Sunday, 27 November 2022

Muckboot Birding

Two more Little Gulls east past West Bay yesterday afternoon brings my tally to eight. This month has seen some of the best Lyme Bay seawatching I've experienced, but last night saw the last of this rough spell, so I think that's it now... 

It's been great to see so many Kittiwakes inshore.

This Guillemot early yesterday morning looked in trouble...

Today I thought there may be a slim chance of a lingering pelagic treat in the surf first thing, but no, absolutely nothing. I did jam into the elusive West Bay Black Redstart though...

Looking at roofs - any roof - has become default birding behaviour lately.

This afternoon I pulled on the Muckboots and plodded out to investigate some of what will be my 2023 Patchwork Challenge 'green' patch. There were some nice bits and bobs - Med Gull, Water Rail (heard), 3 Chiffs, Mistle Thrush, and a possible Cetti's Warbler (single call, seemingly from reeds, but heard poorly enough to sow much doubt) - and one stonking goodie...

Dipper! Oh yesss! I could hardly believe my good fortune.

Dipper was definitely on my radar here, but far from expected, so I was well chuffed to stumble across this one, eyeing me suspiciously from its little stream...

Only the second Dipper I've seen within the Bridport recording area.

Distant Mistle Thrush.

Adult Med Gull. Always a treat.

Four and a bit really enjoyable miles, on foot from the front door. Sweet.

Thursday, 24 November 2022

Wind & Rain. Again.

Ah, the sea's been good to me again. Eventually. Very little yesterday, and likewise first thing this morning, despite a strong southerly. Small numbers of Gannets and Kitts, plus a handful of Med Gulls. But the main event looked set to play out at lunchtime today, with gale-force S/SSW and an hour-long band of torrential rain passing W to E. I planned to be in position well before the rain arrived, and stay until it cleared. Good plan, as it turned out...

11:30 - Kittiwakes straight away, with 74 in the first 15 minutes

11:44 - 2 adult Little Gulls E together.

11:49 and 12:05 - 2 more adult Little Gulls E, both close.

Tom arrived. Little Gull is never quite guaranteed each year, and thus far in 2022 he's not seen one. There were no more Little Gulls...

The rain began. By now, Kitts were passing at a good rate - I was on for a personal record for sure. Best of all, many were really close. Such a treat for a Lyme Bay birder...

Kittiwakes. Taken before the rain arrived. The light was pretty amazing for a while.

Two divers went E together, quite distant. One was definitely a Great Northern, the other a smaller bird, but not by much, and we suspected Black-throated. Tom got some pics, and analysis proved it to be just that. Scarce along the coast here, this is my first since living in West Dorset. I find Black-throated Diver a very tricky species to nail on a seawatch, especially at the range usually involved, and have seen way too many 'possibles' and 'probables' over the years.

Counting Kittiwakes.

13:20 - Tom picks up a close Leach's Petrel, sliding E virtually over the beach. We momentarily abandon the shelter. Brilliant views, if a bit wet!

West Bay Leach's Petrel (photos Tom Brereton)

Apart from a skua which had me thinking Pom but proved eventually to be an Arctic, that was it. Except for the Kittiwakes. My final tally was a rather awkward 750. Too much of a round number for me, so we'll call it 750+ and ignore the fact that they were passing at all ranges and I undoubtely missed hundreds more.

The rain cleared like a drawn curtain, leaving a sunny sky and increasingly distant, silhouetted Kittiwakes. It was nearly 2pm, and the show was over.

In other news, I've done a couple of House Sparrow roost surveys on the outer edges of the recording area, but found none at all so far. There was a consolation prize in the village of Loders though...

A countryside Black Redstart.

And finally...

Yesterday morning I received an unexpected message from a fellow Bridport moth recorder. Would I like to see a Golden Twin-spot he'd just caught? Well, I do not plan to make a habit of twitching moths, but yes I would. Particularly as I could compare it to the very similar (and even rarer) Tunbridge Wells Gem I witnessed at Abbotsbury back in October...

Golden Twin-spot. The golden scales really catch the light beautifully.

