Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Springing Along

Throughout the spring I've been checking the weather forecast quite carefully, not just for work but also its possible influence on bird movements. I am notoriously bad at predicting good birding from weather charts. It is a skill - more likely, art - which I lack. So it was a bit rash of me to tweet the following on Monday evening...

Precipitation/wind direction for 07:00 today, as published on Ventusky Monday evening

The rain was forecast to push slowly southwards during the early hours, and out into the Channel. My simplistic interpretation pictured a million migrants setting off from France under a clear sky, encountering unexpected rain, and so ditching on the Dorset coast at first light; tired, wet and bedraggled. In the event, it did happen...but only on Portland!

Ah well...

At least I put my money where my mouth is, heading out at dawn and getting soaked. I was home by 07:00! I did see one slightly unusual beach inhabitant...

It's 06:23, raining steadily, and both me and the Oystercatcher are hacked off about those facts.

After breakfast the rain eased. Out again...

Stuff was happening, but not as much as I had hoped. I found a distant group of 5 White Wagtails in the middle of an enormous field, but the bushes were far from leaping. A whistle-stop tour of a few local spots produced 2 Whinchats, a few Willow Warblers and just 3 Wheatears. From the beach I counted 12 Whimbrel, 4 Ringed Plovers and 2 Little Terns. The latter were a real treat. Little Tern was dead scarce on the Axe patch, and these are the first I've seen in West Dorset. It's been quite a few years since my last encounter with this delightful species.

Little Terns. Looking very, very little.

No bigger.

I initially mistook one of the Whinchats for a Wheatear. It was facing away, and running about in the grass in exactly the same start/stop way that Wheatears do. I wondered why it looked a bit odd and streaky. Was it soaking wet? A few paces closer and the penny dropped...

Definitely not a Wheatear!

This is a Wheatear.

The second bird. Surprisingly obliging for a Whinchat.

Just gorgeous...

Bad photo of Whimbrel, but I like the shapes.

It's been hard to keep the blog up to date, what with all the early mornings and late evenings. So here's a quick catch-up...

While the weather favoured it, I did a fair bit of seawatching. Since the post before last I have finally seen some skuas. Two Arctics (one pale, one dark) and one unidentifiable (mega-distant, but pale). No Poms for me yet, but there is plenty of time yet. The following list covers 23rd to 25th April...

Whimbrel 128
Dunlin 3
Bar-tailed Godwit 16
Sanderling 3
Turnstone 1
Sandwich Tern 23
Manx Shearwater 105
Peregrine 1
Red-throated Diver 3
Great Northern Diver 1
Med Gull 9
Common Scoter 90
Arctic Skua 2
skua sp (Pom/Arctic) 1
'Commic' Tern 27
Common Tern 4
Arctic Tern 3
Kittiwake 8
Shelduck 1
Yellow-legged Gull 1 (2nd-summer)
Red-breasted Merganser 1 drake

None of the seawatching was fast and furious, but there was always enough to stop me from packing it in. Also, some nice surprises. Like the YLG and Red-breasted Merganser, both of which are just the sort of distraction that momentarily stops you dwelling on the total, one-hundred percent absence of Poms...

Other than the sea, it's been slow going since Saturday. No birds of particular note at all. But I'll still point the camera at anything which craves attention... this superb Whimbrel.

The rattling song of Lesser Whitethroat is good enough on its own, but the blackthorn perch just makes it perfect.

And then of course, there are Wheatears...

...and through the arched window...

The last two or three days have seen Common Terns become much more obvious off the beach. On Sunday I reached a total of 40-odd until I realised there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, and I actually had no idea how many I'd seen!

Although there is obvious contrast between [old] outer and [new] inner primaries, no real dark wedges yet. Bit of a trap for the unwary. Mind you, Arctic looks much 'cleaner' winged to my eye.

And just a teeny wedge on this one.

While we're looking out to sea, I'll mention that brown Gannet which featured on the previous post. I was intrigued to notice that the Portland Bird Observatory blog had posted a photo of a very similar bird which went past two days later, with a caption noting how unusual it was to see one at this time of year. Very similar, I thought...

There is just enough detail visible in my super-low-res pic to confirm that it's the same bird.

Yesterday I noted my first Wall butterfly of 2021, at West Bexington. It didn't pose. And I added another orchid to my local list. A whole bunch of Early Purple Orchids, which I stumbled across in a really obvious place that I must have walked past umpteen times while they've been in flower...

Early Purple Orchid, Cogden.

Green-winged Orchid, West Bexington. I had been told the location of these, but they still took a bit of hunting down. There weren't many.

The idea of this post was a four-day summary, but I've not even mentioned nocmig. Another time...


  1. You're getting busy down there Gav which is good to see. It looks like a wind change is due next week - and about time too.

    1. Cheers Dave. It's so exciting to see migration in action. Love it! 😍

      Yep, a wet and windy bank holiday. What a surprise! 😄

  2. Youre having a canny spring so far Gav, its only a matter of time before the cherry appears....

    1. Ha ha! Nothing finer than a spring cherry in full breeding plumage! 😄