Sunday, 3 January 2021


According to my clever watch, the Jan 1st birding walk covered 13.6 miles. At the moment I am also trying to go for a run on alternate days, but figured a long walk was good enough for Friday. But no skiving this afternoon. So, just as it was getting dark I headed out and covered 6 rather ploddy miles in just under an hour, though 6 minutes of that comprised 1-minute walk breaks. At my current level of 'fitness' that is a long run. Right now my calves feel like they've been beaten, and I know I've overdone it.

From long experience I also know that gently plugging away, trying not to push it too hard, will eventually reap rewards. And that's the key. Consistency, and an 'easy does it' approach. Expecting too much, too soon...well...

That way disappointment lies. And burn-out maybe.

Many endeavours benefit from this kind of approach, and birding is perhaps one of them. I was free to go birding today at around 2pm. I poked my head outside, sniffed the frigid air and thought, 'Nah.' I frittered the afternoon in idleness, which is fine preparation for a 6-mile run.

Some of that idle time was spent looking at previous January birding exploits, and I'd like to recount one of them...

Not long after moving to East Devon at the very end of 2002, my interest in birding began to return. Living by the sea was a novelty, and I decided to make some effort to discover what - if anything - flew over it past Seaton. I had no idea what to expect, but a few tentative seawatching efforts in 2004 bagged some skuas and whatnot. Anyway, come the start of 2005 I decided to try and devote one hour at the start of every day to seawatching. In January that was frequently 08:00-09:00. I'll be frank, the returns were quite modest. Let me give you some examples from that month...

  • Kittiwake: 1-3 birds on ten dates, all flying W
  • Unidentified auk: 1-19 on nine dates, all W until 21st, then mainly E after that. Vast majority that could be identified were Razorbills.

So, nothing special at all there. However, something weird happened on January 21st. My memory of that day is of a strong wind from a northerly-ish quarter, so unpleasant that I had to find a new spot to watch from - my usual vantage point was a bit blown out. Again, I did 08:00-09:00. Straight away I was seeing far more birds than usual. Auks were piling W in really good numbers, and loads of Kitts too. By the time I packed up it was all over anyway, and my scribbling revealed a total of 590 auks and 216 Kittiwakes. Wow! Over 800 birds!

Best of all, at 08:40 I picked up a very small auk trailing a group of regular ones. I zoomed up, but couldn't get anything other than its tiny size. I put it down as a Little Auk. Looking back now, I seriously wonder what it actually was. Hopefully it was a Little Auk. But having lived here a while now, I know that by far the majority of Little Auk records occur in late autumn, and as far as I'm aware are not tied in with big movements of their larger cousins. Still, that's not really the point of the story...

On 21st January, 2005 I went out to do what I'd been doing almost every day of the month, and expected to see much the same as I always saw. But no, things unfolded a different way. A very unexpected way. A very nice way.

Reminding myself of that morning has been quite encouraging, and I guess I don't need to spell out why.

And while we're talking about motivation, here is some more. Three photos. Three January days. Three years. Three birds...

2018 - January 29th

2019 - January 16th

2020 - January 7th

NQS is nothing if not predictable when it comes to certain gulls, and I shall optimistically assume that the reader's eye will by now be drawn unerringly to the correct bird in each photo. So I'm going to leave those there without further comment. Except...

Always look at gulls.


  1. "However, something weird happened on January 21st. My memory of that day is of a strong wind from a northerly-ish quarter, so unpleasant that I had to find a new spot to watch from - my usual vantage point was a bit blown out" - ah yes, my belated apologies for that buddy. It was my 33rd birthday that day, you see, and I strongly suspect that a very decent curry was consumed (back in my non-veggie days). Probably everyone within 100 miles south of me would have noticed that strong, unpleasant wind. All I can say is it could have been worse, think of my poor girlfriend at the time...

    1. Impressive. Don't think I've ever shifted seabirds.

  2. Thats seawatch Gav, very weather dependant. You could watch everyday all day but if the weather isnt conducive in your area you will see little. I had an hour yesterday as we had strong E winds. Kittiwakes are abundant here in summer but not in winter so the 300+ I saw was a great January count. Auks, well, we dont really count them that often, you'd never be able to look for other stuff. Your small winter auk on a line of Guilliebills? FW Puffins are good at that. They are also usually a bit distant. Of the thousands upon thousands of Little Auks Ive seen here, they are never distant. They hug the shore along breakers and over rocky skeers like waders or starlings. I dont think you would pick one up too far out... back to yesterday there were a few Gannets too, scarce in winter...

    1. Thanks Stewart, good point. The few Little Auks I've seen locally, and the slightly bigger number on the NE coast, have all been close in. Ironically, Puffin is an even rarer seawatch bird here!