Tuesday, 30 June 2020

The Elephant in the Room

Like most human pursuits, birding has the potential in some of us to trigger a level of obsessive behaviour which overrides real-life responsibilities. The neglected family, reckless spending, illicit sickies and so on, all bear testimony to that fact. My own record in this regard is dismal. One minor example. Thirty-three years ago, another London birder and I twitched a pair of Slender-billed Gulls in North Norfolk. We went in his car, a pretty rapid Vauxhall Cavalier SRi. We met at Hanger Lane in NW London, and made it to the Cley beach car park in under two hours, arriving just after first light. If you know the roads, you will appreciate how hazardous a night-time drive it was at that speed. It was truly scary. It was also utterly stupid and irresponsible.

One makes excuses of course, but when you strip away the rationalising, all this kind of behaviour boils down to selfishness, pure and simple. Occasionally you see it taken to another level, like when English birders twitch a vagrant tern in the Republic of Ireland, circumventing the nation's 14-day Covid-19 quarantine policy in the process. Again, take away the ifs, buts and feeble justifications, and what are you left with?

I rarely visit BirdForum these days, but made an exception for the Irish tern and read the whole thread. One contributor, Jonathan Dean, wrote this...


The strength of feeling evident here is palpable. The birding ethos against which he rails was embraced and promoted by my generation, decades ago, and it seemed okay back then. But in the sober light of my later years and a very different world, it doesn't look okay at all. And I agree with him: it belongs to a bygone era.

Jonathan Dean is the age of my sons. Birders of his generation, and their children, will formulate their own ethos. Amongst other things, I doubt it'll include burning vast amounts of fossil fuel for a tick on a list. Birders of my generation, meanwhile, have a choice. Continue as before in dinosaur mode, or listen to the younger voices, think about what's happening to the planet, and change.

In 2018 British Birds magazine published a 'BB eye' piece entitled Are we addicted to high-carbon ornithology? by Javier Caletrío. It was referenced in a more recent 'BB eye' written by former RSPB CEO Mike Clarke: The changing nature of bird conservation - some reflections. Both articles are a thought-provoking read. Javier goes by the Twitter handle @BirdingClimate and his page has the tagline: 'Talking about climate and equity in the world of high-carbon ornithology'. That's all, just 'talking about...' Currently he has a paltry 899 followers. In two years. Is this because so few wish to engage in that conversation? Possibly. I don't know. But I do know that until recently, I didn't.

What's changed?? Good question. I'm not sure really, but the stupid Irish tern episode certainly figured. And there are other factors which aren't really for this blog. Anyway, I'm not quite sure where I go from here, but as regards the low-carbon birding elephant in the room, I'm happy to talk about it at least...

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Plan A

This evening I headed over to Burton Bradstock for a couple of hours. The first 30 minutes I gave to the sea. In return it gave me three or four Gannets and a couple of Fulmars. It therefore owes me.

Next, I had a good poke around for a satisfactory seawatching-in-a-south-westerly spot. This has always been an issue at BB, but I might possibly have found somewhere at last. Admittedly the wind tonight was probably more WSW than SW, so I may have been fooled, but we'll see...

Following that, I went for a walk out over the back of Burton cliffs, and down to the Freshwater Beach Holiday Park. This whole area has slowly grown on me. Some of it reminds me of Beer Head, with a lot of open fields and scattered scrub. Most of the latter hangs off the inland side of the cliffs, where they slope down to a little tree-lined stream. Whenever I visit this area I cannot help see potential everywhere. There are lovely stone walls, plenty of fences, the scrubby bushes and stream I mentioned. In addition there is currently a vast, open area of short grass where the tents and camper vans would normally live. That will change eventually, but right now it looks brilliant.

I have birded here a bit, but never given it the attention it deserves. It provided my only Grasshopper Warbler of the spring, and many Wheatears, plus a Spotted Flycatcher two days ago. A few autumn efforts have produced Whinchats, Yellow Wags and a Pied Fly. So this year I think I'll try and make a bit of a campaign of it. It's probably my closest bit of sexy coast to home, but if boredom sets in I've always got the option of dropping in to Cogden, or East and West Bexington for a change of scenery.