Due to the potential for individual variation within each species, I believe they are not as easy to tell apart as this comparison suggests. Incidentally, the TWG would normally sport one of those perky tufts on its thorax also.

So there we are. It has been a very eventful month. Absolutely dire for getting work done and earning money, but high winds and torrential rain do have their uses.

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Fortune Favours the Bold?

If you want to incite a fool to folly, try saying 'Fortune Favours the Bold' with enthusiastically raised eyebrows, a big, cheery grin, and a double thumbs-up. And watch them plunge out into the torrential downpour of a late-November dawn.

Well, I did give it a good try...

View from the West Bay shelter at 08:30 yesterday. It was as gloomy as it looks.

A strong SSE and constant, driving rain made for grim conditions, though the West Bay shelter lives up to its name pretty well in such conditions. It was barely light when I arrived at 07:30, but already gulls were moving from their at-sea roost, heading east into the wind, many coming in over the prom. At least 75 Med Gulls featured, which was nice. Visibility was so dire that the scope was largely redundant, and binoculars were all I needed. At 07:48 a small wader twiddled its way east, close in, and I am fairly sure it was a Grey Phalarope, but there was no way I could nail it in such thick gloom. That was the first of three single waders: a Dunlin next, then a probable Purple Sand, but I got on it late and it was out of view in seconds. A Brent Goose and 6 Common Scoters were the paltry highlights otherwise. No Little Auks. No Little Gulls. Sigh...

My hunch was slightly vindicated by the appearance of at least a couple of Little Auks in Devon and a few in Kent, and a sprinkling of Little Gulls here and there. Ah well...

I had another go in the afternoon, but birds were few and my heart wasn't in it. Bird of the day was actually on the river, not the sea...

Goosander. A really nice bird to get locally, and the first I've seen on the 'deck'. On the face of it a female, but...

...with closer views it was obviously a young bird - the pale stripe twixt bill and eye makes it a bird of the year. Not only that, but...

...in good light there is enough moult in evidence to identify it as a young male: lots of pale feathering coming through on the flanks, plus dark speckling on the head (especially where it meets the white neck) and some dark scapulars appearing too.

I do hope it sticks around. The almost ethereal, pale apricot glow of a drake Goosander on a cold winter's evening is a sight to behold...

So that's yesterday done. Except for one thing...

The 2023 Patchwork Challenge.

I've dabbled previously with Patchwork Challenge - most recently in 2016 - but for a variety of reasons never really took to it, running out of steam well before the year's end. Possibly I will do so again, but I shall give it a try at least - its ethos does fit nicely with my current desire to stay a bit more local these days. I recall struggling with a feeling of constraint imposed by having rigidly-defined boundaries, but hope to minimise or even avoid that by having two patches to play with, rather than just one..



So, there's a coastal honeypot - with the possibility of exciting finds, decent seawatching etc - and a separate 'home' patch. My rationale for choosing the latter is the green behaviours I hope it will encourage. On the Bridport North patch I shall limit myself to walking or cycling only. Or sitting idly in a garden chair, sipping wine and listening carefully for noc-mig waders. Actually, the lockdowns of 2020 revealed the potential of garden birding here, with fly-over Cuckoo, Greylags, and Fulmar (twice!) plus Nightjar, Barn Owl and Whimbrel all heard after dark.

With that on the horizon, and the Bridport Bird Club's winter House Sparrow Roost project (which I plan to make a start on this afternoon) I sense the continuation of a process which has steadily been reshaping my birding aims and objectives in recent years. And I like the way it's going...

Sunday, 20 November 2022

Optimism

In the wake of the recent West Bay Barred Warbler, exactly one month ago today I wrote this:

'So, what next? Does the Bridport recording area have any more surprises up its autumn sleeve? I hope so.'

The answer was yes, and we didn't have to wait long. On November 2nd it all kicked off. Following a WhatsApp message from Mike Morse that 2 or 3 Leach's Petrels had passed West Bexington late that morning, an afternoon seawatch at West Bay produced at least 10, also a Little Gull. Three more Leach's the next day, plus adult Pom Skua and another Little Gull. November 9th: Sabine's Gull. A few days later, up at the vis-mig watch point...

