Sunday 20 February 2022

In the Wake of Eunice

Storm Eunice battered a merciless path across Britain on Friday, taking one and a half of our neighbour's fence panels with it. The storm also did a pretty thorough job of sweeping our bit of Lyme Bay clean of birds. Seriously, a late-afternoon seawatch from Cogden yielded precisely nothing...

There might not have been any seabirds passing, but wow!

Meanwhile, in the sunny lee of a hedge...

This Stonechat - and the gorse - acting like it's spring already

To be honest, if asked what the storm might produce in the way of seabirds I would have replied, 'Probably none.' Plus a rider that the next day or two might do the business. Which is why I've been in the West Bay shelter first thing these last two mornings.

I stuck it for an hour yesterday, but just 30 minutes this morning. On Saturday I counted 124 Kittiwakes, 11 Gannets and 3 auk sp. Most of the Kittiwakes were literally miles out, and identifiable only by jizz. This morning was slower: 10 Kitts, and singles of Gannet, auk sp, Med Gull and Common Scoter.

Yay! Common Scoter! Finally, a ton up for the #LocalBigYear list.

So that's the sea. What about the land? Not much to tell, but a walk from Cogden to West Bex and back yesterday was suitably bracing, if not that birdy. In fact, the first winged creature I noticed was not a bird at all...

Honey Bee in the sheltered gorse, also acting like it's spring.

I counted 30 Teal, 2 Wigeon and 16 Shovelers on the West Bex Mere, and a Shelduck flew west. The gulls were unapproachable and disappointing, so I went to check out the buntings. It's almost two weeks since I last gave them any time, so it was nice to see four male Reed Bunts in the gang now. One of the female Cirls was also in residence. A few pics...

Female Cirl Bunting is a tricky ID challenge, but even this tiny amount of rump on a Yellowhammer would give away the chestnut colour.

No rump here, obviously, but among other features you can detect a subtle ghosting of the male's breast colouring: a greeny-grey wash with a touch of chestnut below at the sides.

Female Cirl on the left, Yellowhammer on the right.

I thought it might be useful to enlarge on that last pic. As Cirl Bunting gradually seems to be expanding its range there is a very real possibility of birds turning up well away from the core breeding area. Cirl is still a rarity in Dorset, but in January one was found in Glamorgan, South Wales. The last Welsh bird was in 2004, and the most recent Glamorgan record in 1982! It was a male, therefore unmistakeable, but I wonder how many extralimital females slip through the net every winter. Cirl Bunting must surely be a realistic target in much of southwest England, and perhaps elsewhere? So...

Although the two birds in that photo look very similar, there are some subtle - but consistent - differences. I'll mention three:

  1. Cirl has strikingly dark facial stripes.
  2. The pale ear covert spot (between the rear end of each dark stripe) is almost white, and though small, it stands out vividly in almost any view. Often it is the first feature to catch my eye when looking for the Cirl. On Yellowhammer the spot can be quite variable, but it never seems to stand out to that degree.
  3. Devon birder Mike Langman is more familar with Cirl Bunting than most, and put us on to this brilliant feature last winter: See that fine, sharp, dark streak curling over the eye? Apparently it is diagnostic* of Cirl Bunting. Yellowhammer doesn't seem to show it, or if it does it is very, very faint. That dark streak is obvious in all three photos above. Even if I can see barely anything else on the bird when it is buried in the hedge, that streak is enough to tell me I'm looking at the Cirl.

* Hopefully 'diagnostic' is not too strong. If it is, I'm sure someone will put me right.

I've learned to beware of the occasional dull, washed-out Yellowhammer, and concentrate instead on the facial features, plus rump of course, if it's visible.

I hope that might be helpful for any birder who fancies sifting their local Yellowhammers. Obviously I am no expert, but I'm a bit better at them now than I was 14 months ago!


Local birder Tom Brereton recently organised a get-together of other Bridport birders at the excellent Tiger Inn. It was in effect the inaugural meeting of the Bridport Bird Club, though there was a bit more to it than meets the eye. But I'll save that for another post...

The fledgling Bridport Bird Club proudly show off their 'membership cards'. L to R: Luke Phillips, David Martin, Keith Desbois, Steve Crimp, me, Pete Forrest. (photo © Tom Brereton)


  1. Pete showed me the West Bay shelter just two weeks ago, and now he's grinning at me from your blog! Do please say hello from me :)

    1. The West Bay shelter is a must-see on any tour of our local landmarks! 😄 Seriously though, yes, of course. Hopefully Pete will see your greeting here anyway. 😊👍

  2. What are you doing with *other people*? This is not normal.
    And why are you all holding pictures of Dippers? Also not normal.

    1. Ha ha!
      Re *other people*: I'm really not as bad as I paint, especially if beer is involved.
      Re pictures of Dippers: Please! You are referring to our coveted Bridport Bird Club 'membership cards', and the characterful species which has been selected as the club's birdy emblem. 'Dipper' is just a bird's name, right? Nothing else implied, surely?

  3. Pints of Doom Bar! Beer envy!

    1. It wasn't Doom Bar in the glass (can't remember what was!) but the Tiger Inn is a free house with excellent guest ales, so beer envy probably still applies. 😊

  4. I lived in Rax Lane just off of Barracks Street when I first moved to West Dorest in 2004. Looks like a nice get together and It's good to see you didn’t get blown away too Gav. Those Cirl's seem to turn up most times when your out.

    Love those membership cards, very good 😊

    1. Small world, Tony. An easy stroll home from the Tiger Inn. 😊