Saturday 17 September 2022

Migration's Little Prizes

This afternoon I walked an 8+ mile circuit from West Bexington to Abbotsbury Beach and back. Being mid-September, and bang in the middle of autumn passage, I expected a bit more than the 8 Chiffs and 2 Yellow Wagtails that I got. Honestly, apart from hirundines, no other migrant birds. On the other hand I counted 19 Clouded Yellows, and the landscape was peppered with Large Whites. Migration isn't all about birds.

Looking east from the edge of East Bexington. Abbotsbury Gardens below, then the Swannery, the Fleet and Chesil Beach, and Portland curving away in the distance. Ghastly.

This pristine Red Admiral had just been prodding at some over-ripe Blackberries.

Rewind a few days, and things were a lot different. According to eBird, my comprehensive search of Cogden covered just over 9 miles. And it felt like it. I am out of shape, and was knackered. Too much time hunched over a moth trap and not enough shingle-bashing. Anyway, 43 Wheatears was a record count for me here, plus 13 Whinchats, 12 Chiffs, 2 Goldcrests, and singles of White Wagtail, Willow Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and Lesser Whitethroat. Lots to look at, and it felt like something special could pop out any second...

The White Wag found a feast of flies around this big lump of beach concrete.

This Wheatear really does not look comfortable.

Whinchats are always good value. But, as is usually the case, this one would not allow close approach.

Like today, birds were not the only migrants around. I didn't count properly, but certainly 20+ Clouded Yellows. But just one Painted Lady...

Any patch of Fleabane was worth a quick check.

Once again there is a Fleabane flower involved, but tucked out of sight this time.

However, the smartest Cogden migrant that afternoon was neither a bird nor a butterfly...

Hummingbird Hawk-moth at rest.

It was right on the coast path, and flushed from its initial resting spot as I walked by. Thankfully it didn't go far. I honestly cannot recall ever finding one perched up like this. A rare treat.

Before I leave the subject of migration I must mention nocmig. Apart from a few days off earlier this month (rain, wind, apathy) the nocmig kit has been deployed almost non-stop since forever, but the autumn birds have been rather few and far between. If a highlighter pen were to scan the last several weeks it might be tempted into action by 2 Green Sandpipers, a Sandwich Tern, a definite-ish and 2 probable Pied Flycatchers. Otherwise it has been routine bits and bobs, and not many of them. And then last night there was this...

See those tiny blips around 1.5kHz?

The sonogram above is edited from the original, where each blip was separated by several seconds. It has also been cleaned up a bit, noise-wise, so that they stand out more obviously. They went on for more than two minutes, but I must confess to missing the first few initially. Thank goodness I didn't miss them all. I suspected what it was, but sought (and duly got) confirmation from the nocmig WhatsApp group. I give you: one faint and distant Pink-footed Goose...

Needless to say, a nocmig tick for me here in Dorset, where Pink-foot is a description species. The first Pink-footed Geese have been arriving in numbers at many sites north of Watford, and it is easy to imagine one or two over-enthusiastic individuals pressing on a little too far, especially with a bit of wind-assist. Yesterday, for example, one turned up at Abbotsbury Swannery. I would love to know whether it was that bird which flew over Bridport at 01:55 this morning.

Last night was cold and clear, and the moth numbers nosedived. Just 20 in total, and nothing new. Our last migrant tick was on Wednesday night...

Pearly Underwing. Quite a big moth, and momentarily I almost dismissed it as another Large Yellow Underwing. And then I noticed its grey Mohican.

Of course, it's not all about migrants. Plenty of other moths have forced me to photograph them...

Nice, fresh Centre-barred Sallow.

Another Blair's Mocha. Very prominent spots on this one, and a gorgeous deep colour.

Trio of Lunar Underwings from last night. Quite variable, aren't they? I love that beautiful stripey one; shades of Feathered Gothic.

Our second Frosted Orange. Another cracking moth.

The stripey Lunar Underwing definitely deserves a leaf shot.

So there it is. A few of migration's little prizes, plus some regular moths. Chief prize was the Pink-footed Goose of course, and I didn't even have to see it to enjoy it. In fact the whole fascinating process of editing, analysing and investigating that nocmig event galvanised me into doing something I should have done more than a week ago.

On September 10th, at 01:48, a small bird flew over and went 'tew'. I cut out and saved the call, made some preliminary investigations, but ran out of steam. Well, I'm back on the case now. We shall see...



  1. Another great post Gav. Reading one like this when one's own day has been a wash-out, makes up for it. Intrigued as to the 'Tew'! call. A description job perhaps?

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Ric. Re the 'tew' call: not a bird I've seen locally. 😉

  2. Never a dull moment in Bridport, mind you, a static hummingbird hawk moth? I've seen plenty over the last couple of weeks but static? You are indeed blessed.

    1. Sounds like it's been a good year for Hummingbird Hawk-moths, and we've certainly had a few in the garden. But likewise, always in perpetual motion!