Tuesday, 8 March 2022

The Lone Seawatcher & Other Tales

Up-Channel movement is a big feature of spring migration, and south coast seawatchers no doubt look forward to it each year. Well, those in Kent and Sussex. West Dorset is not quite the same thing. As well as the Channel being rather wide here, Lyme Bay is well off the main track anyway, so birds need a bit of encouragement to come within range. A decent wind can help. This morning's forecast was good. A strong breeze from somewhere a bit E of S. The West Bay shelter beckoned.

By 08:25 my tally included four new species for the #LocalBigYear list: Curlew, Shag, Bonxie and Black-tailed Godwit...

This morning's eBird checklist

To add a little context, I saw just one local Shag last year, and no Blackwits at all.

The first Shag was distant, but instantly recognisable. It's funny, a few miles west, at Seaton, Shag is a common sight. A few pairs breed on the local cliffs, and I've had the occasional three-figure count while seawatching there. But here it's all Cormorants, and Shag is scarce. The second bird was a nice, close adult; I could easily see the yellow gape.

The Black-tailed Godwits tested me somewhat. The perils of being a lone seawatcher...

By fluke I picked them up very early, well to my right. They were incredibly distant, just a speckled smudge which occasionally popped up above the waves. A flock of something. Auks? No, they look too small. Not ducks either. Waders? Yes, they must be. But definitely not Dunlin or similar, which would be invisible that far out. Bigger waders then. But what? There were 20 or so but I was struggling, and even zoomed right up I couldn't get anything on them. But as they came more level with me I began to see wing bars. And considering the range involved, these were very strong wing bars. The penny dropped. Black-tailed Godwits! Dashing flocks of Blackwits are a regular sight on the Axe, and they can certainly hammer along when pressed, like these were. But they are not a regular sight locally. In fact, that flock was only my second record. I would have appreciated a bit of company right then, one or two fellow seawatchers to discuss the ID with and confirm my conclusion, but I'm happy enough with it all the same. I'm fairly sure they're the first I've ever seen while seawatching, certainly since I've lived in the Southwest.

It was great to get some Pintail too (a pretty rare seawatching sight for me) and the early Bonxie. The forecast is promising more of this helpful wind, so I think it will be another early alarm tomorrow.

I am useless at predicting when conditions might be good for nocmig. Sunday night was clear, and I recorded a single Barn Owl, nothing more. When I switched the recorder on last night, conditions felt little different and I was not optimistic. Yet I recorded at least four (probably five) different Oystercatchers and a Curlew! Nice. Here's the best Oyc, condensed from about 75 seconds into 15...

A late sortie yesterday afternoon yielded precious few birds, but there are other things than birds...

Rather him than me. The sea was rough and the wind strong. I wonder where he ended up?

Having gradually come closer and closer, this Hare finally clocks me and freezes behind a handy bit of cover, virtually invisible.

Better than Rabbits


  1. Had to look a few times until I spotted that 'hidden' hare, canny critters. Good hit with the godwits buddy!

    1. Thanks Seth. It's a good month or more too early for spring wader flocks locally, so it's little wonder I struggled a bit!

  2. Spring seawatching here is always a bit dire. Blackwits are a rare sight, but just like your sighting I have seen them and been just as confused until the penny drops. The only good thing about a seawatch in spring is the chance of Sanderling and Ringed Plovers as the northern birds pass. I dont get them very often otherwise. No doubt, even though expectations will be low, I will do a bit of gazing during April, you never know...

    1. I love a good spring seawatch with lots of variety. Conditions have to be spot on for it to happen here, but if we get them I plan to make the most of it if possible. Sanderling and Ringed Plovers guaranteed. The Pom Skuas are on order. 😊