Monday, 29 March 2021

Today's Birds

If the weather forecast is anything to go by, I have a funny feeling there are going to be a lot of birds over the next few days. So in order to avoid too much of a backlog, here's a quick post of today's bits and bobs.

The pre-work walk...

When it comes to Wheatear perches, as long as it has a bit of elevation - no matter how slight - they're not fussy...

It might be a pretty lump of beautiful holiday park...

...a hefty lump of weathered concrete...

...a nasty lump of black stuff...

...a ubiquitous lump of fence...

...a pungent lump of poop...

...or...yes...upright wood again.

Best morning yet for Wheatears. I counted a minimum of eight. Even better for Swallows, with at least 22 being my first of the year; they were coasting west in little parties from just after first light. With a couple of Chiffs in the beach-side bushes, it was obvious that birds were arriving in numbers this morning. It's all beginning to happen...

Then it was off to work for me.

Obviously there was lunchtime though...

There were lots of gulls to go through on the Axe Estuary. Unfortunately the dual problems of harsh sunlight and heat-haze made things tricky, but Steve had an absolutely gorgeous 1st-winter Caspian Gull on Saturday, so I was inspired to keep at it. And I'm glad I did. An immature gull on the water caught my eye. It was bathing vigorously, and although the bright sunshine made it difficult to be sure, the upperparts seemed a tad darker than Herring Gull. As I watched, a foot came out of the water, and I could swear it had a yellow tinge. I reached for my camera, turned back...and it had gone. A few minutes later I found it again, still on the water but much further upstream. And again I lost it! Finally I picked it up one more time, moments before it flew to the far bank. The flight views confirmed my suspicions: a 2nd-summer Yellow-legged Gull, which I'm pretty sure is a new plumage for me. A rather striking combination of grey, adult-like mantle, full black tail-band and bright yellow bill. Lots of grey wing coverts too, and inner primaries. Due to the long range and heat-haze, my pics really don't do justice to this very smart gull...

Even though it's only a relatively young 2nd-summer bird, it already has a strong yellow tinge to the legs - compare with nearby Herring Gulls.

Lots of grey wing coverts on view there. Very advanced plumage when compared to a Herring Gull of similar age.

Okay, it's not a Caspian Gull, but it kept me happy.

In the distance I spotted a dark thing among the gulls...

Brent Geese are very small aren't they?

I do like Wheatears. It's unlikely I'll get bored with them any time soon, and I find it almost impossible to resist their come-hither gaze as they sit sexily upon some elevated lump of stuff. Expect lots more photos...

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Rockits

It's ages since I've seen a nice Scandinavian Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus littoralis) so when a handful were reported locally yesterday I earmarked the latter part of this afternoon to go and have a look for them. When I was an Axe patch regular we used to get them wintering on the upper estuary saltmarsh, and I assume that's still the case. However, there was a catch. In winter plumage they are not safely separable on plumage from the British race A p petrosus. Well, I say that...

Because of the Axe birds, some years ago I read everything I could find on the identification of littoralis Rock Pipits. At the time it appeared there was no 100% reliable way to identify them in winter; there is simply too much overlap with petrosus. [This may no longer be the case, and if that is so I would be very grateful to be pointed at the relevant paper/literature.] So on the Axe we basically had to wait until late February and March, when our upper estuary Rock Pipits began to don the summer garb of the Scandinavian subspecies, becoming less streaky below, and developing a greyer head and a warm, pinkish flush to the throat/upper breast. Based on the fact that this happened every year, I guess you could identify the winter birds as littoralis too, circumstantially anyway. I'll be honest though - I was never completely happy about that. We frequently had a wintering population of 10 or 15 birds, but personally I never saw anything like that many spring-plumaged individuals. Therefore I always felt it was an over-generous extrapolation to assume the whole lot were littoralis. However, that's because I'm a bit pedantic, and I'll freely admit that the birds present throughout the winter probably all were (and still are!) Scandinavian Rock Pipits.

