Saturday 16 November 2019

Just a Walk...

A long walk is my therapy. Cycling can do the trick also, but rarely ends with a Starling roost, which was this afternoon's plan. I parked at Hive Beach in Burton Bradstock, and walked to the West Bexington Mere and back. Slowly. This was to be an easy plod, involving regular lifting of bins and pointing of camera. And it worked a treat. I am now s-o-o-o chi-i-i-i-i-lled...

There was evidently a fishing match in progress, with many anglers at Cogden, and in the distance, all the way from the West Bex Mere to the Abbotsbury tank teeth and beyond...

Looking down from the high ground at Cogden. That's the West Bex Mere just visible on the left, with the car park just beyond, and the Swannery end of the Fleet top left.

One of my intentions this afternoon was to try out the camera on very distant birds that were a struggle to identify with just binoculars. My hope was that it will partially compensate for leaving the scope at home on some outings. And I think it will. Here's an example...

Corn Bunting. A pretty appalling photo, I know, but through bins it was a 'possible' or, at a stretch, 'probable.' No way would I have called it 100% without the camera though.

This is only my second coastal Corn Bunting locally, after a May bird in almost the same place. Definitely a highlight of this afternoon's walk. Another highlight was a little group of 4 Ringed Plovers on the beach. Before they were flushed by a couple and their dog, I managed a handful of photos...

Ringed Plover, Cogden Beach. This is my favourite shot. Context. Atmosphere. Weird 3D-ness.

Offshore were a few divers. A couple were very much at the threshold of binocular identification, so again I used the opportunity to try out the camera on them. None of the shots are really worth posting on here alone, so I've made a little collage of them for educational purposes.

Quiz question: Without checking the caption first, how many are Black-throated, how many are Red-throated?

Yes, trick question. Sorry. Correct answer: they are all Red-throated Divers. But isn't it interesting how variable they are, depending on their age, plumage state, posture, the light, etc? Black-throated Diver is very scarce along this coast, but some Red-throats are definitely a trap for the unwary. Incidentally, the bottom two photos show the same pair of birds; the top three are all different.

The West Bexington Mere was a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping for lots of gulls, but not many were present. Some of them were Med Gulls though, which was nice. After the seething mass of gulls that was around a few weeks ago, things are back to normal now, and Med Gulls are going up in value again. I'm glad.

I had another look at the anglers...

Actually, I took this photo ages before I got to the West Bex Mere. That yellow bivvy is level with it. Look at them all!

I got back to Cogden in plenty of time for the Starling roost in the reedbed there. While waiting it was nice to be entertained by Water Rails squealing and Cetti's Warblers bellowing. The Starling thing is wonderful. They arrive in flocks of various sizes - maybe 30 birds or a thousand - and quickly coalesce into a wheeling, swirling mass that wafts around the sky, initially quite wide-ranging, then increasingly focused. Finally, like feathered water funneling down an aerial plug-hole, they plunge into the reeds. If you are close enough it is quite noisy, the whoosh of their wings and constant squawking cackle a real treat. Involuntary smiling is par for the course I think.

I had a stab at counting. To do this I licked a finger, stuck it in the air and thought of a number. Twenty thousand plus is what I came up with. Photographs simply do not do justice to the spectacle. Even so, here is one...

Cogden Starling roost. Many of them are out of shot to the left.

I shall definitely go again. I noticed at least a dozen or so other spectators scattered around. I'm not surprised. I highly recommend it.

Before it all started, I found a lone Starling...

"Come back later pal, my mates are coming over"


  1. What camera did you go for Gavin. Nikon or Canon? My money is on the Nikon!

    1. I reckon you'll be getting slim odds on that! Yes, the Nikon users swayed me :-)

  2. Nice pics, and an interesting observation about Red Throated Divers. My sea bird knowledge is sketchy at best so that made my head spin a bit.

    Starling murmurations are one of the best wildlife events you can witness. If you haven't made it to Shapwick reserve on Sedgemoor for an evening then give it a go.

    1. Thanks Dave. Divers are not always easy, that's for sure. And loads of other birds too, come to think of it! That challenge is part of what makes birding interesting I think. To me anyway.

      I've seen a pretty impressive murmuration many years ago (near Poole Harbour I think?) but not yet been to the Shapwick roost. I think that one is in a different league! One day...