A few photos from this evening to give some idea of what we're talking about...

Walking east. The left hand skyline is the top of vertical cliffs. Holiday Park static vans in the distance.
Looking back west from the same spot. Burton beach is in the dip beyond the white buildings.
The inland scrub. Cliffs are beyond skyline.
Looking west again. Trees on extreme left follow the stream.

There is plenty of cover, but unlike some areas along the coast here it doesn't feel overwhelming, like you're only ever going to see about 0.2% of the birds present! I've noticed in the past that you quickly know if there is much about, and if something really good has dropped in, I like to think there's a good chance I'll see it. That's another reason the place reminds me of Beer Head, which to me has a similar vibe.

Anyway, that's plan A. Watch this space...

Parking at Burton beach means there is a seawatching option, plus the beach itself, where you might see one or more of these...

Stonking adult Med Gull this evening
NOT-stonking first summer Med!

Right, that's it then. The nocmig kit is rigged for action, all fired up and listening carefully. In the last four nights I've had three Common Sandpipers and an Oystercatcher. The 'autumn' wader passage has begun. Bring it on!

I'll close with last night's Common Sand...

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

The Rough and the Smooth

Most of the time I have little trouble writing NQS posts, but right now there are a couple of draft efforts on my laptop, unfinished. It's no problem to write about going birding, seeing birds, stuff like that. But there are other things.

In this cosy corner of West Dorset it is not difficult to stick your head in the sand and ignore those other things. This blog normally does. One example. A few months ago I wrote a post about twitching, which basically concluded that it's just a bit of harmless fun. Yet we have right now the unedifying spectacle of English twitchers reportedly flouting Irish lockdown rules in order to tick Cayenne Tern. Not to mention the planet burning. Low carbon birding? That's the first time I've typed those three words together. Because I've avoided it. Another example. Living where I do, it's dead easy for me to champion the local patch approach. Because I have never been mugged, threatened with a knife, had my phone smashed to prevent me calling the police, or had my optics damaged or nicked while out birding. Those things have all happened, and probably worse that I've not heard about. When your local patch offers that possibility, is it any wonder you'd rather travel elsewhere?

Anyway, this post isn't going to tackle any of that, but maybe I just need to get my head out of the sand once in a while.

Quite probably the reason for the less-than-cheery preamble is yesterday's visit to East Bexington. The plan was a short evening walk with Sandra, hopefully to see some hares. You park at Abbotsbury Beach and head west...

On arrival, around 8pm, the car park was heaving. That was unexpected. A few tents were pitched too. Up on the beach it was like a mini festival, with tents everywhere, many in little clusters. Perhaps it normally gets like this in good weather, even midweek, but it's certainly a first for me. Due to Covid-19 the beach toilets are closed. So what are hundreds of people, all eating and drinking, going to do?

As you walk west, towards relatively deserted beach and lonely fields, you pass a couple of big tamarisk clumps. Just a glance - and your nostrils - tell you everything. It is foul.

Abbotsbury Beach from about half a mile away. Several hundred people in that shot.


Many years ago on the Isle of Lewis, I remember meeting a couple who had moved there to get away from people. Even my mild intrusion into their lives was not very welcome. I totally get it.


Right, that's enough unpleasant reality for the moment. We did see some hares, but none close. We also saw a couple of Corn Buntings. I would guess they were a pair. One was perched on an umbellifer, the other on a fence wire, and they were calling to one another. So I got my recorder out and switched it on. Since the H4n Pro has become part of my kit I have found a few opportunities to make use of it, and really enjoyed doing so. A nice sound recording provides exactly the same pleasure as a decent photo. I think I am gradually working towards having the device rigged so that it is actively recording the whole time I am in the field. We'll see...

This Corn Bunting had no problem vocalising through that mouthful of cricket

Later that evening I ventured east of Bridport, on to some high farmland around Eggardon Hill, West Compton and Compton Valence. I was on a Quail quest. Many stops, much listening. Quail fail, sadly. But before it got too dark there were some nice consolation prizes: several roe deer, a badger, and great views of a Barn Owl, a bird I see all too rarely.