Anyway, as I say, it's been many years since I've seen one of these striking spring birds and I was dead keen to reacquaint myself with the plumage. I headed out and scoured the area, eventually finding six birds - a single, and five together. Unfortunately, all I can say is that they were Rock Pipits, because none was showing the hoped-for signs of summery loveliness. Still, they're characterful little things, and if you sit still in the grass they prod about quite happily nearby. A few shots, showing at least three of the group of five...

Bird 1

Bird 1

Bird 1

Bird 2

Bird 2

Bird 3 - this one has a noticeably paler lower mandible than the two above.

The other two were a bit more distant and my photos aren't worth the bother, so instead have this friendly Pied Wagtail...

I counted at least 23 Pied Wags, with one or two quite 'moulty' like this bird. Unfortunately there were no White Wagtails among them.

Oops! I got so wrapped up in this post that I didn't notice the time. It's got dark, and I haven't yet deployed the nocmig kit...

Right. Sorted. Any long-term NQS readers will be aware that my fascination with nocmig began during last year's lockdown. At the time my approach was one of 'suck it and see', but well, I'm hooked now. So much so that I've splashed out a bit just recently...

New microphone! Below is my £25 cheapie; above is my new toy, which cost...er...more than that.

My recorder has the facility to run two mics simultaneously, so for a few nights I've been doing that. The results are quite eye-opening. More in a future post...

Friday, 26 March 2021

A Lovely Little Seawatch

I've written before about the reality of Lyme Bay seawatching, and what a slow game it usually is. Even when the weather looks promising - like today - you turn up all keen and eager, then spend the next hour slowly losing the will to live. As I walked to my seawatching spot at Cogden this morning I was already resigned to disappointment. Yep, it was going to be rubbish.

How I love to be proved wrong...

It was terrific. Right from the off, a steady parade of Gannets (500+) and Kittiwakes (276) meant there was almost always something to look at. Variety came in the shape of 12 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Red-throated Divers, 13 Common Scoters, 6 Guillemots (the only auks close enough to identify) and singles of Oystercatcher, Med Gull and Sandwich Tern. And it wasn't all about quantity. There was also some excellent quality...

First, there was the super little flock of four Eiders which suddenly appeared in my eyepiece, bobbing on the sea. I didn't see them arrive, nor did I see them leave. But leave they did, being spotted by other seawatchers east of me and eventually rounding the Bill at Portland. Three drakes (two adults, one immature) and a female. Excellent.

However, the best bird of the morning had already passed, though I wasn't to know it for sure just yet...

About 07:40 I picked up four ducks heading west. They weren't close, but it was obvious enough that three were Common Scoters. As they went by I zoomed in a bit to try and nail the fourth bird, a browner thing. Possibly a touch smaller than the Scoters, its pale belly had been apparent immediately. The default brown, pale-bellied duck of that size is probably a female Wigeon, but I wasn't convinced.

I guess it's possible that one or two NQS readers have never tried seawatching. It is quite hard to describe what it's like to try and identify a speeding blob as it hurtles past over a heaving sea, perhaps disappearing in troughs at times. Can you picture it? Occasionally online you come across photos that have been taken at popular seawatching spots. Maybe a diver, a skua, or as in this case, a small flock of ducks. Birds in such photos might be small, but are usually well lit and crisply rendered. So maybe you're thinking that's what you see through the scope? Well, it isn't. For starters, the blasted things are belting along like rockets, their wings a blurry mess. Just keeping the bird in view is a major challenge, and no matter how smoothly you pan, it's probably leaping back and forth all over your retina. They do not pose. Somehow your eye needs to do what a camera does, and capture frozen images - make static what is all too dynamic. Not easy at half a mile range or more. Basically you wind up with a series of impressions that need instantly to be compared with what you know, the field guide in your head. This morning I had: very pale belly, probably white, and more extensive than Wigeon; largely pale rear end; dark uppers and wings, seemingly unmarked; darkish head, contrasting with the white belly. What fitted that lot? I could only think of Long-tailed Duck. So I sent a message on the local WhatsApp group:

'Possible LTD W with 3 Scoter'

About 35 minutes later they flew past Seaton seafront, close enough to clinch the odd one out. It was indeed a female/immature type Long-tailed Duck. I was so chuffed! They are not at all common down here. In fact it's the first I've seen since one at Branscombe and Seaton in November 2007, and my first ever on a local seawatch. Mega!