Cirl Bunting is still a quality Dorset rarity.

And the previous morning, a flyover Richard's Pipit. I probably don't have to tell you how it felt to be out of action on babysitting duties last weekend...

Since then we've had 2 Purple Sandpipers back on the harbour wall rocks, a Great White Egret which I missed, and 2 Egyptian Geese which I didn't.

Okay, it might be stretching things to include Egyptian Geese with that lot, but they are locally scarce at least, and probably more so than GWE.

A nice list of excellent local quality, which for me all began with an optimistic seawatch. I really was not expecting to see any Leach's Petrels at all, let alone 10 or more, and am so glad I listened to the voice in my head which chivvied me into action. 'What are you waiting for?' it said. 'Mike and Alan have had Leach's off Bex! Get down that shelter ASAP!'

So, I'm idly scrolling through Twitter this evening and come across a seawatching report from Jersey. Apparently 8 Little Auks and 409 Little Gulls flew W past some place called Grosnez. 'Where's that?' I wondered...

There's Grosnez...and there's me, up at the blue spot. Okay...

And what's the weather doing tonight?

A whacking great band of rain moving in from the west, plus a 45+mph gusting SSE. Hmmm...

Sure enough, the wild optimist in my head was going off again. The last time I saw local Little Auks was about 16 years ago I think, and at least a couple of times I've seen them after playing a weather-based hunch. Mind you, when it comes to playing hunches, failure has featured way more often than success. Still...

There have been a good few Little Auks down the east coast today, and to know that some have made it as far south as the Channel Islands is very encouraging, and probably more than I can resist.

If I do respond to the early alarm call, and if I do see a Little Auk or two, please expect a triumphant blog post. However, if NQS activity is conspicuous by its absence tomorrow evening, I will probably be pondering the wise words of my beloved wife...

'See? That's the trouble with being an optimist. Whereas a realist is rarely disappointed.'

Friday, 18 November 2022

Toot! Toot!

Who remembers Friends Reunited? More than 20 years ago we had a brief flirtation, but for me the allure of contacting old schoolmates extended no further than half-hearted curiosity, and I was quickly out of its grasp. Then came Facebook. Despite multiple break-ups and reconciliations, Facebook and I are finally done. Instagram? Didn't get past the first date. Twitter though. Oh, Twitter...

A bitter-sweet relationship of several years now. Always I resent its demands on my time and attention, yet cannot deny how much it has given in return. Such a wealth of interest and information, all provided via the slow and steady collection of contacts. Quite a network I have now, and it would be a shame to lose it. Yet talk on the street is that Twitter's days are numbered. Are they? Seriously, how would I know? However, should the unthinkable happen, it might be wise to have a contingency plan. Enter, Mastodon...

On Twitter I can be found here: @NotQuiteScilly

And on Mastodon, here: @NotQuiteScilly

Right now my Mastodon account is just a precaution, but if tooting ever supercedes tweeting, well, I'm all set.

Yesterday morning I spied a small bird land on a roof in the yard beyond our garden. Its distinctive tail-quivering was a dead giveaway: Black Redstart. I didn't bother with bins, but reached straight for the camera. A few shots in the bag, and it was gone. But no, it was back again. Wait a minute, that's another one! Sure enough, two Black Redstarts on the same roof. Two years ago I added Black Redstart to the garden list in exactly the same fashion, with two birds on that very roof. Yesterday's birds were against the light in bright sunshine, and it wasn't until I played around with the photos that I realised one was an adult male...

Black Redstart #1...

...and #2, a gorgeous adult male.

A bit later I came across another on West Bay's East Beach, almost certainly the same elusive individual that has been knocking about for a few weeks now...

With such a prominent white flash in the wing I assume this is a young male.

Some more from West Bay...

Male Sparrowhawk in the late afternoon sun. That eye!

Context shot. Blue gem in the reeds.

This morning I was at West Bay again. Just before 07:30, at the far end of the harbour wall...

Hello again! Two Purple Sandpipers.

