Saturday, 17 April 2021

Finding Your Own Birds

This afternoon I found my own Redstart. It didn't happen exactly as I imagined, but pretty close...

A spring male Redstart has been on my 'wanted' list for ages. The last one I saw was at Cogden on April 23rd, 2017. Which sounds dreadful, doesn't it? Four years ago! My excuse is total lack of effort in 2018 and 2019, and total lack of good fortune in 2020. Anyway, this year I have been trying hard. The local coast looks so good for migrant Redstarts, and you would imagine they'd be everywhere. But the reality is different. They might be Common Redstart by name, but common they are not. And part of the problem could simply be the sheer wealth of suitable habbo. At Bex and Cogden alone there are miles and miles of hedgerows like this one...

Lovely, isn't it?

A short, early-morning walk at Cogden had been quiet. Apart from 4 Wheatears the only signs of fresh migrants were a singing Willow Warbler and three Whitethroats - though the latter might have been birds on territory already. But at lunchtime I noticed that Portland had a few new bits and bobs, including two or three Redstarts, which gave me hope for the intended afternoon visit to West Bexington.

I stuck to the east side of the village, and worked every accessible (or visible) hedgerow that I could. I even found a couple of paths I'd never walked before, so it was a little voyage of discovery too...

I saw a phyllosc fly up into a small tree, so peered at the canopy through my bins. There was a movement, but instead of the anticipated phyllosc I could see a load of red belly through the twiggage - and way too much for a Robin! Ha! I know what you are! Yesss! My gorgeous little prize immediately flew up the field and into another tree along the hedge, and vanished. So I waited. Soon enough it popped out into view, dropping briefly into the field to grab some morsel. I snatched a quick burst of shots...

Oof! Look at that! Redstart blur

I sat down in the grass and just watched it for a while. It was rather distant but seemed at ease, so I made no attempt to get any closer. It behaved exactly as you'd expect a migrant Redstart to behave. It sat jauntily in the hedge, all pert loveliness and quivery red tail, and periodically whisked out into the field to grab some wriggly edible. Every single photo is blighted with ghastly heat-haze, but these two less than most...

I moved on eventually, ridiculously pleased with this brief encounter. I couldn't work out whether the odd sense of relief I felt was due to the lifting of some self-imposed pressure, or the satisfaction of a challenging job successfully accomplished. Whatever, my step was weirdly happy and light...

Let's face it, I could have driven to Portland and probably guaranteed myself a Redstart, but this one was a £20 note compared to what would have been a Portland penny. When it comes to value, no comparison. Which is why I am such a zealous advocate of the 'find your own' approach. It's hard to beat the feeling that comes with finding nice birds in the quieter, less-hammered spots.

By this point I had seen very few other migrants. Less than a handful of Willow Warblers was about it. In fact, a scuttling Lizard sp (presumably Common Lizard) had been the afternoon's highlight, followed by this...

My first Orange Tip of the year, being very uncooperative.

Wandering into East Bexington territory for a bit, I came across my one and only Wheatear. Obviously it needed photographing...

The heat-haze is immense, so the Wheatear remains small!

At East Bex there are a couple of ditches-cum-hedgerows which basically run straight inland from the sea. They look obvious birdy highways in the wide expanse of open farmland. Here's one of them...

Looking inland from the bottom end. Just a mass of chest-high Alexanders.

The top end includes a hedge which is currently seven or eight feet high.

Imagine an overcast, drizzly spring morning, and a mass arrival of tired little birds. That Alexanders would be absolutely leaping, surely? Hopefully I'll get the chance to find out one day.

Almost two hours after the joyous Redstart happening I was close to the end of my walk. Of course, I had continued to check every hedgerow still. Another Willow Warbler or two, but nothing else. And then...

Hello. What's this, sitting up all pert and perky? Ha!

Miles away! Rubbish light, desperate heat-haze, but...gorgeous male Redstart number two!

Unfortunately I couldn't get any closer and had to make do with these views. But I didn't care. This Redstart had definitely read the script, and fitted perfectly into my imagined scenario: scan hedge; spot bird; get excited. It moved up and down the hedge a bit, but was always distant.

Yeah, I know. Just a couple of Common Redstarts. Regular spring migrant. Nothing special.

Ha ha! You have no idea!


  1. Congratulations Gavin! I'm hoping to see my first Redstart of the year very soon.....probably Lambert's Castle. Fingers crossed.���� Viv

    1. Thanks Viv, and all the best with your Redstart hunt. Justin suggested Lambert's Castle to me, but I was fixated on a coastal bird! 😄

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Jono. If one could bottle it and give it away, the urge to twitch would shrivel right up.