A bit later I saw my first two [definite] Sand Martins of the year, and a Brent Goose flew past...

Just like one of those seawatching photos. Sort of.  Brent Goose of the dark-bellied kind.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Fine By Me...

Laughing Gull is a hard act to follow, and so it has proved. The past week's birding has mostly been a series of nice walks. Which is fine. After all, red-letter days need to be just that, don't they?

Even the photos are a bit so-so...

A local Greenfinch attempting gravitas.

Sunny Portland, from cloudy West Bexington.

Jay, from the living room window. A house photographic first, in a tenth-rate sort of way.

I've been keeping a 2021 Garden List, but adding to it has been like pulling teeth. Excluding the nocmig-only birds it has stagnated at a paltry 36. Heard-only Tawny Owl is the most recent addition. However, my commitment level is not what it was 12 months ago, when lockdown really meant lockdown. Even so, curiosity will make me keep it going.

Curiosity is probably what's making me bother with a local list too. Considering the potential, my current total of 98 is a bit poor but probably an accurate reflection of effort. I mean, any diligent lister would have seen Goldcrest months ago, right?

Still, despite my rather slack work ethic I've managed to learn a couple of things this year. For example, I can now do distant female Cirl Bunting on pretty rubbish binocular views...

This female Cirl Bunting was both distant and partially obscured, but that bright pale spot on the ear coverts is a dead giveaway. Since January 1st I've been carefully checking any streaky female Yellowhammer types, and they never seem to show it. At range it is easily the most obvious feature. I don't suppose it's diagnostic, but any bird which has it most definitely wants checking further!

My current Wheatear tally is six. This morning I saw my first female, but the photos are dire, so have some males instead...




The next week's weather forecast holds little promise of a migrant influx, so I guess it'll still be a case of simply enjoying a pleasant walk in beautiful surroundings and taking whatever comes. That's fine by me.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Laughing!

Days like today don't happen often, so it's very nice when they do...

It started well. I was up and out more or less when planned, and the weather promising. A clear sky isn't normally great for dropping migrants on the coast, but a light northerly helps. Wheatear-wise I was very hopeful. However, the outward leg of my walk produced none. Never mind, they might still be mid-Channel maybe...

Arriving at the Mere I spied a distant wader on the far side. It was a Knot. The first of the year for Bex - and probably my first ever locally - so I made an effort to get some nice Knot shots...

One Knot, in searingly beautiful winter plumage

Mike arrived from the opposite direction. We sat on the shingle, chatting about this and that, with me hunched over the camera, preoccupied with the spangly wader. Some gulls dropped in, one of them flying through my shot as I pressed the shutter release, ruining my work of art. I tutted, and seconds later Mike quietly said something like, 'GOODNESS ME! LAUGHING GULL!' One of the small group of new arrivals was indeed a stonking Laughing Gull! At 08:16:44 I was photographing a Knot; exactly 30 seconds later, this...

Laughing Gull. Rose. Thorns.

Admittedly that wasn't the first photo I took. But the above is far preferable to the desperate, back-on, in-case-it-flies type capture which occurred at 08:17:14. Here are some other nice ones...



Vestiges of a black tail band, black on the primary coverts etc, indicates a 2nd-winter bird



What a bird! It was present for 43 minutes, until flushed by a passing Marsh Harrier (also my first of the year) whereupon it decamped to some distant sheep fields up on the ridge.

