Friday, 1 January 2021

A Twist in the Tale

It's been a long time since I was able to get out of bed on January 1st and just go birding all day...

The River Brit near West Bay. Looking inland at 08:56. Cris-s-s-s-sp!

At this point my birdy highlight was probably a Little Grebe on the river, and all four common tits. Nothing dramatic, just a nice selection of regular local birds. And that was my aim today. Just step out of the back door and see what happens. I had no numerical target, my route plan was sketchy and my expectations modest. But I was quietly confident that a day spent walking the Dorset coast and countryside would have some highlights worth recounting. And it did.

I kept a tally of the species I saw, and until earlier this evening I would have told you that it was 63. But something rather excellent has happened since, and now it's 64. But first...

Species number 30 was Lapwing, which I spied in a frosty field below Bridport Golf Course, and fairly soon after that I was peering out from Burton Bradstock beach at a distant flock of 4 Red-throated Divers...

4 Red-throated Divers. The photos get better, I promise.

One advantage of the calm weather and very light breeze was a flat sea, and I was really pleased to spot a Harbour Porpoise off Cogden Beach. They are quite scarce locally, so I made some effort to get a photo...

Harbour Porpoise

There was obviously a decent supply of fish out there, and the Red-throated Diver count quickly grew. By the time I got to Abbotsbury I'd seen at least 33, and 13 Great Crested Grebes.

Great Crested Grebe close to the beach

A few other birdy bits and bobs...

There was a single Corn Bunting (on the right) at West Bexington, plus 30-something Yellowhammers

Two Chiffs were in the beach-side vegetation of the West Bex Mere. I wasn't expecting to see any today, so they were a nice surprise.

I waited until this Razorbill dived, then ran down the beach to where I hoped it would surface. Bingo!

Shelduck over East Bexington. Another species I didn't anticipate seeing.

The West Bex Mere held a nice collection of gulls, but I couldn't wangle anything special. The walk from there to the Abbotsbury Beach car park took me the rest of the afternoon, and was largely uneventful. Mind you, one thing worth mentioning is the group of 5 Gadwall on the sea off East Bexington. Or more specifically, how I managed to work out what they were. Too distant for bins, I could tell they were ducks, and something about the way they were behaving suggested they weren't Common Scoter, but I couldn't ID them. So I got the camera out and took some photos on full zoom. Here's one...

Don't laugh.

From dots to Gadwall in 2000mm of full zoom and some serious cropping.

I've used the camera for this purpose a few times now. It's amazing how effective it can be. And the following tale kind of reinforces its value even more...

While I was watching the bunting flock at West Bex, it wasn't only the Corn Bunting that caught my eye.

The flock is basically Yellowhammers - well over 30 - plus Chaffinches. They are constantly on the go. Up in the hedge, down in the field, up in the hedge again, and so on. It can be quite hard to track individual birds. Also, they are a bit too distant for comfortable binocular views. It's okay-ish, and you can easily pick out the Corn Bunting for example, but for anything more subtle...

And there was a subtle bird. Right there in the hedge, facing me. It looked drab and plain, but with quite a strong face pattern. And I couldn't see any obvious yellow at all. But it was just too far away. I expect you can guess that I was thinking female Cirl Bunting. This is a Dorset rarity, and not a species to claim lightly. Especially a female! So I pointed the camera at it, but got just one shot before the bird dropped into the field. To be honest, I held out no hope at all that anything would come of my straw-clutching...

Fast-forward to this evening, and I have the photo in front of me, and I'm studying it and thinking 'Hmmmmm...' At that very moment, a message from Mike Morse includes the following: '...a possible female/1st-winter Cirl [in the bunting flock]...' I replied that I was right that second looking at just such a bird on my laptop screen! We exchanged photos. Same bird!

I have little experience and even less confidence with this tricky species pair, so sought advice from someone who has plenty of both. And I am very grateful to Mike Langman for confirming the ID for us...

Female Cirl Bunting at West Bexington. This is my photo...

...and this is Mike's proper one.

So, the day's tally unexpectedly climbs to 64. And I get a really nice local tick.

And yet again the P900 proves its worth. I am highly delighted that such a coincidental set of happenings should occur on the very first day of the new birding year, and I sincerely hope it's a pattern of things to come...

4 comments:

  1. 64 species on a local walk is quite a result. A Cirl Bunting as a cherry on the top too, well done.

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  2. Gav, the zoom facility of the P900 is proving it's worth time and again. Almost renders a scope redundant. Or maybe it already has.

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    1. I love birding without a scope, it's quite liberating. Often the camera comes to the rescue with a distant bird, but there are times when I find a scope essential. Seawatching is the obvious example. Picking through gulls that are a bit too distant for bins is another, and I almost always employ my scope on the Axe. Even so, yes, that zoom facility has been crucial on occasion.

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