Thursday, 1 March 2018

Hard Weather

Some of the most spectacular birding I have ever enjoyed has been a consequence of very cold weather. For example, the events of 18 December 2010, recounted in this post. Skylarks that time; at others it has been winter thrushes, Snipe, Lapwings etc, basically whatever species were induced by the cold to move. Today it was Lapwings and Golden Plover...

Despite the recent freeze, locally we were still in a snow-free pocket this morning. So I got up early and ventured to Burton Bradstock to look at the sea for a bit. My theory was that assorted wildfowl might be frozen off their usual freshwater haunts and come piling along the coast in vast and interesting flocks. For at least the first hour of daylight my theory was proved wholly incorrect, so I went home for some breakfast.

While out for a walk around 09:30 I noticed a few straggly groups of Lapwings passing over. Tweets from further W suggested this might be part of a larger movement, so at 10:15 I was back at Burton Bradstock and soon heading along the coast path towards Cogden. En route in the van I'd noted Lapwings and Golden Plovers grounded on the roadside fields W of Burton, and it was quickly evident why. Flocks of both were streaming by, sometimes 40 or 50-strong. It was hopeless trying to count them; birds were passing left and right of me as I progressed, some well inland and some coming in off the sea, having been forced offshore by the relentless, freezing wind. Mostly they were staying quite low too, sometimes appearing in front of me suddenly, and gone just as rapidly.

It was spectacular, but at the same time pitiful. I knew they were heading for weather at least as bad as that which they were trying to escape. Scattered among the plovers were scores of Fieldfares and Redwings, up to maybe 15 at a time, along with a few Meadow Pipits and a single Snipe. By the time I got back to Burton at around 12:15 I estimated 2000+ Golden Plovers and many more (6000+??) Lapwings had gone past in two hours. If someone told me it was double that I wouldn't be surprised. And still they came, though in much-reduced numbers now.

I did get my wildfowl in the end: a little flock of something like 11 Wigeon and 3 Teal E offshore, and a handful of Shoveler plus a couple more Teal trying to find some wobbly water among the reeds of the Burton Mere. Unbeknown to me, the West Bexington Mere briefly played host to a couple of drake Garganey, which would have been a terrific test of my adrenal system had they flown past Cogden!

Golden Plovers heading west. My camera (and photo-skills) no match for the situation...
Beside the coast path at the caravan park E of Burton.

These were the most unpleasant birding conditions I have experienced in many years; the wind was especially vicious. Despite gloves I can honestly say my fingers were numb within 20 minutes, and never recovered. Consequently it was very difficult trying to photograph anything. There was also some mild frustration when I couldn't clinch what looked like a 'small grebe sp' that was too distant for bins. Nevertheless, great birding. But at what cost to the weather-driven travellers...?

Although I haven't posted for a while, I have been checking the Axe Estuary gulls whenever I can, but with little reward. The best I can offer is two adult Med Gulls that were close enough together to just about squeeze in to the same photo...

I never tire of these beautiful gulls. Always a pleasure...

Finally, fishing news...

On Monday Rob and I finally got out on the River Frome at Wool to try for grayling together. Our original plan had been to do this in December, but illness, work and awful river conditions have conspired against us. The stretch concerned closes to coarse fishing on 28 February, so we had just a few days available still, and plumped for Monday. Virtually overnight the temperature plummeted and we knew we were in for a bitterly cold, windy day as the so-called 'Beast from the East'* arrived. I managed three sessions in December and caught at least a few grayling each time, up to 1lb 4oz, so had earmarked three 'banker' swims for Rob to try in order to catch his first grayling. Predictably, in the conditions, not a single bite from any of them.

So we moved downstream a bit, to a stretch I hadn't fished before, and put a brave face on it...

Very cold. I am wearing six layers, and wishing it were more.

Eventually, it happened...

Rob's first grayling. At 1lb 9oz it is also bigger than any I've ever caught!

And that was it. No more grayling for either of us...

We've got a little friendly competition going again this year. Similar to last year in that the biggest of each species that we catch earns a pint, except this year we are limiting it to 'specimen'-sized fish only, so no minnows or tiddlers. Prior to Monday's outing we agreed that to qualify as a specimen a grayling would need to weigh 1lb 8oz or more. Typical. Rob is also winning on pike, with his 23lb 1oz lump. Technically the jammy so-and-so has actually had three twenties this year, as he caught the 23-pounder twice! Clearly, I taught him well...

* 'Beast from the East' = journalistically hyperbolised cold snap originating in Russia.


  1. These events while spectacular Gav are desperate. Doesn't stop us looking though, does it...

    1. No, it doesn't Steve. I find birding in such conditions highly compelling, but at the same time can't help feeling a bit voyeuristic in the face of such evident distress. I recall seeing small flocks of weather-driven Redwings in Seaton throwing their usual caution to the wind as they scrabbled in roadside leaf-litter just feet from my open car window, and feeling guilty that I could get so close to them. Ditto Woodlarks in the snow. Exciting, but...

  2. Lovely Grayling for Rob there Gav. Bigger than any I've ever seen, let alone caught. Well done that man. And congrats on being keen enough to endure the icy blast.

    Birds in the freeze. I'm getting up to 20 Blackbirds at once in the back garden, along with Song Thrush, Redwing and now Fieldfare.

    I throw the food out and an army arrives. Well after I've vacated the garden that is. Apart from one Blackbird which is tame. It's strange to go outside and have every other bird fly away from me and one bird fly towards me.

    The others must think there's something wrong with it. Until they notice it's getting a personal handful of sultanas. Yep, a wrong un!

    1. Just found your comment in the spam folder Ric. Not sure why, but it sometimes does that instead of automatically publishing as per default setting...

      Our neighbour has a big shrub which still had some berries. Today it was bursting with Fieldfares and the odd Redwing. No berries now!

  3. For the same reason I've never twitched a bird that I've known was ill... no fun in watching a bird that is in distress or moribund.

    1. Cheers Mike. The bird-in-a-box scenario has never appealed to me, but I suppose that's just one end of the scale. Nearctic cuckoos, for example, almost invariably seem to peg it, but is seeing a bird the day before it becomes obviously moribund really much different? Personally I feel a lot of what we might call birding ethics don't bear close examination. Maybe a topic for a post one day...

  4. Thought I posted a comment, I'm beginning to wonder, is it me?

    1. Yep, you had Ric, but for some reason it went to the spam folder. Not the first time it's happened, so I do check it occasionally now.

  5. On occasions Gav, the spam folder or waste bin are where my rambling comments deserved to be dumped. I come out with some right old rubbish at times.

    1. Ha ha! Just found this one in there too! :)