Monday 18 October 2021

The Opportunist Horde

For a number of days the local coast has been hosting enormous shoals of fish, often very close to the shore. And when I say 'very close', I mean it...

Whitebait on the shingle at West Bexington last Thursday afternoon

The Whitebait shoals are chased by Mackerel shoals, which sometimes push their prey so close to the shore that the panicking tiddlers literally leap out on to the beach. Long, wavy, silver ribbons of fish have recently become an everyday sight along the local strandline. It is a bit of a sad spectacle, but I doubt they go to waste. For one thing, I've seen a couple of enterprising folk scooping them into carrier bags for tea. Also - crucially - this glittering bounty has not gone unnoticed by the Lyme Bay gulls.

I can't remember when I first twigged it, but suddenly I noticed there were small feeding flocks of gulls along the coast, and then last week some quite big ones. It seems the news has travelled, because there are now loads of gulls about. But thus far I haven't managed to find anything of interest among them. The largely calm conditions and blazing sunshine have not helped, with gull flocks hugely mobile, not very approachable, often staying a bit too far out and in unhelpful light. However, today that changed...

We've had a brisk SSW all day, and a lot of rain. Not normally conditions I'd be pleased about, but this afternoon I decided to brave it. During a family social at West Bay yesterday I couldn't help noticing a milling throng of gulls offshore; it looked like Whitebait shoals were still around. So that's where I tried today. And there's a handy shelter at West Bay if the weather is too awful. Which it mainly was.

Uncharacteristically I paid for two hours of seafront parking, but then foolishly went for a walk out on the pier and along the prom, and got soaked. But there were gulls all over the place. Loads of big ones close in, and a constant passage of small ones further out, including a stack of Meds. Retiring to the shelter I decided to count the passing Med Gulls. I got to 100 in just nine minutes! I tried another nine-minute slot a short while later, but only counted 35 this time. I assumed the movement was drying up, so went for another walk, searching for oddities among the big gulls. Apart from a decent but all-too-brief candidate for 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull, I found nothing but another soaking. Back to the shelter, and another Med Gull count. In 15 to 20 minutes I counted 110, still all going east. Approaching 17:00 the passage had definitely tailed off, but I would guess the total count for my two hours would be in the region of 5-600 or more. Which is pretty staggering!

And I haven't even mentioned the Common Gulls. Certainly a three-figure tally. Or the Gannets. A good number passing, but also a trio of juvs loitering just offshore, shallow-diving continually. They were there for the duration, so presumably finding plenty to eat.

2nd-winter Med Gull

1st-winter Med Gull and a bit of sea

Definitely among the smartest of gull plumages

And finally, a couple of adults. Just lovely.

Nothing rare, nothing scarce even, but boy, what a great time I had! Thousands of gulls, a constant turnover of stuff to look at, and goodness knows what I missed beyond binocular range. Yep, it was a bit special...

A small fraction of the opportunist horde!


  1. Very nice, Gavin, but I think we need something to take your mind off gulls. Ever since you mentioned it a few posts back, I've been waiting for you to get a Scopac. Are you going to get one? If so, I'd appreciate a rundown of the basic features and diagnostic field marks.


    1. Ha ha! I do have a Scopac now. I expect it will feature on here at some stage, but, to be frank, it has not been the game-changer I thought it might. Turns out I am still the same lazy slob who doesn't like carrying more than bins and camera (and maybe digital recorder) unless he absolutely has to.

  2. That is incredible Gav, never seen anything like that. I read with interest a while back about the Caspian Gull on your blog, and wished I studied gull identification more in my earlier years. Still there's no time like the present. But what an excellent day though except for weather. Is the Kiosk still on the end of the shelter, or I expect the poor old lady has gone now, last time I was there was 2011.

    All the best


    1. Hi Tony. One of the privileges of living by the sea is witnessing the occasional spectacle of that sort. Quite amazing to see...

      Yes, the kiosk is still there. Though I'm not sure how often it's open. Definitely not when there's a wet hoolie blowing though!