Friday, 29 April 2022

Upupa epops

The day started well. Barely a breeze, the sun low in a clear sky; it didn't feel that birdy, but a beautiful spring morning can be reward enough in itself. As I approached the beach at Cogden an Oystercatcher flew in calling and landed out of view below the shingle ridge. A careful bit of creeping...

Think I've been sussed.

You don't see Oycs on the deck here every day, so already I was nicely chuffed. The beach itself yielded 5 Wheatears as I plodded east...

The current crop of male Wheatears tend to look a lot different to most March birds. Much browner on the mantle and extensive rusty tones below.

This female was quite obliging.

And thus I ended up about as far east as you can get and still call it 'Cogden'...at which point my phone rang. Certain areas within West Bex and Cogden are notoriously bad for mobile signal, and it took three attempts for Mike and Alan to get through properly. I am very glad they persevered, because 'a Hoopoe at the Manor House Hotel, West Bex' was just about to make my day.

The hurried walk back to my car was not without incident though...

Female Redstart record shot. The small version...

...and the larger one

Surprisingly this is my fifth Redstart of the spring, but that's for another post. Anyway, it slowed me down a bit. Some 40 minutes after the first phone call though...

West Bexington Hoopoe. Initial views were dreadfully backlit.

Down the hatch!

Eventually managed to get the sun in a favourable place.

What. A. Stunner!


After about 15 minutes it flew to this sunlit roof and settled down for a good preen...


This is my second local Hoopoe. The first was five years ago, almost to the day, and at the time a significant bird for a variety of reasons, not least as my first self-found. I thoroughly enjoyed this morning's little twitch, and am jolly glad I was able to record the bird on something a bit more up to the job than a weedy phone camera.

And the spring is yet young(ish)!

This afternoon Sandra and I ambled in to town for a spot of lunch, via the River Asker. Since learning that we have a small population of Water Voles literally yards from the door, we've been pretty keen to see one. Today was the day...

Water Vole! It was only on view for seconds, and I completely botched the photo opportunity, but that furry blur is a pukka River Asker Water Vole.

The River Asker also supports a head of Brown Trout. Most are very small, but we did see this one of roughly half a pound or so...

River Asker Brownie

While we were standing on a bridge and peering into the water, an elderly chap approached us. His mobility was very poor, and aided by two sticks, but he shuffled slowly over and in a broad Dorset accent asked if we'd seen any trout. Yes, we answered, a few tiddlers. He replied that he was glad, because some years ago a farmer upstream at Powerstock had suffered a slurry spill* which had 'killed the lot of 'em'. We guessed this old guy's rheumy eyes might have struggled to spot the little Brownies, which are quite hard to see. Hopefully he wasn't able to see the state of the river bed either though. Covered in brown, slimy-looking gank, it was not a picture of aquatic health. Let him be happy that the trout are here still...

* 'Slurry spill' = euphemism for act of ecological vandalism that kills rivers.

Saturday, 23 April 2022

Sights & Sounds

Until quite late in the day I thought this post would likely be all about sounds rather than sights. And then this happened at Cogden...

Perpetual motion in yellow

I am happy to live somewhere that Yellow Wagtails are fairly scarce in spring, because their value just goes through the roof. A male Yellow Wag is an eye-poppingly bright little creature, and fully deserves the audible 'Oh wow!' that accompanies its appearance. Unfortunately they can be a pig to photograph. Today's bird was dead flighty and never stopped moving. Neither the above photo nor the one below would normally pass muster, but they are all I have. And lemon yellow is still a joyous colour, even when it's badly posed and blurry...

Male Yellow Wagtail. A few minutes later it was over the coast road and away.

Within a hundred metres of the Yellow Wag I was failing once again to photograph a really smart bird, having inadvertantly flushed my first Redstart of the year. It was a female, which then proceeded to make sure it was on the wrong side of every bush in the neighbourhood, and I didn't get a single shot.

A long time before this little excitement I had been on the coast path, just inland of the beach. It was very breezy, with a brisk north-easterly blowing almost straight offshore, but a distant sound had briefly cut through the wind noise and stopped me in my tracks. A Cuckoo, surely? Only four or five notes, but I was 90% sure. I waited, but nothing. I walked on. Ten minutes later it happened again, clearer this time. Definitely a Cuckoo, but way up near the coastal ridge by the sound of it. With nothing better do I decided to track it down...

