Saturday 10 October 2020

Always Something for the Notebook

Another late-afternoon yomp from West to East Bexington and back today. My sources of local birdy information had been very quiet, and my expectations were low. Even so, it only takes one bird...

Years ago I noticed that even the 'quietest' outings will usually produce something noteworthy, so I never fret about lack of news. I hadn't poked around East Bex Farm for a while, so gave that a go. Nothing much...until I noticed a flock of ducks heading N towards the ridge, quite high. They were Pintail, my first for ages. They did a big loop and headed away SE, probably towards Abbotsbury Swannery. Nice. I figured they were my 'something noteworthy'.

12 Pintail, all juvs or females.

Working my way back along the coast path, I was just about to cut inland and back towards my car but thought I should first have a look at the small group of gulls on the beach. They were rather backlit, but even so, one of them made me stop and check it out properly. It looked good for a sub-adult Yellow-legged Gull. Initial views were like this...

Yellow-legged Gull. Clearly not an adult though.

A little closer.

I'm always a bit wary of the hybrid possibility these days, but nothing rang alarm bells. The shade of grey seemed spot on, and the size and 'look' of the bird fitted well. It even sported pale yellowish legs. I headed down on to the beach for a proper look from a better angle, light-wise...

...and it unhelpfully sat down.

Unfortunately I couldn't get it to stand up for me; it chose to fly past instead...

Although barely visible in the photo, the basically white tail had two or three feathers with darker marks.

So that rather smart Yellow-legged Gull ended up being the especially noteworthy bird after all, with the Pintail flock coming in at second place.


Late afternoon yesterday I managed to get in a quick walk at Cogden. Like today, I struggled to find anything much in the bushes, just a single Blackcap. I thought I was going to be heading home with almost nothing in the digital notebook apart from a couple of Clouded Yellows. And then this happened...

At Fair Isle Bird Observatory I once saw Merlin in the hand. It had the baddest attitude I've ever witnessed in a bird trapped for ringing, screeching non-stop and taking big chunks out of its unfortunate captor. So I've seen Merlin closer. But I've never seen one better. Definitely best views ever!

Juv Merlin. What a cracker!

When it had finished its meal and flown off, I walked over to see if I could find out what the victim was. There was hardly anything left. Just four primaries and a few breast feathers. Nothing else. In the video it appears to consume something long and hard (a bone?) so I can only conclude that virtually everything is eaten! Amazing...

Judging by the rusty tips to the breast feathers I guessed Robin. The primaries are the outermost four, and apparently the length of p1 (the short one) fits Robin too.

This month has just been ridiculous. The jammy Wryneck on 1st set the bar, and it has continued to produce bird after quality bird. Two Short-eared Owls, two Whooper Swans, a brilliant Casp, that goose, my best ever views of Merlin, and today's Pintail flock and Yellow-legged Gull. Surely this run cannot last? But I don't mind if it does...


  1. Gavin, your enthusiasm, even, dare I say it, your evangelism for gulls, always makes me feel slightly ashamed and determined to do better. But then I see a load of gulls and I think: "No. I'm sixty years old. Life's too short." On the other hand, a nice merlin ... Malcolm

    1. Thanks Malcolm. I sympathise. I didn't bother trying to learn the trickier gulls until my late 40s. Another few years and I'd have been past it! πŸ˜„ Seriously though, because gulls are such an everyday part of the birding scene here, it has been well worth the struggle to get to grips with them. But I realise it's not everyone's cup of tea... 😊

  2. Gav, the moment you mention Pintail, I recall the 'cracking male' on Stockers that you picked up on, which I missed completely despite it being straight out in front about fifty yards away. Added to the YLG's and Glaucous Gull which didn't, under similar conditions, register with me either. I concluded, compared to yourself, my observational skills were lacking.

    Btw, on the video of that excellent Merlin, was that a Honda CBR 500R ABS I could hear passing nearby?

    1. I remember that Pintail, Ric! A good bird for Stockers!

      Yes, sounds like a sporty machine, doesn't it? Unfortunately the road along the coast here is the kind that tempts a few bikers to wind it up a bit. Speed limit is 50 though.

  3. Great film Gav, watching a merlin with a kill is pretty cool, getting it on film - excellent.

    I've enjoyed my vicarious walks along the Dorset coast this year but you have set the bar mighty high for the future. Don't become a victim of your own perceived pressure, just keep filling us with enthusiasm.

    1. Cheers Dave, it's been good to have your vicarious company too. πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘
      Although I'm a bit surprised at the number of really good birds that have come my way in the last year or so, I'm under no illusions that things will necessarily continue in that vein. I'm pretty relaxed about the possibility of a lengthy duff patch. In the event, there will still be plenty of common stuff to enjoy. And enjoy it I will! πŸ˜„