Last winter's Purple Sand was a right pig to connect with. Countless efforts, and I think I saw it two, maybe three times. These two have so far been much more obliging. So much so that I was quietly confident I could show them to Sandra later in the day, when we visited with our little granddaughter. Wheeling the toddler's pushchair to the end of the walkway, I pointed at the now vacant rocks and said, 'Well, this is where they were earlier. Let's give them a minute or two, eh?'

I craned my neck and carefully scrutinised every inch of their favoured haunt, to no avail. Sandra said 'What's this then?' and pointed to our right, where a Purple Sand was perched up at point-blank range. She has an uncanny knack of doing this. I wish she came out birding with me more often.

Purple Sandpiper, almost doing purple I think.

Context shot. Lovely.

Always nice to close with a gull...

A gorgeous Med Gull on the river by Rise restaurant.

Tuesday, 15 November 2022

Rambling...

It's been a rain-dodging kind of day, and not always successful in that regard. In fact I've just got home from a good soaking. A brisk walk down the river Asker and back through town, following up a belated report of three Goosanders and a Dipper. The best I could muster were a Med Gull on the Bridport FC pitch, 2 Chiffs, and a Little Egret by Morrisons...

An almost-urban Little Egret.

This morning's walk was much better timed, with torrential downpours either side of the outdoorsy stuff. Best of all though, I had a long-desired tick...

A big clump of Lepas anatifera, the Common Goose Barnacle

The 'shell', or capitulum, from which the feeding tentacles protrude periodically. Astonishing creatures.

And this is what they were attached to - a knackered old flip-flop. I wonder where it went into the sea?

I don't know if Goose Barnacles are quite unusual locally, or if I've just been unobservant, but in 20 years living by the sea I have never seen any before. This clump was the larger of two on West Bay's East beach, and presumably the product of last night's stormy weather. There was still a big swell, and spectacular surf, and I had to be a bit careful retrieving my prize from the sea's grasp. I had a good poke about among the stalks to see if there were any little Columbus Crabs, but did wonder what onlookers must have thought I was up to...

15,000+ steps today, all very local. And 'very local' is fast becoming more and more the norm. Last night there was a Bridport Bird Club meeting at the Tiger Inn. Main topic of discussion? The club's winter survey initiative: House Sparrow roosts in the Bridport recording area. Finding, counting and documenting all our local House Sparrow roosts is not a thing I ever saw myself getting involved with, and yet here we are...

The sparrow counters (photo: Tom Brereton)

And on Thursday evening I'll be out again, this time as a sideshow to Tom Brereton's talk about the 2021 Bridport Breeding Bird Survey...

That's me in the blue star. Bird expert. You knew that, right?

Yep, I shall be talking noc-mig again. In public. For a small fee, even. Seriously, what is happening? The last time I made presentation slides, PowerPoint was not even a twinkle in Bill Gates' eye. Yet some bloke I barely recognise has just done exactly that. Some even have embedded sound files. I am in unfamiliar territory here, but quite enjoying the journey.

So, yes. Local. Since the beginning of October I have done very little birding away from the Bridport recording area, and not been to West Bexington or Cogden for more than six weeks. Focusing on West Bay for coastal birding has been surprisingly rewarding, as recent NQS posts testify. Still, there is one aspect in which it is very different to Cogden and Bex. People. West Bay is packed with them. Being a quiet loner has suited me for a long time, but self-absorption is a luxury not much afforded by West Bay birding. Especially when seawatching from the shelter. However, chatting with the various folk who strike up a conversation has been an unexpected pleasure...

On the day of three Leach's Petrels I met Bill Shelton, who used to live in Henfield, West Sussex. He told me about the Henfield Birdwatch initiative, a citizen science project which has been running for more than 20 years, and in 2011 won the BTO's Marsh Local Ornithology Award. A bit later he popped back to the shelter in appalling weather to give me his collection of Henfield Birdwatch five-yearly reports. Fascinating to see what a bit of community engagement can achieve. Quite inspirational actually. If you remember the 1988 Little Bittern that was taken into care on the Sussex coast and later released at a small pond which it proceeded to empty of Great Crested Newts, well, that was on the Henfield patch.

At least three times I have met Margaret. The other day we spent a couple of minutes chatting in the shelter, and I was pleased to learn that she'll be coming to the talk on Thursday night. It is good to know that a decent number of locals are enthusiastic about their local birds.