I got very close, but never did see the bird. It was roughly 650m from where I first heard it, but buried in a dense thicket and calling briefly every few minutes. I recorded half a dozen short videos, just to capture that wonderful sound. Here is an mp3 file lifted from one of them...


It is a cool five years since I last heard a Cuckoo, also at Cogden, so that was the undoubted highlight of this afternoon's outing. However, there were plenty of other bits and bobs: 7 Wheatears, 3 Lesser Whitethroats, a handful of Willow Warblers and assorted hirundines.

Having spotted a couple of small Scoter flocks going by, and a Whimbrel, I sat on the beach for a while to see if there was much else moving past. After a few minutes I spied a very distant group of five small white birds flying straight towards the shore it seemed, but a long way west of me, and well out. Small gulls, I thought. They appeared to have that white/black/white/black thing going on as they flapped, which in some lights can make very distant Black-headed Gulls look annoyingly like Little Gulls, and get you all excited over nothing. They were drifting even further west in the wind, and I had no scope, so grudgingly let them go and tried to forget all about them. Unfortunately they came to mind again as I sat down to write this post.

The Cuckoo wasn't the only audio thrill of the day. Last night's nocmig recording captured a spring sound I've been hoping for since I first began this lark two years ago: a little flock of Bar-tailed Godwits. At least, I think it's a flock. I'm sure the NE wind had some influence, and hopefully there will be more to come. They are not close, but that jittery, wickering noise they make is just brilliant all the same...


Finally, another 'Wheatear in habitat' shot to close...

It is 11:51 on a Saturday morning, and the Wheatear and I are at the western end of Cogden Beach. The West Bexington houses are some 2.3 miles away. Look how few people there are! Magic.

Thursday, 21 April 2022

Two Days

On the way to work yesterday I contrived to go via the West Bay seafront for a 15-minute birding fix. Scanning offshore I noted a small movement of 27 Black-headed Gulls west, and this east...

The 'Bucky-Doo' gig crew giving it welly. Permanent seawatching marker in the background.

I was just about to turn away and leave when a Wheatear suddenly popped up on the sea wall in front of me, just feet away. It wasn't happy about the close proximity of a human, and immediately legged it to one of the rock groynes...

I shall be making a habit of these 'Wheatear in habitat' context type shots, because they are very, very easy.

Presumably fresh in, the Wheatear had me wondering what else might be arriving right now. Hopefully I would get a chance to find out later on...

Home in time for a late lunch, taken al fresco due to news of a decent movement of Red Kites heading west. I saw 12, mainly by scanning well south of the garden - only a couple went over close by. By 2pm I was at Cogden, and finally there were some Willow Warblers to enjoy - 17 of them...

So good to see Willow Warblers at last

Long primary projection showing nicely in this pose.

Two Lesser Whitethroats were too skulky for pics, but a single Red Kite wasn't...

Cogden Kite

And these excellent Early Purple Orchids couldn't really skulk either...

Early Purple Orchids. Nice.

There were good numbers, but I am not yet sufficiently into plants to have reached the spike-counting stage. So, 'lots' then.

Today I pulled a similar stunt, finishing work at lunchtime and sneaking off for a bit of afternoon birding. West Bexington this time. It was very quiet, and my Willow Warbler tally was zero. There were Wheatears though - two - and therefore another opportunity for a 'Wheatear in habitat' photo...

Ploughed fields are always worth a scan.

I went for another look at the plant which I hope is going to be a Green-winged Orchid, to see how it was doing...

A bit taller, but still keeping me in suspense.

It's amazing what happens when you switch from bird mode to plant mode. All of a sudden, little green things leap out of the sward and poke you in the eye...

Can you see it? Smack in the middle.

While I was peering at the ground there could have been all sorts flying overhead. This is undoubtedly a major drawback of plant mode. So, as the Black Kite drifted by unseen, circling occasionally, I got down on my knees and photographed a little green thing...

Adder's-tongue Fern

I'm not sure how common this plant is, but I do know that it's the first I have seen. At about three inches tall it looked slightly incongruous in a grassy meadow, but, I have to admit, rather smart too.

Back in bird mode, and down to the beach...