If I can get my aged carcass to respond tomorrow morning, there will be an early jaunt, well away from my fellow man, many of whom I don't much like right now...

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Making Do

Much to my disappointment I haven't found any rare birds in the last couple of outings, and have had to make do with a rich variety of common muck. Life is sometimes so hard...

I'm a sucker for a posing Stonechat

One local spot I've been trying to visit fairly regularly, there are lovely grassy meadows running back from the cliffs, and they are heaving with Meadow Browns. On Tuesday evening I inadvertantly flushed a few Woodpigeons in one field, and they in turn sparked an eruption of butterflies. I wanted somehow to convey this lepidopteral abundance in an image, so had a go at photographing through the grass, against the light, so that the butterflies show up as silhouettes. Unfortunately it doesn't do justice to the real thing. As usual...
Burton Bradstock. Meadow Browns in long grass. There were thousands of them.

Whitethroat on a stick at West Bexington yesterday afternoon.

Adult Herring Gull with incipient Dross, West Bexington again.

Male Linnet giving it some welly, East Bexington


I've enjoyed taking advantage of photo-opportunities whenever they arise, even with common birds. It's been good practice, just getting used to whipping the camera out and firing it up, and will hopefully stand me in good stead when future goodies pop up in front of me. Which I'm sure they will...

A couple of pics to illustrate some of the habitat I am saddled with locally. Quite honestly I don't know how I manage to endure it...

A view of West Bexington that I'd never seen before. Looking down on the village from the South Dorset Ridgeway.

East Bexington, looking towards Portland. The anglers are concentrated in front of Abbotsbury Beach car park.


One feature that both East and West Bexington have in common is a decent number of fences. Fence wire and fence posts are well-known rarity magnets. It will happen. I know it will.

Finally, a couple of spectrovids to sign off. The first is a short recording of a West Bexington Lesser Whitethroat rattling away in yesterday afternoon's sunshine. As I sit here with the rain lashing down outside, it conveys a nice feel of summery weather. The second recording is an absolutely amazing bit of Barn Owl from Tuesday night's nocmig. The Barn Owl utterence that I am used to is a single shriek, one second long. Occasionally there'll be another faint one, distantly, some time later, but generally not. Here we have an astonishing 24 audible shrieks in just over two minutes, and goodness knows how close it must have come! Enjoy...


Monday, 15 June 2020

Sound Thinking

On the morning of April 14th I sat down to analyse my first nocmig recording, using the amazing Audacity. My night's tally? One cat. It was not an auspicious beginning. Yet here we are, two months on, and wow! A Stone-curlew in the early hours of April 22nd was the final nail in the coffin of any reservations I might have had as to the wisdom of getting involved in this nocmig nonsense. Also Nightjar, twice. In the early days I would save every single interesting bird, and mostly still do. However, my collection of Barn Owl calls was growing so rapidly that I only keep exceptionally good ones now. Things are very slow at the moment though, and the list of what I have saved since the end of May is rather short. Four Moorhens, two nights of probable Little Egret, and...er...oh yes, Night Heron! Also these two...

First, a terrific Water Rail. I've recorded the species twice before, but just the short call each time. This example is a lot more colourful. Listening to it, I try and visualise the bird wafting around overhead somewhere in the dark, doing this...



And last night a Common Sandpiper flew over and called twice. In reality the calls were 26 seconds apart, so I've truncated things. What is a Common Sand doing down here so late? Or is it so early? Does this bird signal the tail end of spring, or the start of autumn?



And finally, a Barn Owl compilation, just because. All these were recorded just before 01:00 on June 9th. The usual Barn Owl shriek lasts about one second, and is just that - a fuzzy, white-noise shriek, like the first example in this lot. At least two birds are involved in this medley, and they are putting on a bit more of a show than usual...



Some nights I get nothing worth clipping and saving, but it doesn't put me off. I find the whole enterprise absolutely fascinating. A few blank nights won't make me give up. Basically, I'm hooked.


