in, really is hard to beat, isn't it.

Still, something was happening. My shrivelled little birdy gland was trying hard to get some juices going. Just after the Redstart (which vanished pretty sharpish) I saw my final Wheatear, and even tried to take a photo with my pathetic phone camera...

Tiny bird, big habbo

I didn't get out last week, but as the weekend approached I found myself feeling a little frustrated. Why? Because the weather looked like it was shaping up for a good seawatch on Sunday, and I was heading to Wiltshire for a few days and would therefore miss it all. I had depressing visions of Pom skuas piling along the coast in vast flocks whilst I was many miles inland. As it turned out there were hardly any skuas at all, let alone Poms, so I missed very little in the end. But the fact that the prospect of doing so bothered me a bit was rather telling.

And so to this morning.

I hadn't planned to go birding at all, but was up at 6:30, early enough to make it a viable option. Parking at Burton Bradstock I headed along the coast. There's a small caravan park between Burton Bradstock and Cogden. It runs right down to the coast path, and there are nice strips of lawn between the caravans. Perfect for a Hoopoe really, a possibility that has genuinely occurred to me. Ambling along I was suddenly aware that I'd flushed a medium-sized bird on the seaward side of the caravans, that it was heading away from me in a lollopy, bouncy kind of way, and would disappear around the end caravan unclinched if I didn't hurry up and look at it properly. Even straight into the sun it was unmistakeable. That fleeting, rubbish view through the bins was plenty. I'd known it was going to be a Hoopoe anyway, but if I hadn't briefly seen those broad, pied wings through my 10x lenses I would have been a bit stuffed if I'm honest.

I searched for it, but to no avail, and guessed it had probably headed off inland. I've previously known Hoopoes evaporate in exactly that fashion. They appear to have just flopped over the hedge but you never see them again. In reality they probably kept going for about fifty miles, all the while giving the impression they were contemplating imminent touch-down. After a bit of time spent trying to refind the Hoopoe I now had to abbreviate my intended route somewhat. Still, I could certainly afford a quick look along the start of the coast path from Cogden. There's a nice fence line there, and a grassy track...and blow me if that isn't a Hoopoe at the far end of it! I was the best part of a mile from the caravan park now, but surely it must be the same bird? Shortly after this, Mike and Alan, the patch regulars, caught up with it as it flew past us back towards the Cogden car park area. We headed that way too but couldn't immediately relocate it. My time was up and I left them to it. Strolling back past the caravan site I flushed a medium-sized bird on the seaward side of the caravans...lollopy, bouncy, etc...

This time it didn't go far. Carefully poking my phone camera around the corner of a caravan enabled me to capture a nice portrait...

No yellow circle needed here. The five pixels of bird are massively obvious up there in the third strip of sunlight

This is the first Hoopoe I've actually found. Although I don't keep a 'self-found' list (for all sorts of reasons that would require a post of their own to explain) I guess it is a bit overdue. There have certainly been enough spring trips to Scilly, and for 14 years now I've lived in a part of the country which gets them quite regularly. However, in view of the amount of birding I have been doing lately it was most certainly not deserved just at the moment!


  1. Gav - something that Barry Matlock once said to me, after an encounter with a Newlands Little Bunting, "You don't find rare birds - they find you!" I've tried to analyse this vibe but keep returning to the fact that because you look, it is going to be you that sees? I've only seen one Kent Hoopoe - so not a self-found individual. I sort of get what Barry was about - it must be because we are actively receptive that we are able to use our senses to detect what others overlook? Spooky stuff? Cracking photo! - Dyl

    1. Dyl, it's a very long time since I last found a decent bird, so I'm hardly a shining example of how it's done! However, I know why I did pretty well with Caspian Gulls on the Axe - they were constantly on my radar and I was always checking the gulls. Conversely, I've found more than my share of Short-toed Larks on Scilly, but have no idea why!
      PS. Glad you appreciate the camera-work!

  2. Its not just BB to Cogden that gets little coverage Gav, the whole of that area is under-watched. The track west from BB Garage alongside the Bride to the sea looks very promising.. I just never have time to get there...

    1. Yet another place locally that I've never set foot. Thanks for the tip, will check it out!

  3. Just go down Southover road and pick up the footpath.... In fact you can walk from Hive car park (footpath behind Billy Braggs & the Seaside Boarding House and then diagonally across the field to the back of the garage where there is a style) do the Southover leg and return along the cliff tops...

    1. Thanks Mike. Funnily enough, as you were typing the directions for me I was already down there sussing it out. In fact I did the exact route you describe from the Hive Beach car park. As you say, very promising...

  4. Fishing rod discarded?

    Excellent find, and so not deserved as you say! Glad it has made the sap rise, so to speak.

    1. I have to say, the occasional undeserved find is most enjoyable! A fine tonic also.
      Oh, there will be more fishing posts. When I catch something...