The sun was hot, the breeze cool, and a small number of drossy gulls passed by. Over lunch I had unwisely read a BBC news item about seals being harrassed, and even attacked, by people over the Easter weekend. Stuff like that depresses me hugely. My go-to antidote is something like the above. Almost prone on the beach, my back against a grassy slope studded with little clumps of Thrift; the only sound the unhurried, rhythmic 'whoosh' of surf on shingle, overlaid with top notes of Skylark. And not a human in sight. Fifteen minutes or so...

That did the trick.

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

The Tricky Virtue

The alarm went off at 05:45 again this morning. I am not great at getting up early, but do like to be out birding first thing if I can. When you're out before sunrise there is always a thrill of anticipation, a tingly buzz of optimism that today will be the day. Of course, it never is. Or hardly ever. It will happen, but in the meantime...

I am useless at patience. As virtues go, it is for me one of the trickiest. It's only April 19th, but already I am struggling to cope with the seeming lack of migrants. They are arriving, I know. Each day there are new birds - an extra couple of Whitethroats, Reed Warblers and whatnot; one or two Wheatears on the beach. This morning it was indeed Wheatears, five of them...

Wheatear on Cogden Beach, with Golden Cap in the background

Perfection on a stick

The white cliffs in the background belong to Beer Head, which regularly provided my first-light birding fix in a previous life.

I also know that Redstarts, Ring Ouzels, Pied Flycatchers and so on, are turning up at various inland sites. In this fine weather I am sure many will be flying straight over the South Coast without stopping. Even so, where are the Willow Warblers? I have heard a couple this spring, but I'm not sure that I've seen one yet!

It would be so easy to lose heart. This morning's five Wheatears were the only 'new' migrants I noted, but there were just two yesterday, and three the day before that. Fast and furious it ain't. Still, if I illustrate the rest of this post with various photos from the last few days, it is pretty obvious that I have nothing to moan about...

Green Sandpiper in the Saturday evening sunshine

White Wagtail...

...and again

Sand Martin

On Sunday morning I was greeted by a Marsh Harrier at Cogden. To put that in context, last year I recorded the species just twice I think. I did a really bad job of getting photos, but here is one of the less awful efforts...

Female Marsh Harrier over the Cogden reeds. At least you can tell what it is.

I also saw two Curlews distantly heading away east with four smaller waders. Thankfully Mike Morse at West Bex nailed the ID, and I have no qualms in adding Bar-tailed Godwit to the #LocalBigYear list. Five Whimbrel were less slippery. Here are two of them...

Whimbrel. I've been taking a lot of rubbish flight shots lately, but I'm happy with this one.

Red Kite over the garden at 11:56 on Sunday. I thought it was going to be the first of a few, but it was the first of one.

One interesting aspect of recent garden skywatching has been the occurrence of up to six Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Normally rather scarce from the garden, these birds have been chasing around as if they are getting a bit fruity, and now I am wondering if they might be setting up home somewhere nearby.

And so to yesterday...

A clifftop Wheatear, just after sunrise. Lovely stuff.

Oblivious to my nearby (but concealed) presence, this Brown Hare was munching away innocently...

...until it spotted me, whereupon it made for the horizon. This was at West Bexington, and a spot I've not seen Hares before.

Male Sparrowhawk at West Bex, exactly 163m away. Hand-held. Good practice for when it's something rarer. Though the hands might not be so steady I guess...

Finally, this afternoon's pics from West Bexington...

Eight Red Kites flew west in the first hour, which was quite a surprise!

Most were fairly distant, like this one, but one was so close that rooftops kept obscuring it!

Ridiculously yellow Yellowhammer in ridiculously lime green Hawthorn

Two drake Common Scoters quite close in

Wheatear with spangly dotted background of Campion flowers

This 'Passing Place - No Parking' sign always makes me chuckle. Technically this is the Burton Road, but frankly you would be doomed if you tried this in anything less than a serious 4x4 or, better, a tractor. A little beyond that bloke walking his dog are ruts like the Grand Canyon.

Lovely pair of Gadwall on the West Bex pond. Apart from eight birds on the excellent seawatch of April 11th, the first I've seen locally this year.

Scaly, vermiculated subtlety

A pretty smart duck

An awful lot of photos, I know. But hopefully I have managed to convey the fact that a massive helping of tasty migrants is not essential in order to enjoy a lovely bit of springtime birding.

That said, can I have a Redstart please?