Tuesday 29 December 2020

Hello...What's This?

The title of this post is a reference to what frequently comes out of mouth when I stumble upon a good bird. Jammy jam is a feature of 2020 that I've been trying to find a way to write about without sounding all boastful, because I firmly believe that tales of good fortune can be a genuine source of inspiration for others. Well, they have that affect me. So this is such a post, and my apologies if it sounds big-headed in any way - that is certainly not my intention. Mind you, anyone who follows this blog will know that my 2020 finds do not involve a glut of megas. But in the context of coastal West Dorset and East Devon the list is not too shabby, and much better than I normally manage!

Always looking at gulls has its rewards, and 2020 was generous...

Five Caspian Gulls. From top left, clockwise to centre:
Jan 7th, Axe Estuary
Jan 26th, West Bexington Mere (2nd-winter)
Jan 28th, Axe Estuary
Oct 5th, East Bexington
Dec 17th, Axe Estuary

Five Casps is easily my best tally in one calendar year. I'm really chuffed to have images of each one, something I've so far managed with every single Casp I've seen. The 2nd-winter West Bex bird is the only non-1st-winter I've found, and along with the December bird on the Axe was recorded using my camera's video function, an invaluable facility. I'm especially pleased that two of my Casps were just down the road from where I live, and therefore Dorset birds, at East and West Bexington.

To be honest I now have a level of expectation with Caspian Gull. These days I would be disappointed not to find one in the course of a year. But they are still very scarce down here, and a super prize for anyone picking through the local gull flocks. And as I've repeated to the point of tedium: If I can find them, anyone can.

To be fair I spend a lot of my birding time actively searching for Caspian Gulls, so to some degree it's an effort-equals-reward kind of bird. Another bird which fits that category lately is Siberian Chiffchaff...

One of my favourite Sibe Chiff pics of 2020. Kilmington WTW on Jan 15th

Kilmington again, Jan 8th. A rather more prosaic habitat view, with filter bed backdrop

In 2020 I found five Sibe Chiffs I think. Again, way more than ever before. Though I've never made so much effort before either.

Other good finds have been far more a case of being jammy. The Golden Oriole which flew across my path at West Bexington on May 28th is a case in point. And my favourite find this year, the jammiest of all, was this...

Belter! Male Red-backed Shrike at Cogden Beach on June 8th.

That total fluke was the culmination of a very strange but productive spring. Summer gave way to autumn without too many fireworks - unless you count juv Yellow-legged Gulls - and it wasn't until September 11th that things got pretty exciting again...

A Wryneck poses cooperatively at Cogden Beach

And then, on October 1st, again at Cogden Beach, and again a Wryneck...

The distant product of some careful and regular scanning. Slow birding.

That's it really. Caspian Gull x5, Siberian Chiffchaff x5, Wryneck x2, Golden Oriole and Red-backed Shrike. I rarely find much, so for me that's a mega-haul. Technically I could maybe add a fly-by Pink-footed Goose at East Bexington and a Glaucous Gull on the Axe, but both birds had been seen before, though admittedly the goose not locally. Personally I don't count stuff like that as a pukka 'find', but both events were still great fun for different reasons. And of course I came across many 'lesser' birds, which still provided a good buzz even if they weren't quite in the same league as some of the above.

A couple of other species which I would like to list among my best 2020 finds involve two birds which I never saw...

Nocmig Stone-curlew, April 22nd

Nocmig Night Heron, June 4th

Of course these weren't finds at all in the accepted sense, but both were almost as thrilling as if I'd come across them in the field, and testament to the worth of nocmig recording.

The biggest downer this year was the fact that hardly any of my good finds were seen by anyone else, just one (I think) Casp and a couple of Sibe Chiffs. Especially frustrating were the oriole, shrike and Wrynecks, because they were on someone else's patch! On the other hand though, I did get photos of everything bar the Golden O, so I think people still believe me when I claim stuff...

On Twitter earlier today, a birder I follow posted a photo-collage and list of his best finds of the year. It was a jaw-dropping tally. Admittedly, many were the result of holidays on Shetland and Scilly, but a good number were not. Rather, they were the result of on-spec birding in locations which have the dual assets of good potential and low birder density. To a great extent my local coast meets those criteria. I know how fortunate I am to have that on my doorstep, and cannot emphasise enough how exciting it can be. Striding out in the early morning, or even late in the day, knowing that probably no other birders at all have trodden this way for hours, perhaps days. Why so many birders neglect such places and instead choose locations that get thrashed incessantly really puzzles me. I can't help thinking they are missing out...

Not that I'm complaining.


  1. Replies
    1. It's the same again this winter. The Kilmington Chiffs are immense.