Saturday, 21 March 2020

Context and Communication

A tweet from this afternoon...


I realise there are coastal locations where a passing Eider is no big deal, but the bowels of Lyme Bay is not one of them. Context is everything! Including today I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've seen passing drakes on a seawatch here. Exactly five. The most memorable occasion (21st April, 2007) involved a superb flock of 22 Eider, containing 9 adult males. So the reason for the tweet was more than a virtual air-punch, it was also a heads-up to any Dorset birding Twitter followers who might be in the field that a decent local bird was passing through. However, there was an unexpected response...


The best thing about Richard's message was the fact that the very reason I was out seawatching at all this afternoon was because of his own earlier WhatsApp report of a dozen Manxies past Charmouth, and now I was able to offer a little pay-back by confirming the ID of a bird which had almost slipped through his fingers. Cue warm, fuzzy glow...

I also began the day with a seawatch. I had no expectations really, which was just as well, because the hour or so from 06:30 at East Bexington was not brilliant. It was also flippin' cold. Passing birds were 2 Common Scoter, 83 Common Gulls, 2 Med Gulls, c20 Gannets, a rather distant wader which in mid-April I would definitely have called a Whimbrel, and not much else that I bothered counting or remembering. On the sea were another Scoter and a Red-throated Diver. The East Bex highlights were 2 newly-arrived Wheatears, 2 or 3 phylloscs which were presumably Chiffs, and 3 Blackcaps...

So fresh the paint is barely dry...
Cannot have too many Wheatears.
Male Blackcap catching some rays.

There is often a frenetic urgency to new arrivals on the coast. Those Wheatears were off and away up the fields and inland within minutes of hitting the beach, and the Chiffs too were zipping around madly in the strong wind.

On the drive back I stopped in a lay-by above West Bex for a quick scan, and immediately spotted a Red Kite just below me. It drifted away westwards, and I texted the Bex regulars. They'd already seen it over the village a few minutes earlier. Great.

Next stop: West Bay. I wanted to check out the wet field where I saw the Blackwit and Redshanks on Thursday. Today there was a Dunlin. Nice. While there is still potential I shall keep trying. Strolling back to the car I noticed a bit of gull panic going on and had a scan. Nothing. I walked on. Suddenly a Red Kite sailed over...

Not a great pic. I was a bit slow with the camera and botched my chance...

Naturally I assumed this was the Bex bird from earlier, and watched it continue westwards...and become two!

Such striking birds, and a real joy to watch.

Conscious that these beauties might hug the coast and therefore become available to my birding buddies further west, I sent both a tweet and a message on the Patch WhatsApp group. Much to my delight, these or others were seen by at least four or five birders between West Bay and Seaton. Once again, communication proves its worth.

And context? Well, a couple of weeks back I had to visit Aylesbury, the county town of Buckinghamshire. The place is crawling with Red Kites! I spent half my time there peering at the sky. At one point a flock of 15, plus a Buzzard, were circling above a small cluster of houses! I suppose you get used to Red Kites at roof-top level eventually, but for a birder who's lived in the southwest for 17 years it was simply amazing. Which is why news of  the West Bay birds was broadcast, and why its recipients kept an eager eye out. Down here, Red Kite is still a nice prize.

Which takes me back to the beginning, where Richard's WhatsApp message had got me out hoping to see my first Manxies of the year. In the end I didn't. But I did see bird-of-the-day drake Eider, plus 13 Common Scoters, 3 Shovelers, 2 definite Grey Plovers and 3 rather distant probables.

Today I was pretty jammy, bumping into the Red Kites like that, but I was able to share my jam with others. And because Richard generously alerted us all to a small afternoon movement of Manx Shearwaters, I also jammed a cracking drake Eider! Grey Plover is quite a decent local bird too.

Context.

Communication.

Two factors with which to enhance your solo, socially-distanced birding exploits...

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