Today is June 15th. Heading out early this morning I expected nothing, and was not disappointed. That said, there's usually something to make an outing worthwhile. Today it was an Acrocephalus warbler. Not a scarce one, but an unusually showy one. A stream runs in to the sea at Freshwater Beach, and its lower reaches are thinly lined with reeds, in which you can often hear one or two Reed Warblers. Just after 06:00 this morning I actually saw one...

The very first rays of morning sun. There's still dew on the reeds.




Because of the recent Beer Head Blyth's Reed Warbler I now have a little folder of ID stuff tucked away in a recently dusted part of my brain, and could right now pull it out and tell you exactly why these photos depict a Reed Warbler, not a Marsh or Blyth's Reed. Not long ago, I couldn't. Sobering.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Plodding On...

A Friday evening Rosy Starling walk was in fact just a walk, but pleasant for all that. Although I was passed by hundreds of Starlings heading for Cogden en route, by the time I arrived they were nowhere to be seen. Either they dropped into the reeds early, or went elsewhere. The Red-backed Shrike is going to be a hard act to follow, and nothing has yet tried. Some pics...

Backlit juv Linnet. Quite neat little things.

Roe Deer in the evening sunshine. Birds of the day really.


This afternoon I did the long plod from Abbotsbury Beach car park to beyond West Bex village. It's a nice route, with miles and miles of shrikey hedges and lots of other lovely habbo. Despite the mid-June vibe to it all, there was plenty to look at. Highlight for me was a female Marsh Harrier at West Bex. Just a 4-second view as it went past a gap in trees, but it's the first I've seen this year. Also good to see was a distant family party of Lesser Whitethroats. So distant in fact - right across the far side of a field - that I confirmed the ID with my camera! Some more pics...

Marbled White. Quite a few on the wing now.

Lovely to see a summer-plumaged Great Crested Grebe on the sea.

At least 10 Med Gulls along the beach. Mostly youngsters.

Common Tern. Many flight shot attempts. Many failures.

One of two territorial Corn Buntings at East Bex

Pair of Stock Doves. Male on the left, with look of lust. Unrequited, as it turned out.

Freshly-minted Stonechat in the evening sun.


There are still a fair few scarce birds turning up around the country, and I haven't given up hope of another June corker, but in reality it feels like we are now on the turn towards autumn. For birders, that's July I guess. Am I right in thinking that many species have had a pretty good breeding season so far? If so I look forward to a nice flood of migrants coming through in the next few months.

I hope Ortolans have done well...

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Early June...

Something went seriously awry with the first few days of June, with loads of good birds accidentally thinking it was still May. Things seem to have quietened down a bit now though, so here's a quick catch-up post...

Pyramidal Orchid

I took that photo on June 2nd. I know very little about plants, but of the several Pyramidal Orchids I've come across, this is by far the biggest in terms of flower size. I've even had a quick look online to see if maybe I've just been seeing exceptionally tiny ones, but no, most of them seem to be a lot smaller than this. I found it again yesterday afternoon...

It's a whopper!
In situ. Most Pyramidal Orchids I see are like the one behind.

Perhaps any botanisers who read this might be kind enough to tell me if I'm getting excited over nothing, but in the meantime... Wow! What a monster!

Also yesterday, my first Marbled Whites of 2020, and an evil fly...

Marbled White. I was pleased that it landed on a white flower. Subtle beauty.

Female Horsefly sp.

This beast of a horsefly looked like a giant cleg, which are one of the things I like least about summer. For some reason the poxy things love me, and a bite from one usually feels like being stabbed with a needle. I dread to think what a bite from this horror would feel like. A Twitter ID request came back with Tabanus Bovinus, or Pale Giant Horsefly. Obviously I know no better.

And while I'm still on non-birdy stuff...

Marsh Frog, West Bexington

And so to birds. Apart from jaw-dropping moments of the shrikey kind, birding has mostly been very slow and predictable. So much so that I found myself slightly excited when a nice Tufted Duck photo-opportunity arose at West Bexington...

