Saturday 6 November 2021

Cogden 2021: Shattered Dreams

Earlier today I read a BirdGuides article entitled Shetland 2021: shattered dreams. A tale of two birders who spend an autumn holiday on Shetland, hunting specifically for rarities. But they fail to find any, so the trip is of course a disaster. A number of self-found scarcities - including three Little Buntings - are obviously no consolation.

I sympathise. I get a lot of my birding jollies from finding rarities. Unfortunately, the last time that happened was 2015 (and even that occasion was not the blast it should have been) so imagine what a trialsome time I've had these last six years. And when I do get a chance to score, the rarity is snatched from under my nose while I'm photographing a Knot! Seriously though, I genuinely do sympathise. Because when your optimistic plans come to nought, it can be rather disappointing.

That introduction is a spurious lead-in to my latest tale of woe. Snow Buntings are turning up everywhere. Admittedly, in very small numbers. Like, one. Two sometimes. And by 'everywhere' I mean the odd spot here and there. So naturally I am optimistic about finding one along our local bit of Chesil Beach. This afternoon I ventured forth to scour the shingle...

Really I should end this post here. Because my quest for a self-found Snow Bunting was an utter failure. Despite slogging up and down that beach till I almost broke a sweat, I self-found no Snow Buntings at all. Thankfully I've learned to temper my grief by looking at dross. Which I shall now share with you...

This is a tiny fraction of a feeding frenzy about two miles offshore - maybe further - photographed at 2000mm full zoom. Enlarging it, I can see lots of gulls and a few Gannets. Along with two 2cy Pomarine Skuas and a Great Shearwater.*

The only reason I photographed these Cormorants was to illustrate the size difference between the last two, which are actually one behind the other in the same plane.

This juv was one of two Red-throated Divers

A smart adult Med Gull. I like the light in this shot.

At the end of my dreadful Snow Bunting disaster I found myself adjacent to Burton Mere. Yesterday I watched the Starlings come in to roost, and counted about 12,000. Unfortunately there was not much of a murmuration spectacle. They dived in to the reeds just after 16:20, when less than half had arrived. It was even worse today, and the first lot were in by 16:09, maybe 3,000 of them. Still, I hung about to see how many more might turn up. By the time I left I had counted 22,000! Who knows how accurate that is? They arrived in groups of anything from 5 to 2,000 or more. Plus a few singles. Tsk! Starlings. Just a boring common bird. Still, when Snow Buntings let you down you've got to do something to ease the pain.

A feature of this afternoon's Starling roost was the presence of one or two Sparrowhawks. Several times there was a rapid, stealthy sortie, low over the reeds. All failed. I know the feeling.

Male Sparrowhawk in the gloom, awaiting another chance. Considering this bird was 130m away, and the camera was resting on my knee at 1600mm (equivalent) zoom, 1/30 sec shutter speed... Not bad, if I say so myself.

So there we are. Despite the pulverising blow delivered by a total absence of Snow Buntings to self-find, I managed to get back up off the canvas.

* Yes, of course I'm joking.


  1. Oh dear Gavin, Just a few miles from my house here on Sheppey, North Kent, we have a couple of Snow Buntings and a couple of Shore Larks.

    1. In almost 19 years here I've seen a total of 4 local Snow Buntings I think - two singles and a pair. As for Shorelark...pfft! No chance! 😄