Friday 21 July 2017

The Patch Birder's Lot

Today was earmarked for seawatching. The forecast has been promising since Wednesday. Strong, gusty southerly, a lot of rain. Great. So I stuck to my plan, was up early, and down at Burton Bradstock by 05:40...

To be fair, 21 July is quite early in the season and, although I am no seawatching expert, if pressed for predictions of likely quality I would have said Balearic Shearwater definitely, a good chance of Cory's and/or Great, but not much else. But again, when I say 'good chance' I don't mean for me. No, because Cory's and Great Shearwaters almost never make it into the bowels of Lyme Bay where I live. Balearics, sure, but not those big 'uns. In 12+ years of fairly regular seawatching from Seaton my tally stands at well over 200 Balearics, but just one 'unidentified large shearwater sp.' So, if not for me, then for whom? Well, for any birder planning to seawatch from Berry Head, at the western end of Lyme Bay. July conditions like those forecast for today would make Cory's or Great, or both, a very realistic prospect there.

To sum up: I know my chances of a large shearwater locally are slim to nil, I know that Berry Head may well get them, and I have taken the day off specifically to go seawatching...

I can hear the obvious question. Why, oh why don't you just go to Berry Head??!!

It's the patch birding thing isn't it. The patch is king. And when, as the morning progresses, you learn that Berry Head seawatchers are so overwhelmed with Cory's and Greats they need clickers to keep count, well, you simply shrug and are glad that there are lots about. Because you are loyally sticking to your patch and taking your medicine, and perhaps one of those beauties might stray as far as Burton Bradstock. Little nuggets of hope come your way via text and Twitter. Dawlish has had a few, both Lyme Regis and Seaton a couple of Cory's each. And Charmouth?! Wow!! A Cory's, 2 Greats, 2 Balearics, 2 Bonxies and a blinkin' Sabine's! But then Charmouth is special, which is why you long ago resolved to ignore it for Patchwork Challenge purposes, remember? And then you hear that even Portland Bill is getting big shears, which is almost unknown. So you try harder. You slog it out even when the rain becomes torrential and visibility non-existent. And at the end of the day you add up the numbers from three separate sessions totalling about five and a half hours, and you get...

9 Common Scoters, 19 Med Gulls, 15 Manxies, 16 Whimbrel, and 2 Sandwich Terns. There were also Gannets of course, but it's a long time since I counted Gannets. Even when I'm desperate.

This is, by all measures, pretty dire.

A single Balearic passed West Bexington in six hours of effort there. I did have a probable (pale) Balearic myself, but too briefly. And that was it.

I own a vehicle and I can drive; there were no constraints on my time. Given today's conditions and potential, it was rather like being led to the door of a banqueting hall and shown the sumptuous offerings within, only to spend all day at a table laden with cream crackers, in the vague hope that someone might accidentally have left a cupcake among them.

It's funny what patch birding makes you do.

Burton Bradstock is half way between West Bay and West Bexington, and a long way from large shearwaters. Berry Head is the pointy bit by Brixham, on the left there, and extremely close to all the quality birds on offer. Anyone is free to drive straight over and fill their boots, and I have no doubt that many did. Not me though, I like cream crackers.


  1. Charmouth does have potential. Shame if it gets lost in the fog...

    1. Steve, when I moved to Seaton and began to get back into birding it immediately struck me how fortunate I was, because the whole coast in this part of Lyme Bay - including Charmouth, as you say - is just rigid with potential. Charmouth's reputation would likely benefit if its decent birds would occasionally stay long enough to be enjoyed by a wider audience. I'm confident that will eventually happen...

  2. You did the right thing, don't let anybody suggest otherwise. From another cream cracker fan.

    1. Yep, it wouldn't have seemed right to do otherwise. Some cake would have been welcome though...