You can tell I don't see that many Tufties.

One recent highlight was discovering that at least two Corn Buntings appear to be on territory at East Bexington. I have no idea if this is a regular thing, but as a birder who spent many years in Corn Bunting-starved East Devon, it has pleased me very much...

Corn Bunting, East Bexington

Yesterday I once again learned the value of taking my recorder out with me. I came across a Cetti's Warbler calling from a dense thicket, including the excellent 'machine-gun' rattle. So I spent a few minutes alongside the scrub, recorder in hand. It actually sounded like two or more birds, and I wondered if it was a family party. When I got home I discovered something I hadn't heard at all in the field - loads and loads of high-pitched notes among the usual calls. A bit of research soon told me that these were begging calls, so yes indeed, it was definitely a family party. Without the sonogram I would never have known. Here is a spectrovid of 22 seconds-worth, with some of the high-pitched begging calls included. A good test of your hearing - some notes on the recording were simply too high for my ears to detect! Those presented on this spectrovid I can just about hear...



And to close, a photo taken on Monday evening from Freshwater Beach, between West Bay and Burton Bradstock, looking west...

Moody...

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Always Look at Linnets

A couple of posts back I mentioned how a little prompt from Ian M had encouraged me to check whether there was currently a Starling roost at the Cogden reedbed. And there was. Though it contained no pink ones on Saturday, I resolved to visit again soon. Which brings us to last night...

I tend not to park at Cogden, but further west. Given the time, this allows me to check a few spots which almost certainly don't get birded much, if at all. The best they've given me so far this spring is a good number of Wheatears and a Grasshopper Warbler, but the area definitely holds promise. Anyway, yesterday evening I was delighted to come across another, rather late, Wheatear, a nice male...

Just lovely. As always, it's hard to beat a male Wheatear. But not impossible...

Heading over to Cogden I knew I would have a bit of spare time before the Starlings plonked into the reeds, so I dawdled along, enjoying the gentle evening warmth, the easy 'whoosh' of surf on shingle, and a nice foxy encounter...

Think I've been sussed.


At regular intervals I was passed by small groups of Starlings heading in the same direction. Of course I checked them all, and of course they were all un-pink. But I didn't really care. I was in one of those very pleasant moods where you take what you get and are happy with it. In all honesty I was so chuffed with the surprise Wheatear that I wasn't expecting anything else anyway.

Along pretty much all of this coastal strip you will meet Linnets. They are probably the default 'small bird'. Even so, whenever I see them - and despite my naked eye telling me that it's another Linnet, or another two Linnets, or another flock of Linnets - I almost always raise my bins and have a proper look. I reason that lots of other, far more exciting, small birds are Linnet-sized, and I ought to just check and be sure. I would hate to overlook a Serin or Twite or Trumpeter Finch. One Linnet a few springs back became a male Redstart. In my defense, it was quite far away! Anyway, it was almost 21:00 now, so having finally arrived at Cogden I started along the coast path towards the reedbed. Ooh, what's this? Three probable Linnets on top of a bush. I raised my bins...

Yep, Linnets. All three. However, just as this confirmatory thought was registering in my brain, so also was the fact that another, previously unnoticed bird was in my field of view, perched quietly on the left hand side of the same bush, right above the coast path. And flippin' heck, it was a male Red-backed Shrike! I mentally pinched myself and double-checked, and then reached for the camera. At that same moment it flicked off the bush and away from me, then veered right and out of view. Rather than chase it I phoned Mike and Alan, the Bex and Cogden patch birders, and then found some higher ground to my left. I guessed it hadn't gone far, and was almost certainly somewhere in the extensive brambles flanking the path beyond the bush.

I spent a good ten minutes or more scanning carefully. Absolutely no sign. It had to be in there, surely? The only other option was to head out onto the beach and view from the other side. So I did, and was immensely relieved to finally spot it again, quite distant, perched up in the brambles. Now for the camera...

Oof! What an absolute cracker!