This beaut lays to rest a painful dip back in my Axe patch days. Must have been about 2007, and a bird which frequented the Exmouth area at the time paid Seaton a brief visit during some rough weather. Steve found it off the seafront, but it had seemingly vanished when I went to look. And then Ian M saw it later on. That hurt. I am pretty certain this is only my second-ever Laughing Gull; my first was in (or near) the grounds of Newcastle Hospital in early 1985 or '86. So-o-o-o...

Yesssss!!!

This is the same Laughing Gull that Steve Groves found at Abbotsbury Swannery last Wednesday, and which has since favoured the Weymouth area. I am very grateful to it for coming this way. And Mike even more so I think.

Is it possible to trudge jauntily? Because I'm sure that's what I did next. I trudged jauntily through the shingle, back to where I started. And waiting for me there were two of these...

Immaculate male Wheatear.

Just look at it! Spring perfection on legs

So yeah. A good day. A very good day.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Simple Things

Almost two weeks ago I came across a group of six Golden Plovers in a field at sea level. Two days later there were ten. No big deal, but a surprise for me because locally I associate Golden Plover with high ground unless it's really cold. This afternoon I walked out there again. To be honest I wasn't expecting any at all today. I just assumed the little group would have moved on by now, but no, it has swollen to 36 birds!

Most of the the 36 present this afternoon are in this shot

I'm at a loss to explain what they're doing here really. The location has only been on my birding itinerary for 18 months, so it might be a regular thing. However, I didn't see any here last March.

Never has a small flock of Goldies had such a careful grilling! Nothing untoward, but like me, a few looked keen to get into their summer togs...

A sunny break in the cloud

Not too long and that will be one handsome beast

The sunny breaks soon gave way to 8 oktas of cloud cover, but the rain held off until the last hour and remained light, and for the first time in three outings I went home damp rather than soaked. A strongish NW hammered straight along the coastline, but literally nothing was passing offshore. Many scans for zero return. The only obvious migrants were actually passing just inland instead...

The lovely rakish form of an adult graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gull. Gorgeous.

I counted a total of 16 heading W in ones and twos through the afternoon

It's funny, on the page of my fictional notebook the tally from this afternoon's birding would look very slim, but I really enjoyed myself. I had no illusions that I'd be tripping over Wheatears everywhere, rather I expected nothing. So the Goldies were a nice treat, and the odd passing LBBG provided a migrant buzz. I spoke to a local farming couple, exchanged a smile and greeting with two other couples I passed, and was carefully ignored by two lone walkers. Other than that it was just me, the bracing weather, and 12-thousand steps' worth of West Dorset coast...

Simple things.

Friday, 12 March 2021

A Bit Blowy...

 

What idiot is going to be plodding the beach on a day like this?

Twice in the last three days I've taken my exercise walk on - and adjacent to - the local beach. On Wednesday my birdy highlight was...let's see...oh yes, a Snipe. A single Snipe flushed from somewhere I wouldn't have expected. This afternoon's was better; it was a pair of Pintails, maybe the same pair that I saw on Monday morning. They were dead jumpy, and the moment they spotted me flew off to the far end of the Mere. I was not the slightest bit bothered by the meagre return for my shingle-slogging efforts, because conditions were dire on both occasions, and to be honest the getting out and walking was more important than the birds. On Wednesday the air was full of drizzle and spray, and busting along at about 40mph; this afternoon was equally blowy, and I got caught in a downpour. So, totally soaked both times.

This photo was taken from the same spot and just moments after the one above, but facing the other way. In both cases a bit of zoom compresses the perspective and adds a nice touch of drama.

On Wednesday I had the beach to myself. Ditto this afternoon. Completely alone. Which is how I like it. Regular readers will know already that I like a bit of solitude. However, when I got home I was reminded how fortunate I am to be able to indulge this preference whenever and wherever I like. Waiting for me on Twitter was this...


Reading Lucy McRobert's article took me back 30 years or more...

