Sunday 13 March 2022

While Not Looking for Wheatears

In years past I have spent a good deal of time looking for that first Wheatear, usually much too early in March. Because repeated failure is disappointing, these days I really try not to do that. Instead I just bumble along - ideally with some distracting little project or other - knowing that Wheatear will just come along anyway. The littoralis Rock Pipit challenge is ideal. It keeps me busy, but at the same time in habitat which Wheatears happen to love. I've been Rock Pipit-ing a couple of times since the last post, and seen a maximum of ten on a single visit. I have photos of at least nine different birds so far. Any littoralis yet? Well...

Rock Pipit gives glimpse of outer tail feathers. Interesting bit of apparent whiteness there...

And this one, a different bird...

Quite grey, rather than olive-brown, on the head and upperparts.

I'm not going to claim either is definitely a littoralis, but it wouldn't surprise me if they were. I think I am going to enjoy pottering about on the Burton Bradstock cliffs and surrounding area this spring. Will I get a nice pink one? I am optimistic. In the meantime, it's not a bad spot for Wheatears. Not that I've seen any there yet.

Early-morning seawatching has been a pleasant distraction too. Numbers and variety have tailed off since that first hit (with the two Shags, Bonxie, Blackwit flock, etc) but there were further single Shags on 9th and 10th, and my first Great Northern Diver of the year on the latter date. I've been quietly hoping for a Little Gull or two, but not so far...

Apart from three Curlews overnight on 8th/9th, nocmig has been uneventful, and gull-wise I have nothing whatsoever to report.

On Friday I had to drive to Milton Keynes. This unpleasant chore was lightened considerably by meeting up with my old mate Ric on the return. We spent a delightful couple of hours doing a circuit of Stockers and Springwell Lakes, near Rickmansworth, Herts. Up until twenty years ago I lived a mere ten-minute walk from Stockers. Although I never really gave the place the time it deserved, my Stockers List has some enviable birds on it, like Blue-winged Teal, Ring-necked and Ferruginous Ducks, Gannet, Hawfinch, Ring Ouzel, and my personal favourite, Red-necked Phalarope. While two birds on my Stockers List - Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Willow Tit - were once regular but now impossible, several birds which Ric and I saw on Friday were either scarce, rare or out of the question in my day. Like Oystercatcher, Little Egret, Ring-necked Parakeet and Red Kite. Those birds somehow made me feel old.

When the rain set in with a vengeance, we retired to the Ricky Aquadrome Café...

Old geezers can certainly pack away the chocolate brownie

I arrived at the arranged meeting spot quite early. While waiting for Ric to turn up I thought I may as well have a little mooch about, so pulled on my boots and reached for my bins. At which point I realised I hadn't packed them. Or my camera. Ah...

Ric saved the day by generously loaning me his lovely Zeiss Victory SF 8x42s. Cracking bins. Cheers Ric!

Oh. Almost forgot. Yesterday afternoon's highlight wasn't even a bird. A nice bit of sunshine got me thinking about Adders. Last year I didn't make much effort to see any, and was rewarded accordingly, i.e., with none. No such slackness this year though. Two beautiful specimens soaking up the March rays...

That eye!

I think this one was just sorting itself out here. I had another look later on, and it was coiled up nicely.

This afternoon's outing was a pleasant walk from West to East Bexington and back. Really there is very little to tell. Certainly I was not looking for Wheatears...

Male Wheatear, East Bex.

March 13th is my earliest Wheatear since I've lived in the Southwest. Clearly, the best way to find an early Wheatear is to not look for one.


  1. Yes Gav. Good to meet up again and check out the former local patch. The role call of bird species certainly has changed there over the decades. As for the bins? I'm glad you agreed to carry them.
    My 'in car' set were good enough for me, and under the circumstances, I considered that the Zeiss deserved to be in more skilful hands than mine.
    That said. As I mentioned on the day. I'm still competent enough to point out to another birder that the putative Bittern he described was either a Moorhen or a Coot!😏

    1. Thanks again Ric, 'twas a blast. 😊👍
      And I forgot to mention the group of Goldeneye on Springwell (always a bit special) and the ace Chub swims you pointed out on the River Colne! 😄