Monday 11 April 2022

An Interesting Day

This morning's West Bay seawatch was so good that I ended up having to pay for parking. I started a bit later than planned (about 06:45) and within ten minutes picked up a distant flock of seven Velvet Scoters, almost immediately followed by a dark-phase Arctic Skua. I really hoped it was a statement of intent. It was...

Tom Brereton joined me later, and it made a nice change to have another pair of eyes on the case. Tally as follows:

Velvet Scoter 9 (7+2)

Common Scoter 98 (Lots of small flocks, twos and threes)

Shoveler 10

Gadwall 8 (unusual on seawatch)

Pintail 16 (single flock)

Teal 15

Tufted Duck 3 (unusual on seawatch)

Eider 15 (single flock)

Oystercatcher 3

Grey Plover 6 (3+3)

Ringed Plover 2

Whimbrel 57 (managed to miss a couple of Curlews in with the Whimbrel flocks)

Sanderling 3

Dunlin 6

Arctic Skua 6 (1, pale, 1 intermediate, 4 dark)

Kittiwake 9 (single flock)

Sandwich Tern 154 (undercounted for sure)

'Commic' Tern 2

Red-throated Diver 6

Manx Shearwater 12

Gannet 200+ (probably a lot more than that)

By my standards that is a seriously red-letter seawatch, and the species list is exceptional.

The Eider flock, photographed by Mike Morse as it went past West Bex

Judging by Mike's photos, the Eider were a fair bit closer in at Bex, and at one point strung themselves out neatly for an accurate count. Which was kind of them, because the best that Tom and I had managed was 14...

15 Eider. A very special sight in Lyme Bay (photo Mike Morse)

Despite the very long range usually involved, I did have a couple of attempts at photography. I won't be bothering you with the Arctic Skua dot, but have these two Velvet Scoters...

Velvet Scoters. Just.

Late this afternoon I popped over to West Bex for a short walk. Hearing a Coal Tit singing, I decided to hang about and see if I could get some photos. I have very few pics of Coal Tit. When it finally appeared in the branches above me, I was somewhat taken aback. It looked awfully grey...

First views. Even from this angle I thought it looked remarkably monochrome.

I can probably count on one hand the number of steely-grey Continental Coal Tits (P. a. ater) I've seen, and all of them in autumn. Yet here I was, in April, confronted with a Coal Tit which seemingly lacked any of the olive tinge to the upper parts typical of the British race, P. a. brittanicus. A few more shots...

Has my imagination got the better of me? I'm not getting my hopes up, but have punted out some pics to one or two birders who have some in-the-hand experience with the species. It seems unlikely that a Continental Coal Tit would be singing away in perfectly good Coal Tit habbo in West Dorset right now, but stranger things...etc...

Definitely an interesting day.


  1. HI Gav - 4 ater at Portland on 10 April ( and spring records not unheard of there previously (e.g. a pair that dropped in on 18 April 2018:

    1. Hi Ben, many thanks for the tip re Portland birds. I thought the bird in the post linked from your comment was a good match, but input from more experienced eyes than mine have given yesterday's bird the thumbs down. Thought it might be a bit too bizarre to be true! 😄

  2. Why was it (the Coal Tit) given the thumbs down? Looks pretty good to me - very grey, largish nape patch and lack of buffy flanks... But what do I know?

    1. Hi Ken. This comment from someone with a lot more experience of ater than me, including in the hand...

      'to my eyes the mantle looks too olivey, the bib too small and it just doesn’t look ‘clean’ and sparkling enough for an ater'

      However, you are not alone in your thoughts on the bird. Another birder whose opinion I sought also felt it was a good candidate for ater. Personally I just don't see olive in it at all, and the flanks seem pretty 'clean' to me...

      Ah well, I'll chalk that one up to experience.