When we lived in Rickmansworth, Sandra and I used to know a couple named Tony and Kate. Like me back then, both were keen runners, especially Kate. Their home was in a built-up area several miles closer to London, and one day Kate asked if I would take her on one of my rural routes near Ricky. I had a lovely six-mile circuit based on the River Chess valley near Sarratt. It was entirely off-road, taking in the best of the local countryside - the riverside meadows, woods and hills. Getting back to our cars, Kate said, 'What a gorgeous route! But what a shame I can't just come out here and run it on my own...'

I was well aware of the lewd comments and abuse Kate occasionally got from men in passing cars when out running, but had never twigged that she might actually feel in danger. She explained that, lovely though my route was, it was simply too isolated and scary for her to contemplate running alone. The penny dropped. As a man I felt no such fear, not in the slightest, but simply being a woman turned a quiet beauty spot into a place of threat. I have never forgotten that conversation, and Lucy's article brought it all back. Some of her own and other female birders' personal experiences are described, and the resulting effects, and they are thought-provoking to say the least. Lucy's piece is entitled 'Call it Out', and on that note here is a related story...

Some years prior to my run with Kate, her future husband Tony witnessed a bunch of men hassling a young woman on a London Underground train. The details are a bit blurry to me now, but I recall that they were young office types, suited and booted. Tony sat watching, gradually becoming more and more incensed. Plucking up courage, he walked over and intervened. In Lucy's words, he called it out. Telling him to mind his own business, the ringleader turned and took a swing at Tony, punching him on the nose and putting him on the deck. The young woman immediately stood up, and in a quavering voice informed the bloke he was under arrest. She was an off-duty policewoman. I remember Tony recounting how she held out her warrant card with a trembling hand. And sure enough, the man was duly taken into custody by the Transport Police.

At the time I wondered whether I would have had the guts to do what Tony did. Thankfully, Lucy's article makes clear that nothing quite so dramatic is required. Her closing words:

We need men to stand with us and show the best side of our vibrant, warm and welcoming wildlife community, a community I love and one that I hope more women can be part of.

Yep, can do that. Happily.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Migration

Every spring, without fail, we enjoy an incoming flood of summer migrants. Millions of them. Chats, warblers, ducks, raptors, hirundines, terns...basically all sorts of birds head north to breed. Last year was the first that I really pondered the inevitability of it all. Trans-global movement for mankind had ground to a surprise halt, but not so for birds. And boy, was I grateful for that! Here we are a year later, still somewhat hobbled, but again not the birds. Migration is happening as I type.

It is pitch dark now and quite late at night, and as damp and blustery as it was yesterday. In fact Tuesday night's forecast was so grim that I almost didn't bother with the nocmig kit. But I did bother. And waders came. Curlew twice, and Oystercatcher three times, one of which sounded like multiple birds. The first little sonogram blips were made by an Oystercatcher just after 8pm, and the last by a Curlew at 03:15. Where were they off to? And where were they from? It's fascinating. All over the land, right now, birds are aloft with purpose. One or two of them might pass over my neighbourhood and obligingly make a noise loud enough for the nocmig recorder to convert into an exciting squiggle. And I am pleased to say that I do still find them exciting. I find the whole thing exciting! I'm nowhere near a renowned estuary or marsh or anything like that, and even last week's Coot will have come a few miles at least. The nocmig results of spring 2020 were a joyous revelation, and this year I'm starting more than a month earlier. Brilliant!

Birds, and the reliability of their movements, cycles and activities, are a reassuring anchor for us. Yet there is also plenty of room within that process for an annual dose of happy surprise, because so much is actually not certain. Will there be some Poms this year? A nice fall? Will I jam a rarity? The answers to such questions lie within the remit of migration, and will not be revealed in advance. Which is another reason why birding can be a bit addictive.

On Monday I went on a first-light migrant hunt along the beach and came across a pair of Pintails. I'll admit that early Wheatear was on the wish list, but the stunning drake was more than compensation...

It's 07:30, and my ability to take a photo that really does justice to these beautiful ducks is not yet awake.