It was now about 21:15. The light was rubbish, so I daren't zoom to more than 1200mm because the combination of slow shutter speed and long range would almost certainly have killed any chance of getting something half-decent. I took three photos...and then remembered the video function...



That's it, just 31 seconds. Then it dropped out of sight and was not seen again. Mike and Alan arrived, and we had a little search, but no joy. Same this morning. No sign. That shrike was this close to not getting seen by anyone at all.

A bit of context. The last male Red-backed Shrike I remember seeing was at Santon Downham in the Brecks, when they still bred there! That'll be the mid-'80s. In Dorset it is a very scarce bird. I've just received the 2018 Dorset Bird Report. Two records.

It was a fair old walk back to the car, and was getting quite dark by the time I made it. Being on cloud nine, I barely noticed.

I am so glad I look at Linnets...

Monday, 8 June 2020

Tricky IDs - Making the Effort

When it comes to bird identification I am sometimes dismayed at my own ignorance. Mostly I get by just fine, but occasionally a bird comes along which shines a glaring light on a gap in my knowledge. One such bird was the Blyth's Reed Warbler that turned up at Beer Head on 31st May.

Listening to it sing that afternoon, I knew opinion was divided. Some thought the song fitted Blyth's Reed, some thought Marsh Warbler. Steve Waite's account here nicely outlines the debate. From my own experience I couldn't contribute much - a few anciently historic Marsh Warblers, but no Blyth's at all. And anyway, when it comes to song, everything is so subjective; people hear different things. No, the only way this bird was going to be unequivocally nailed was through very good views, and preferably photos.

Which was where my ignorance caught me out...

By the evening, when it was absolutely clear that an identification on song alone was going to be controversial at best, I realised the onus was on the few of us remaining to clinch it from whatever views the bird would give us. So, given the chance, we needed to look for its diagnostic suite of features. And what were those features? Er...

All I could recall was that Marsh Warbler had a longer primary projection, and that the tips of those primaries should be neatly edged whitish. And that was it. How much longer? I didn't know. Could the primaries on Blyth's have neat pale tips too? I didn't know. I didn't know anything! Why hadn't I genned up on it before heading over? Slack!

Anyway, it all came good in the end, and the photos were sufficiently detailed to clinch the ID. But it was a bit of a lesson. I was fortunate to get quite a decent shot of the bird's wing, and the seemingly short primary projection and lack of pale tips appeared to indicate Blyth's, but was that sufficient? I didn't know. One birder on the local WhatsApp group helpfully sent me comparison shots of Marsh and Blyth's Reed, another sent me a screenshot from Nils van Duivendijk's 'Advanced Bird ID Handbook' - the whole page (that's a lot of text!) which deals with Blyth's Reed and its separation from Marsh and Eurasian Reed Warblers. Let me tell you, trying to analyse all this stuff on the screen of your phone, in the bright sunshine of a late spring evening, while at the same time trying not to miss another photo opportunity, is impossible! I do not wish to repeat that frustrating experience, and the purpose of this post is to make sure it never happens. The process of putting all this together and writing it down is hopefully going to etch it all indelibly upon a part of my brain that will automatically clank into action should the need ever again arise...

So here is a bit of photo analysis, highlighting some (not all) of the [collectively] diagnostic features which make the Beer Head bird a Blyth's Reed Warbler, rather than Marsh...

And to begin, here are two photos taken at Portland Bird Observatory just three days ago, when a Blyth's Reed was fortuitously trapped and ringed there. Posted here by kind permission of Martin Cade, they illustrate some key features...

© Martin Cade


As well as the short primary projection, with 6/7 visible tips, the photo above shows the lack of neat, pale tips. Marsh Warbler would typically show a primary projection approximately equal to the length of exposed secondaries, and generally 8 evenly-spaced tips.

This image also shows the alula, which on Blyth's Reed has a dark inner web and contrastingly pale outer web, whereas on Marsh Warbler it is wholly blackish, with a thin, pale outer edge. Admittedly, this feature doesn't look particularly eye-catching here, but the first photo on the relevant PBO website page displays it at a much better angle.

