Thursday, 22 April 2021

Wish-list Tick

Like most birders, I expect, I have an unwritten list of exciting birdy events that I would like to happen one day. A wish-list. Most involve finding good birds. At one end of the scale are realistic hopes like my Redstart encounter in the last post, while at the other end resides the stuff of fantasy. Somewhere in the middle are the 'very unlikely, but not impossible'. One of those happened today...

When I first got to know Cogden Beach a few years ago, I recall reading how Mike and Alan - the Bex and Cogden regulars - accidentally flushed a Stone-curlew off the beach one day. It's not hard to visualise. Cogden Beach is wide and birdy, with a rich flora. It is also very long, and first thing in the morning usually deserted. When I visit during migration season, and sense that I am probably the first person to walk the beach that day, I sometimes think about that oft-pictured Stone-curlew flush, and entertain a fragile hope. What a hopeless romantic.

This morning I arrived at 06:15, parked up and ambled very slowly down towards the beach. A couple of Blackcaps were in fine voice, but the scrub otherwise felt a bit empty. No telltale Willowy Warbling to suggest an overnight arrival. Reaching the coast path I turned left and looked along the beach. In the distance I could see a woman jogging along its crown towards West Bexington, so mentally abandoned thoughts of any large, flushable birds being left undisturbed. Still, nothing ventured...

I had barely gone 100 yards when a biggish bird lifted off the back of the beach and flew towards the sea. In silhouette it had an oddly hunched look, and my first thought was 'What the heck is that?!' Then I got my bins on it, more or less as it moved into better light, and the penny dropped. Stone-curlew! Never has a camera been ripped from its bag more rapidly. I didn't muck about with mega-zoom, just 300mm; I wanted a sure-fire photo in the can before it headed off to Devon.

Stone-curlew and Golden Cap, arguably the highest spot on the south coast.

Instead of Devon it chose to swing around and return to Cogden. I saw it touch down on the grassy field between the beach and the car park. There followed a couple of minutes of frantic phone activity, during which a woman and three dogs appeared from the direction of the car park and walked right past the Stone-curlew field. Agh!! Surely it must have flushed again? I didn't see it fly, but I was a long way off. Approaching closer I couldn't see it in the field either. Mike was on his way from Bex, and Alan from home, and the bird had vanished. Not again! Last year all my decent Cogden birds did a bunk before anyone else got to see them, and I really didn't want another one on that list...

I don't know what made me scan the coast path to the west, but I did, and there in the far distance was a leggy bird imitating the behaviour of a huge plover. It had to be, surely?! It was. Forgive the pictorial overload...



Unlike the two Stone-curlews I've seen on the old Axe patch, no colour-rings on this one.


By now Mike had arrived, and we hoped Alan would turn up before the first dog-walker loomed over the horizon from the direction of Burton Bradstock. Because when that happened, the bird would definitely be off again. Unfortunately he didn't, but the Stone-curlew considerately flew only as far as the first field inland...

Very distant, but what a wing pattern!

Thankfully Alan arrived in time to see it here. I headed off along the beach as originally intended, while Mike and Alan moved uphill for better views. Roughly an hour after its first appearance, the Stone-curlew departed north over the coastal ridge, and Mike got these final flight shots...

What a cracker!    Pics © Mike Morse

This is the first Stone-curlew I've genuinely 'found'. I was party to the discovery of one on St Agnes in Scilly in April 1986, but wasn't the first to clap eyes on it, so never counted that bird as a find. I have to say, the reality of today's events certainly matched those imagined! I am buzzing!

Apart from a nice flock of 2 Whimbrel and 4 Bar-tailed Godwits, and 2 Wheatears, the rest of my walk was uneventful. However, I will close with the tale of one of those Wheatears...

At one point in my beach walk I went down to the waterline to check for waders. A Wheatear was crouched on the shingle, about 10 yards onto dry land. I tried to get around it so the sun was behind me for a photo, but it flew to the top of the beach. I tried again...

I managed just this one shot, then it flew...

Yes, it flew. It flew across the beach, across the coast path, and across the first field, gaining height all the time. Heading north with intent, it grew smaller and smaller...and smaller. I would like to say that I watched until it melted into the sky, but instead I used mental extrapolation to visualise just that, and lowered my bins. Wow. That Wheatear had literally just arrived on our shores, and there it was, streaking away like a little rocket. Migration!

12 comments:

  1. Epic find Gav and equally epic account. Congratulations. What a day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ric. 😊 Yes, that one will keep me going for quite some time. 😄

      Delete
  2. Excellent find and well deserved. I can feel the excitement just reading about it !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's like drug Steph! 😄 Thanks for the kind words. 👍

      Delete
  3. You enjoyed that then :o) What a bird, I'd love to see one.
    I understand the frustrations of wheatear photography now. I tried to get a decent shot yesterday on Hay Bluff but, of the 6 spotted, only one sat long enough for a few pics at the limit of camera range.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha ha! Yes, it was a massive buzz! 😁

      Wheatears are a nice challenge. Shy, but ve-e-ery occasionally will come close. Usually very mobile, but sometimes stationary for several minutes. And with those looks, always worth a punt! 😄

      Delete
  4. Wonderful Gav - I still live in hope of gripping one of these back having missed two at Wanstead!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oof! I sympathise Tony. Got to be a very realistic chance of another though. Here's hoping... 😊👍

      Delete
  5. Great find, Gavin, and a terrific account. Conveyed the disbelief, excitement and tension perfectly. Out of interest, which birds would be your "stuff of fantasy"?

    Malcolm

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks very much Malcolm. 😊

      Perhaps oddly, I rarely think about encounters at that end of the spectrum. Some garish little new world warbler would be in the mix though. And Great Black-headed Gull, obviously. An adult. 😁

      Delete
  6. Fantastic stuff - and a well-deserved local mega find!

    ReplyDelete