Monday, 8 March 2021

A Dodgy Birder's Book - Part 4: Lessons

A very long 16 months ago I wrote a post entitled Dodgy Birders - Part 5: What to Do About Them. At the time I did rather skirt the issue: '[do] whatever you feel is appropriate' was my conclusion. In defense of such a wishy-washy verdict I should tell you that the whole 'Dodgy Birder' series was my way of processing the very real frustration that troubles me because of their antics. Having written it all down I hoped to emerge in a zen state of tranquility which no amount of dodginess could thenceforth disturb. Well, it didn't quite work.

It did help though. Reminding myself that birders - no matter how dodgy - are still people, with all the complex implications of that fact, was a good move. But I still found myself irked by them. It has taken Alan Vittery's book to finally get some much-needed perspective on the matter, and hopefully lay it to rest. Let me explain...

Alan Vittery first entered the NQS 'Dodgy Birder' narrative in part 5 because of his appearance in the British Birds Rarities Committee page of Wikipedia. As mentioned in that post, it seems the BBRC had in effect told AV they thought he was dodgy and would therefore no longer consider any single-observer submissions from him, unless supported by photos. As I typed that post I remember thinking that their approach seemed harsh, but fair. Here is what I said:

'You can argue the rights and wrongs... But if you (or a body you are part of) has similar concerns about your patch, county or regional records, isn't this the proper way to handle things? Be straight with the person?'

Well, that is no longer my view.

Sure, as an individual I might still feel at liberty to deal with any perceived dodginess in whatever way I feel is appropriate, but supposing I was part of a body, a records committee of some kind? Do I think it's okay to tell an observer: 'Sorry pal, we won't accept any descriptions from you without photos'? No, I don't. Do I think it's okay to keep silent instead, but stamp them all 'Not Proven' anyway, no matter how detailed and unequivocal? No again. I would go so far as saying that doing either without actual proof of fabrication is morally wrong. Once an individual enters a committee room I firmly believe they should leave personal prejudice at the door, and not allow it to influence their assessment of a record. If the description falls short in some way that could be communicated to the observer as a justifiable cause for non-acceptance - and I don't mean some trivial nit-pick - fair enough. But if not: accept. How could it be otherwise? Without proof, who are you or I to adversely judge another's honesty in even a pseudo-official capacity? The job is to assess descriptions, not character. To believe otherwise would be gross presumption I think. Am I wrong?

In September 1987 Mike Rogers basically told me that Alan Vittery was a dodgy birder. That was the first I knew of his reputation, but it stuck with me. Because that's what mud does. It sticks. How many others have judged him on hearsay? As I have already intimated elsewhere, Alan's book is a lot more than just a bunch of diary highlights. It has a depth, and reveals a great deal about the person, including a measure of frustration at his effective banishment. I could speculate about why he fell foul of the birding establishment, but let's just leave it that he gained the 'dodgy' label in a time long before mobile phones and digital photography. I have received one or two comments from birders who have spent time in the field with AV and it is telling that they have only praised. Obviously he will be as fallible as any of us, but had he been dealt with differently years ago, I wonder how things might have turned out...

In A Dodgy Birder's Book -Part 3 I quoted from an open letter which Alan Vittery wrote to the BBRC, as published in the January 2005 edition of Birdwatch magazine. Two months later, the March edition contained an article by Ian Wallace, entitled 'Questions that won't go away'. He wrote:

'Record committees have, in part, thankless tasks, but having suffered [and survived] increasing rejection by them over 46 years, my sympathies are stronger for the outcast observers. Currently I know of only three such unfortunates in Britain. In order of 'conviction' they are myself, John Holloway of Stronsay and now, astonishingly, Alan Vittery of Brora. Presumably there are more. So, without naming any more names, can we know how many? And the forms of their falsities? And are these deeds just alleged, or fully proven?'

DIMW goes on to pose some other 'questions that won't go away', and the article concludes with an editorial comment:

'Birdwatch asked Colin Bradshaw, chairman of the British Birds Rarities Committee, to respond to the points raised in this article. Our request was declined.'

