Sunday 29 August 2021

A Bizarre Fluke

Just for a change I walked the beach first on this morning's visit to Cogden. Apart from a few Yellow Wagtails over, and three Wheatears on the deck, it was very quiet. Back along the coast path was little better. At first. And then suddenly there were Whinchats everywhere. In no time at all I'd counted seven. Where had they come from? And then my phone rang. It was James M. He'd just found a Melodious Warbler near the car park!

Unfortunately there is no fairy-tale ending here. The Melodious Warbler performed a vanishing act, so my morning's final tally was 17 Yellow Wags, 3 Wheatears, 4 Sedge Warblers, 2 Willow Warblers, 2 Blackcaps and a Lesser Whitethroat.

It's worth mentioning that I wouldn't have seen a single Sedge Warbler if I hadn't bothered with a bit of pishing...

Hypnotised Sedge Warbler catches the early-morning sun.

I ended up at West Bex for an afternoon walk, and made up the route as I went along. Apart from a trickle of hirundines overhead, migrants were at a premium, and by the time I found myself in the Mere field I had just ones or twos of Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and Chiff noted. At which point I saw a bird flick into a hedge, and lifted my bins to check it out. But the bird had gone deep, and never reappeared. While I was waiting hopefully, peering at a birdless bit of hedge, I suddenly realised there was a dragonfly in my field of view, hanging on the twiggage...

A recent happening at West Bex has been the appearance of at least one male and one female Southern Migrant Hawker, a rare but increasing vagrant to the UK. Despite the upward trend in occurences it is still a rare enough insect that Steve recently discovered the first ever for Devon at Beer Head (write-up here) and needless to say, I've never seen one. But the striking, blue-eyed male is the latest addition to my tiny gallery of Odonata search images. The other day Mike Morse posted a photo of the female which he and Alan found at West Bex, and I remembered two things about it. One: it was a dull thing. And two: it had a long, pale triangle on the upper abdomen, a bit like the male's (though not blue) and noticeably different in shape to the Migrant Hawker's 'golf tee'. Through bins, my dragonfly definitely satisfied thing one. It was dull. For thing two I needed a photo...

My first shot, from some distance, definitely shows a pale triangle.

I got a bit closer and took some more, downloaded one to my phone and sent it to Steve.

'...what do I have here? Please say Southern Migrant Hawker.'

Long story short: my photo does indeed depict a female Southern Migrant Hawker. I am slightly blown away by the bizarre flukiness of my discovery, but to be honest it fits the pattern of how so many good finds occur. Like the Red-backed Shrike that appeared in my field of view last year when I lifted my bins to look at some Linnets. Nothing clever, just complete and utter jam. The only constants are being out, and looking at stuff.

So that was the high point of my afternoon, the discovery of my own Southern Migrant Hawker, a very smart dragonfly lifer. But there was more...

Although it was slow going, I did wind up with a few quality migrants: a Whinchat, 2 Redstarts and a Spotted Flycatcher. The first Redstart prompted a comedy moment. It whizzed behind a short hedge, and I realised that a good photo opportunity was up for grabs if I sneaked carefully round the far end of that hedge. I prepped the camera and eased slowly forward. But before I'd rounded the corner the Redstart suddenly popped into view and perched on a twig, quivering, no more than 15 feet away. I was mid step, front foot literally in the air. I froze. The Redstart froze. I lifted the camera slowly to my eye and tried to swivel my body, all the weight on my back foot. The camera was waving about so much that I couldn't even find the bird in the viewfinder. Three seconds felt like an aeon of time, and I had to plant that front foot. So I did...

Needless to say, you're going to have to make do with a photo of the second Redstart, which was hundreds of metres away...

This afternoon's Nanostart

The Spotted Flycatcher wasn't much closer...

This bird was in exactly the same bit of hedge which produced my first Spottted Flycatcher of 2020

Finally, here is probably the best pic of the dragonfly. I've carefully compared it to Mike's photo, and they are two different individuals. Interesting...

Female Southern Migrant Hawker. West Bexington, 29th August 2021.

There's plenty of autumn left, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful but I hope this jamminess also manifests itself in a birdy way over the coming weeks...


  1. Great find there Gav. And you're correct about just being 'out'. It's that adage when wondering about whether or not to go fishing on account of the conditions being a bit off. "Well Jim, we won't be catching Salmon here in the drawing room'.

    1. So true Ric. I'm very fortunate in that I just enjoy being out, whether conditions look promising or not. And even when they're duff, there's usually something to get excited about. 😊

  2. Doesn't the sound of the dangling golden bits frighten the birds... and dragonflies? But, as you say, you have to be there to find it. Great stuff.

    1. Ha ha! Thanks Dave. A feature of the last couple of years is how often the day's highlight isn't a bird. And I suppose when you involve more branches of natural history there are correspondingly more opportunities to be dead jammy.

  3. Fantastic stuff Gav - well done! All the best. Matt

    1. Cheers Matt, it's been a funny old year with some amazingly jammy insect encounters!