Wednesday, 15 May 2019

More Seawatching Stuff

Since moving to Bridport I've discovered that spring seawatching locally can be quite productive when the wind has a a bit of S and E in it, with a good chance of skuas. I've made a bit more effort this year than last, and this morning was on the beach at Burton Bradstock by 05:30. The conditions were far from ideal, with a light NE wind. Even so, two skuas went through at 06:00: a probable Arctic and a definite Pom. But apart from that bit of quality it was pretty slow, and I ended up with just 2 Common Scoter, 4 Sanderling, 1 Dunlin, 2 Ringed Plover, 2 Sandwich Terns, a Kittiwake and a Med Gull spicing up the trickle of Gannets and auks. There was one little curiosity though. Right on the horizon I picked up a flock of six white things flapping along together. Initially of course, I thought they'd be Gannets, but it soon became obvious they were actually egrets. They were absolutely miles out, and I couldn't do anything with them except punt out a Tweet, hoping that someone further along the coast might be able to ID them. They did seem to be getting gradually closer to land...

Anyway, I've heard nothing so far.

That was my second definite Pom in a handful of efforts this spring, and I've also seen 3 Arctics, 3 Bonxies and something like 4 which I couldn't clinch, but were most likely Arctics also. Then there was the terrific flock of 9 Garganey, and an evening seawatch on May 7 produced this little gem...

1st-summer Little Gull. I had to run along the beach to get this photo, filling my shoes with microscopic shingle and making my lungs hurt.

If conditions allow, I like to sit right on the beach. Or to be more accurate, actually on a rock on the beach. The spot commands a wide panorama, and is just what I like. However, there is no shelter from the wind, so if it is strong - or full of rain - I have to adapt accordingly...

The ideal view. This photo was taken in the evening and, as you can see, the light isn't too clever. The morning light can be superb though, with any sun coming from behind and to the left. As [almost] everything flies from right to left when there's E in the wind, it's all rather pleasant...

The less-than-ideal view. Confined to the van by the strong wind. Yes, the light is brilliant, but pick up anything a bit late and it's very quickly disappearing behind the windscreen pillar! Especially if it's close and moving fast. Like a flock of Garganey, say... Also, really close stuff on the water-line can sneak past undetected. Bad.

I tried this spot during a strong westerly just recently. Quite good shelter, and not a bad outlook to be fair, but I wouldn't want to sit there in heavy rain. In a westerly I'd expect most birds to be flying left to right, and they'll quickly be out of sight behind that wall. In the event there were hardly any birds at all, and I don't think I'll be bothering much with spring westerlies again.

A couple of years back I used this ruse to watch from the van in a strong SW, I think it was, when a few spring Storm Petrels put in an appearance. A SW wind is basically straight onshore. It wasn't much fun.

Seawatching from Burton Bradstock is not brilliant, but it's also not bad - certainly compared to what I'm used to along the coast at Seaton. Although I enjoy seawatching, I've rarely made a special effort to go to one of the national hotspots. As a birder I'm probably too patch-oriented to be bothered I guess. The first time I went to Pendeen, as the dawn broke and the birds began to stream past, I was completely overwhelmed. Good birds were being called left and right and I wasn't getting on any of them! I got my eye in eventually, but Lyme Bay seawatching had certainly not prepared me for the occasion. Here you can see a bird, write it down, consume a mug of coffee and two gingernuts, and be confident that the next bird is still some way off. Proper relaxed...


  1. Gav, I think I might just use a bivvy suitably adapted for the scope. We both know those things stand up in a gale.
    Probably leave the bedchair and stove behind mind.

    1. And realistically I think that would work in the right conditions, Ric. You'd get some funny looks though!

  2. Perhaps Gav. But even with my limited experience, I felt that sea watching results were directly linked to the level you can endure the conditions that bring the birds in.

    Maybe a well placed fishing brolly instead. Now that would be pioneering contribution to the world of sea watching.