And in the magazine's editorial, Dominic Mitchell pointedly noted:

'In a response which will not go down in history as earning maximum points for accountability or public relations, The BBRC declined to give you its views through our pages.'

Admittedly, this was all 16 years ago. I am sure the BBRC approach is less aloof today, and indeed its current constitution states that observers whose descriptions are deemed 'not proven' will be told the reason. My purpose here is not to poke old wounds, rather to illustrate an attitude that once was. Arguably one or two of the observers judged so dodgy in times past have contributed far more to this hobby than many who felt themselves qualified to make that ruling and sentence accordingly. Pretty sad if you ask me.

Anyway, food for thought I hope...

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Keeping the Powder Dry

I love this time of year. So much promise. And when Sand Martins, White Wagtails and even Wheatears begin to appear on birdy social media, well...

Exciting, isn't it? However, on the basis of umpteen springs of experience please allow me to offer a word of caution: keep your powder dry. Like many fellow birders I am obliged to ration my birding time somewhat, but self-employment allows me a dangerous level of flexibility. It's all to easy to let the prospect of early migrants tempt you into overdoing things. Perhaps you've been there? Rather than expending a steady effort through the whole spring, you get all pumped up with expectation, thrash it too hard, too early, and wind up struggling with disappointment.

It's all about stamina I guess. After last year's late spring gems I have to concede that the finishing line is somewhere in June now. So. I shall aim to plod on steadily, picking up the pace only when conditions warrant. At least, that's what sensible me is saying right now...

I was looking forward to a walk this afternoon. A chilly north-easterly was mitigated at times by a pleasantly warm bit of sunshine, but I was careful to keep expectations modest. I hoped for a few nice birds, but didn't expect them. Migrant-wise, so far this week I've seen two unidentified hirundines (see last post) and 6 Chiffchaffs. Today I added another 3 Chiffs. Because they were at the back of the beach I'm sure they were new arrivals, but sometimes there is a surefire way to confirm it...

Normal Chiff. This one from a few days ago was likewise in vegetation right behind the beach. Almost guaranteed to be a new arrival, but in truth it looks just like any other Chiff that's been hanging out at the local sewage works all winter. However...

...look at this one! All that manky, blackish gank on its forehead is a clagged-up mess of feathers and pollen. Research has been carried out on such pollen-faced birds. Not just Chiffchaffs, but also Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers. Some 19 pollen types have been identified, but mainly the blackish stuff is eucalyptus, picked up in the Mediterranean region. This bird is definitely a fresh-in migrant. No question.

In this shot it's just about possible to see why these encrustations are often known as 'pollen horns'.

At least three of the nine migrant Chiffs I've seen this week have been wearing pollen horns. It's such a buzz to see them here already, a breath of Mediterranean warmth in the early-March chill.

In other news this week...

Four Curlews heading purposefully east.

Redshank is dead common on the Axe, but surprisingly scarce locally.

These two Golden Plovers moulting nicely into breeding dress.

I've had the nocmig kit in action every night this month. And it has paid off already. Nothing spectacular, but a couple of new species for the garden: Wigeon (twice) and Golden Plover. Also Curlew twice (second and third garden records) and the first Coot and Barn Owl of the year. Moorhens seem especially active right now, with about six occurences a night at the moment. I assume they are local birds from somewhere along the nearby River Asker. A couple of spectrovids...

First, Wigeon and Curlew...


And last night's Golden Plover. Just a single call, but a nice clean one...


A few more photos...

Jack Snipe. It's been a long time since I last saw one of these well, so to actually get photos too was a bit special. Significant exposure fail though. Still, silhouettes are pretty cool.


Subtle beauty - this female Pintail was my first this year

'Only' a Linnet, and not even in breeding colours yet, but its cheerful singing was a joyous thing.

This has been a bit of a birdy catch-up post, and if this spring keeps going the way it has been there will be lots of these. In fact I hope so. Still in the pipeline are one or two meatier items though, but I might need a spell of rubbish birding in order to fit them in. In the meantime please accept this absolutely gorgeous Stonechat...