Finally, note also the rather plain tertials, with diffusely darker centres. Marsh Warbler would typically show quite contrasty tertials, with strongly dark centres and pale edges. On Blyth's Reed, the longest tertial falls slightly short of the tips of the secondaries, on Marsh it is slightly longer than the secondaries.

Showing primary emarginations.   © Martin Cade

Blyth's Reed has emarginations (narrowing of the outer web) on P3 and P4, and sometimes also a bit on P5, as here. On Marsh Warbler it's P3 only. In addition, P2 falls well short of the tip of P3; on Marsh Warbler P2 is more or less the same length as P3.

Unbeknown to me, quite early on I had caught several of these features in what is otherwise a rather poor photo. It was the last shot in a burst of seven, taken as the bird darted past a gap in the foliage. It is a salutary lesson in what can sometimes be gleaned from even a 'rubbish' image...



And this is one of the most helpful images of the wing...



So there we go. There are other features which help the case for Blyth's Reed rather than Marsh - and of course the song ruled out Eurasian Reed - but along with a recording I would imagine these few alone are quite sufficient to ensure the identification is sound.

Several years ago I learned how to separate juvenile Yellow-legged and Herring Gulls, simply because we realised they must be turning up on the Axe and so I figured I ought to learn. My reasoning was similar with Caspian Gull. Not suspecting I would ever see one locally I guess I never had the same sense of necessity with Blyth's Reed and Marsh Warblers! Plus I'm bone idle.

Ah well, I've made the effort now. So probably I'll never encounter another Blyth's Reed Warbler in my life...

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Very Pink Things

Once again my NQS plans have all gone to pot. I have a couple of posts planned for a quiet time, but the quiet time I had in mind (June) refuses to shut up. It all started to go wrong this morning, with news of a Rosy Starling in Seaton. There are not many birds Mrs NQS would be tempted by, but I knew that a proper pink Rosy Starling was one of them. So I was surprised when she turned it down. Instead she said, 'You need to find us a local one.' This I knew already, so after lunch began my search in West Bay. While I was mooching round a housing estate peppered with regular everyday Starlings, the Seaton Rosy Starling gradually morphed into two Rosy Starlings. Although no birder had yet seen both together, photos appeared to indicate that there was actually a bright bird and a dull one. I phoned home with this news, and was instructed to come back immediately, collect one Rosy Starling twitcher and take her to Seaton. How could I refuse?

When we arrived, there were a few birders peering into someone's garden. Apparently both birds were visible, somewhat buried in a holly tree. We had a quick look, and could definitely make out one Rosy Starling, but birding around houses is not my cup of tea, so we ambled up the road to find a decent vantage point from which to view the rooftops etc. Ian M had adopted the same strategy, and we joined him. Ian and I were carefully checking some distant trees and whatnot when I felt a tap on the shoulder. Sandra was pointing at the nearest roof...

Amazing! In the briefest flash of sunshine, we had both birds together.


The number of times that's happened. I'll be grilling some distant field or hedge or something with the scope, and Sandra quietly goes, 'Isn't this it, right here?' as she points at something clearly visible with the naked eye. I wish she came with me more often...

The birds split up moments later, so here they are singly...

The gaudy one

And not so gaudy


Earlier in the day, Steve Waite filmed a great little video of the bright male in song, and it's well worth checking out on Steve's blog here.

Having had such excellent views so quickly, we were soon on our way. And this evening I was back to the task of finding one locally...

West Bay this evening. Very few people. Even fewer pink Starlings.


I finished off West Bay and then, following a tip-off from ex-local Ian M, headed over to Cogden to see if there was a reedbed Starling roost to check out. Well, there was!

Just a tiny part of the pre-roost gathering

Several hundred Starlings having a practice run.


I would guess there were over 3,000 Starlings present all told, and I was able to get a good look at the whole gang. No pink ones. However, if a Rosy Starling turns up locally somewhere, I could easily see it hooking up with this lot, so I shall have to check them a few more times in the coming weeks I guess...

Twitching Rosy Starling on my old patch was great, but I would rather like to find my own if possible. We shall see...