Talking of local birds...

An obliging 2nd-winter Med Gull on the river.

Same bird, with very West Bay backdrop.

I was chuffed to find two Purple Sandpipers on the harbour wall rocks early yesterday morning. Hope they stay for the winter.


Two Egyptian Geese heading west yesterday morning. The first I've seen locally. I was almost excited about them.

My first hasty go at a record shot had the camera desperately trying to focus on an overhead wire.

The recent storms have played havoc with the mothing. The trap has been out a few times though, and there have even been a couple of new species...

L: Chestnut, but not from our garden; caught in Lyme Regis while babysitting.
R: Dark Chestnut.
Subtle differences in wing shape are apparent in side-by-side comparison, but they still look a potentially tricky pair to me.


A really well-marked Blair's Mocha.

Still a few migrants, including this male Vestal...

...this Rusty-dot Pearl...

...and this female Vestal.

I suspect the mothing season is almost done now. Almost...

This somewhat rambling post is probably a sign of where things are heading for NQS. Rather more collaborative stuff than has been the case in recent years. Some of it may even be ornithology. And my regular birding haunts are getting closer to home. One day I might legitimately be able to use the word 'patch'...

Hope you got your tickets nice and early.

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Sabine's Gulls

Today could hardly have gone better. But it didn't start that way...

Work. That's how the day started. The recent weather might have been good for seawatching but it has been rubbish for work, and I have a backlog. I got going about 7:30, and tried not to think about birds. Especially I tried not to think about what the storm might have left behind.

At 9:30 I had to interrupt work for a doctor's appointment. Arriving at the surgery I switched my phone to silent. And of course forgot to switch it back again.

Around 11:30 and I'm in the groove, toiling away for an honest crust. A quick look at my phone...

What??!!

Missed calls, much WhatsAppery and a mouth-watering photo of a juvenile Sabine's Gull at West bay!

What can I say? I can say 'Gripped!' I suppose. Because I was. Severely. Despite a nice tally of quality birds in the recent heavy weather, Sabine's was a conspicuous no-show. There were a couple recorded elsewhere in Lyme Bay, so it was always on the cards. But in the end, no, not at West Bay.

Until this morning. Typical.

I glanced down my work schedule and realised there was hope. If I bashed everything out as rapidly as possible, and if I skipped lunch, and if...IF...the bird lingered...well, maybe.

Around 14:00, and news of a juv Sabine's Gull at Seatown, around 3 miles west of West Bay. Same bird?

14:51 - the Seatown bird is still present.

15:10 - work is done, and I am heading east from Seaton at sensible, legal speeds.

Arriving at Seatown I spy a birder on the beach, with a scope. 'Yes', he says, 'Still here', and points. Yesss! There it is, a small, dark beauty, sitting on the sea. Almost immediately it is airborne, and I manage a burst of flight shots. Following a short sortie westwards, it doubles back and away east, landing again a couple of hundred yards away.

Reviewing my pics I notice the Sab's has a missing or damaged primary in its right wing. Hmmm. I was pretty sure the West Bay bird was feather perfect. A quick check of this morning's gripping shots confirms it. This is a different bird. I wonder if the West Bay bird is still there? There hasn't been any news of it for ages, so there is only one way to find out.

I'm at West Bay shortly after 16:00. Very few gulls at the harbour end, so I beetle off down the prom as quick as I can - there isn't a lot of decent light left. Looking east from the far end I can see plenty of small gulls, and spend a few minutes picking through them. No joy. As a last resort I have a quick look at the nearest bit of sea in case there is a straggler or two. There is. It is small and dark, and bobbing about just offshore. Within seconds it flies off east to join the others.

Juv Sabine's Gull at Seatown. Note missing p6.

The Seatown bird again.

The West Bay Sabine's. Rubbish light, but you can see how dark it looks on the water.

The West Bay bird again. A perfect set of primaries.



I've seen just three previous local Sabine's Gulls, all juvs. Two off Seaton and one on Monmouth Beach, Lyme Regis. But these two are my first for more than ten years.

Worth skipping lunch for.