Monday, 16 August 2021

A Bit of a Lesson

Apart from an overnighting motorhome the Cogden car park was empty when I arrived at 05:55. The light was dim; a gentle north-westerly breeze stirred the cool air. It felt autumnal. Typically I begin an early morning visit here by dawdling downhill to the beach, then head west along the coast path and back along the beach. This morning I reached the turning point without troubling my notebook app. A bit of pishing here and there, but no bites. Finally, halfway back along the beach, a migrant...

The first photo, literally moments after we spotted one another.

At migration times I am plagued by a ridiculously optimistic sense of expectation, especially at first light. I cannot help it. Gazing out over acres of as-yet unbirded south coast, the question is obvious: what's dropped in overnight? And more importantly, where is it? Better still: where are they? I fall for it every time, getting all keyed up beyond reason. However, by the time a completely migrant-free hour has passed, and a mile or more of silent bushes, I am once again comfortable with the reality of what is normal, ie, a nice walk in lovely surroundings, with the off chance of a decent bird or two. At which point a single Wheatear is a very welcome sight.

There's a reason I can't resist a posing Wheatear. I mean, just look at it!

The single Wheatear became three, and it was almost time to turn inland again. Just a final scan of the sea...

Ooh! That's a shearwater. And there's another. Suddenly I was looking at several shearwaters, and they appeared to be hanging around rather than passing through. Not too far out, but well to the west of me. I'd already sussed at least one Balearic among them, so hurried along the beach to get closer. Part way there I had another look. At least ten, maybe 15 birds, milling around over a smallish area. Some were certainly Manxies, their contrasty black-and-white plumage obvious as they turned, but at least two had the brown tone and dusky underparts of Balearics. At this range, with just bins, I couldn't say more than that. I hurried on.

Eventually I reckoned I must be more or less level with them. Puffing a bit, I scanned carefully. Initially there was no sign, but then I picked them up way off to my left, heading purposefully eastwards. A bit gutted I phoned Mike, hoping he'd get on them from West Bex. Sadly not.

A little flock of shearwaters was definitely not on my radar this morning, and I think they might have taught me a bit of a lesson.

I very rarely carry a scope these days, but boy did I miss having one this morning! My scope/tripod combo weighs 5kg (11lb) and is a pain to carry, so I mostly don't bother with it. And right there is a telling admission. The reason I rarely take a scope is not because I don't need it (clearly I sometimes do!), but because I hate lugging it about on long walks. And of course the answer to this problem is staring right at me from the Scopac website...

Some years ago I recall being party to a bit of leg-pulling when one of the Axe birders bought a Scopac. I have a horrible feeling I may well be eating words pretty soon. Serves me right.

Anyway, after the shearwater episode I tried one last hedge. Unprovoked, a cracking little Sedge Warbler popped out and spent several seconds inspecting me, before deciding I was harmless and slipping away into the foliage. A bit of quiet pishing coaxed it straight back out...

The very inquisitive young Sedge Warbler.

A little further along, two Willow Warblers and a second Sedgie. Result.

That's the sea in the background. I like living here.

10 comments:

  1. I had the same problem. I am in my seventies and just couldn't face carrying a heavy scope/tripod combination long distances. I adopted a different solution - I bought a lighter Opticron MM scope and a lighter tripod. They aren't quite as good as what I had before but weigh about half as much. (I don't have the back for carrying a lot, even in a harness.)

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    1. Thanks Ken, sounds like a sensible move. I'm not quite ready to trade in my heavyweight kit, at least not until I've tried a better carrying arrangement anyway. Watch this space... 😊

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  2. My boss has just bought himself a drone (and I've already told him I'll knock it straight out of the sky if ever I find it hovering over my head). Today he showed me the bird's eye footage he took of an otter swimming through the seaweed just offshore from his house, it was very impressive actually. He's hoping for dolphins next.

    Point being, drones weigh very little and could be sent scooting out to, for example, a small flock of shearwaters. I'm not at all in favour of morons and their drones spooking nesting/feeding/roosting birds, but in this particular instance would any harm be done? Not sure, probably not. Though it might get taken out by the local Peregrine.

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    1. Just hover that drone over the rocks at Pendeen... 😄

      I foresee seawatches of the future involving earnest birders hunched over a high-definition monitor/control panel in their lap, while squadrons of tiny drones whisk from bird to bird a mile out. Mind you, unless someone invents an effective collision avoidance sensor there might be some wreckage.

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  3. Gav, my scope/tripod combi weighs in at 14lb's, so gets even less outings than yours does. Hardly surprising really, I think I bought it with sea watching in mind, but even with it's impressive magnification qualities, I can't see the coast from NW London.

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    1. Oof! And I thought my outfit was quite heavy!

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  4. Never lose that giddy optimism!

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  5. You're not alone with the ridiculous over expectation. My problem is that by the time I'm halfway round I'm looking at the weather for the next day! Excellent blog Gavin, wish I'd kept going with mine instead of ranting on Twitter. Keep it up ��

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    1. Many thanks Mark. Yes, that's another thing: constant weather watching! And I'm really bad at predicting what that weather might produce. Always get it wrong...

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