Friday 9 October 2020

The Sound of a Dropped Ball

Since birding regularly along the Lyme Bay coast from Cogden to East Bexington I have become used to Canada Geese passing by all the time. When their direction of flight is west I assume they have recently departed from the Fleet at Abbotsbury Swannery, which is choc-a-bloc with waterfowl. Conversely I assume all those heading east are on their way to the Swannery. Because of the obvious possibilities, ninety-nine times out of a hundred I will check the flocks to make sure they're not carrying something a bit more interesting. So far they never have. With the result that I have become complacent, and today was the one time in a hundred when I didn't look. Or rather, didn't look early enough.

What follows is an audio version of a cock-up, recorded for posterity by my merciless and unsympathetic Zoom H4n Pro. The setting is East Bexington, at approximately 08:45 this morning. Here is an interpretation of what you are going to hear...

0-10secs: Approaching Canada Geese clearly audible. NQS bloke oblivious.

10-11secs: Idle glance at little group of 6 geese reveals that one is small. Small!

11-14secs: Geese are passing right now. Bins are up. Light is rubbish. Angle is rubbish. The little one is a grey goose sp. but I cannot see enough on it to ID. Realise that photos will be needed, so...

14-19secs: Camera bag chaos! (warning: LOUD) Ripping velcro etc...

19-31secs: I now know how long it takes to prep the camera for a shot. Switch on. Zoom. Frame. Hold breath. Focus...

31secs approx: Burst of 7 shots.

32secs: Exhale.

32-35.5secs: Final, forlorn squint through bins at receding, unidentifiable local biggie.

35.5-36secs: Massive sigh of disappointment.

36-42secs: Brief period of reflection upon woeful bit of complacency.

A bit of context. Any grey goose is very scarce, or even rare, in this neck of the woods. The most regular is White-fronted Goose, which I assumed was the likeliest candidate today. But then I remembered the Seaton Pink-foot...

It arrived on the Axe Estuary on September 28th, initially on its own. It soon began associating with Canada Geese (as wild geese often seem to do here) and was still around yesterday, when it took an afternoon trip to Chard, appearing at (and departing from) two locations there. I assumed that was the end of its local visit.

Could today's bird be the Seaton Pink-foot? When I got home and enlarged the photos, and lightened them up a bit, this was the result...

Obviously the bird in question is top, second left

 Here's an uncropped version...

Perhaps it's clear why the big sigh...

Size-wise, Pink-footed Goose fits nicely. But what else do the photos tell us? In both cropped pics the upperwing is visible, and so is the upperwing of the adjacent Canada Goose. The grey goose definitely has a paler upperwing than the Canada Goose. Quite obviously so. Which fits Pink-footed Goose too. One more thing. This afternoon the Seaton Pink-foot was back on Black Hole Marsh! So was that the bird which flew past me, heading west (towards Seaton) at 08:45?

It seems very likely.

However, as the flock headed over the Coastguard Cottages into West Bexington territory, I failed to raise any West Bex birders on the phone. It later transpired that none were there. Pink-footed Goose is a Dorset rarity. It would also be a new bird for the well-watched West Bex and Cogden patch. In other words, Pink-foot is an 'important' bird locally. Based on those photos I've had feedback varying from 'Can't tick it on those' to 'It's a Pink-foot. Wouldn't think twice'.

It certainly livened things up this morning!


  1. Oh dear, indeed a tale of woe rather than of wow. I particularly like the sigh of course, we've all been there.

    1. Thanks Jono. Yes, when I heard that sigh on the recording it raised a rueful smile... 😊

  2. I thought the "Brief period of reflection upon woeful bit of complacency" was very evocative!

    Does look good for pinkie on size, dark head etc - no telltale calls on your recorder?

    1. Sadly not, Col. That would have been helpful!

  3. The colouring is difficult to make out (to my unreliable eyes) but I know that you get more of an impression when you are watching it first hand. I'd have put it down as a lesser Canada goose. But I don't know nuffink.

    Great drama on the recording though :o)

    1. Thanks Dave. I'd like to be able to say that drama was what I was going for, but 'accidental drama', more like!

  4. Hi Gav, Pinks are day birds here. As I write I have just had 90 low over the garden. The dark head and its profile is bog standard to me. I know you will think how the hell can you see that from those pics? but, when you are familiar, you just know.. :)

    Oh and despite thousands wintering here plus many more thousands passing over, odd ones still get in with feral canadas on town lakes etc every winter.

    1. Thanks Stew, that's really useful to hear. There's been some other positive feedback too. All very encouraging, and it has made me look at the photos a bit more analytically...

  5. Was wondering Gav, if it was an idea to always have the camera ready to go?
    That said. Would that make you primarily a photographer instead of a birder?

    1. I sometimes carry it slung over my shoulder, which is a bit more accessible than in the bag, but as I understand it, leaving it switched on all the time is not viable really. First, it goes to 'sleep' after a certain period of non-use, and then switches itself off. If it didn't, the battery would drain pretty quickly I believe. And yes, I'm trying to stay a birder! 😄