Friday 1 October 2021

A Strained Relationship

In past NQS posts I may well have expressed a love of seawatching. Well, all I can say right now is that seawatching and I need a bit of relationship counselling, because I am rapidly falling out of love.

On Monday morning I tried an early one at Cogden. I sat down, made a note of the start time, and ended up going home for breakfast without troubling my notepad any further. This morning I forgot to enter the start time and wound up writing nothing at all. In fact, within 15 minutes I realised it was going to be slow and found myself suddenly eager to leave. I think I stuck it for about 30 minutes. Tuesday was a little better. Cogden again, 11:00 - 13:00 and a strong SSW. I noted 19 Balearic Shearwaters, 18 Kitts, 2 Common Scoters, 2 Arctic Skuas and 9 auk sp. What those figures fail to convey is how deeply unsatisfying it all was, because almost everything was at mega-range, and there were several interesting but totally unidentifiable dots. The only redeeming aspect was a constant to-ing and fro-ing of Gannets, so there was almost always something to look at and check. Even so, two hours were plenty.

Yesterday was quite stormy, and under normal circumstances I would have looked forward to a bit of seawatching. Unfortunately I was in Exeter most of the day, but one of the local birders did spend four hours at Cogden, reporting 2 Arctic Skuas, 1 Balearic Shearwater, 1 Little Gull and a juvenile Sabine's. I've seen just three local Sabine's Gulls, and none of those while seawatching exactly. I'd love to see another, but the thought of sitting through four hours of Gannets in order to do so... I just can't get excited about it.

Spring seawatching is one thing, and the prospect of spoony Poms will always be a draw. At least I hope so. But autumn? That's a different thing. I can't remember the last time I had a really enjoyable autumn seawatch locally. And I've noticed that mobile birding is more and more appealing to me these days. I'd much rather walk for two hours and see not much, than achieve a similar result on my backside.

Anyway, what else has been happening since last weekend's Caspian Gull? Not much really. Apart from the seawatch tally mentioned above, five outings have netted 2 Chiffs, 2 Wheatears, a Whinchat, a Green Sandpiper and about 8 Snipe. Pretty feeble.

A Sparrowhawk on the beach last Sunday was a nice novelty though

East Bex Wheatear this afternoon, in ex-maize field

Looking at the weather forecast right now is pretty depressing. An unrelenting procession of Atlantic-based gank. Mind you, if I was a keen seawatcher...


Update - 2nd October

The original version of this post included the following:

The blasting wind has largely emptied the coast of gulls and, unlike last Saturday, this afternoon there were none at all in the East Bex fields, and no Med Gulls anywhere. I came across one small group of large gulls on West Bex beach - less than ten birds - and one looked interesting. Looking into the sun, the light was abysmal, but...

On the left: 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull. On the right: 2nd-winter Herring Gull

Through bins it was too distant and poorly lit, and I couldn't nail it, but the camera persuaded me that a bit of effort was called for. I walked further west, then down on to the beach and back towards the gulls. The light was side-on, but much better. Just as I was lining up for the first photos, someone on the coast path spooked the lot...

1st-winter YLG in 60% of its glory

Okay. First of all, that is definitely not a Yellow-legged Gull. For a start, the scapulars should be much more strongly marked, with obvious dark anchors etc, and the greater coverts should be more obviously chequered. So what is it? The options are Herring Gull, Caspian Gull, Lesser Black-backed or hybrid. Without going into detail it is pretty easy to rule out Herring Gull and Caspian Gull, which leaves us with the last two. To suggest it's a hybrid would be a weasely cop-out, so I shall just put my hand up and admit that, as Tim suggests in the comments below, this is a pretty bog-standard Lesser Black-backed Gull.

In reality gulls fool me all the time, but not many get as far as the blog before I realise what's happened. I briefly contemplated removing all reference to this cock-up, but perhaps it is better to leave it here as a salutary lesson. One of the reasons I love gulls is because they are such a challenge. They stretch my ID skills and force me to learn new things. But gulls are hard. Mistakes are inevitable, and I would imagine that all of us who enjoy getting involved with gulls make plenty of them. So here's a nice (and hopefully rare) public example of one of mine!

Gulls keep you grounded. Always look at them. [wry grin emoji]


  1. Sympathies on the Gull Gav, been there many times. I'd like to see more of it but, for what it's worth, I'm fairly confident that's a LBB.

    1. Thanks Tim. Yes, I think you're right. Certainly can't see a more likely option. So annoying when they catch you out! Not good for the confidence. Still, at least it made me do a bit of research and learn a few things which might help next time. Might. 😄

  2. Oh dear Gav, maybe curtail the seawatching for when the weather is exactly right. This should at least give hope of some birds...

    1. I find it so hard to predict if the weather is going to produce or not, especially in autumn. Seawatching in what looks like perfect weather can frequently be a total waste of time. I imagine the problem is our location here in Lyme Bay. Even looking at what Portland or Berry Head are getting isn't much help, with birds presumably passing too far out, or simply not getting this far into the bay. In fact Berry Head in particular is just a constant source of grippage... 😄

  3. You will need a fast moving low up the channel from the Atlantic Id imagine, to at least move stuff up there, but as you say if its a sheltered location it might need a big storm to do that.