Wednesday 8 March 2023

Little Mysteries

According to the digital transliteration performed by a Sennheiser microphone, Zoom recorder and Audacity software, at 00:31 on March 2nd a Golden Plover flew over the garden. That single piping yodel was all the encouragement I needed to begin the 2023 nocmig campaign. What a cruel trick! I have just trawled through another 11+ hours of total blank, the third on the trot. Apart from that Golden Plover, in seven nights there has been one Redwing, a subliminal Moorhen, and Canada Goose x4. The night sky seems all but empty.

It would be tempting to think that not much is happening in the avian world right now, but of course that is far from true. Despite a couple of recent early-morning seawatches producing little of interest, birds are certainly on the move. On Monday there was a steady trickle of west-bound Black-headed Gulls, for example, and a dozen Gannets drifted east, high in the air and very far out. Later that day, on the Axe Estuary at Seaton, 10+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls were no doubt recent arrivals from Iberia or beyond, one or two looking almost dark enough for intermedius, but maybe not quite.

Spring is certainly in the wings, but I think we need a major change in the weather in order to coax it into the limelight. In the garden, a few Cherry Plum flowers are open; along the River Asker, a smattering of Sallow and Celandine. Soon...

Bird-wise, while I might be struggling to add new species to lists, there has been much to enjoy. Yesterday afternoon I had a few errands in town, so took the slow route there and back. A Chiffchaff was flycatching from a low tangle of twigs hanging just above the river, and seemed to catch plenty...

Chiffs are always a winter delight, especially when you come across them somewhere other than Water Treatment Works!

Nearby, resting in the middle of a small field adjacent to a major A35 junction...

Urban Little Egret. Despite the species' modern status, I don't think I will ever quite lose the feeling of novel incongruity at sights like this.

Meanwhile, in West Bay, I realise I have bitten off more than I can chew...

The Rock Pipit dalliance has been (and still is) a lot of fun, but I am now in over my head. Efforts to photograph and individually recognise each bird were going fine, initially. But once I got to a dozen or so different birds it became increasingly time-consuming and difficult to keep track. Things came to a head on Sunday afternoon. Pottering around the usual spots I came across two or three birds, but none would play ball and I failed to get any decent pics. Also, I got distracted by this intriguing creature hiding in the grass...

Look at the supercilium on that!

Almost Whinchat-grade eyebrows!

Eventually it popped into view properly...

...and proved to be just a Meadow Pipit.

The camera actually reveals a lot more than my binoculars initially did at the time. All I could see was that stonking pair of supercilia peeking through the grass, which I fully expected to be attached to a well-advanced littoralis Rock Pipit. The depth of my disappointment surprised me, and suddenly I realised just how much I want to see one in that plumage.

It had been a while since I last checked the golf course, so I headed that way. The driving range is often a good spot to see one or two Rockits, sometimes four or five. Imagine how I felt at discovering a flock of 12!

Golf course Rockit. Every single one looked like this. Not a touch of pink on any.

It was almost 5pm, and much too gloomy for decent photos really. I'll be honest: my heart sank. Were these new birds, or had I already encountered them down in the valley or on the harbour wall? Or were they from further east, from the Burton Freshwater/Burton Cliffs area where I spent so much time last year? I will never know. I have little doubt that they are littoralis, but oh how I wish they would colour up for me!

My usual Rockit spots on the left there; location of the golf course birds on the right.

Anyway, it was nice to come across a Black Redstart again on Sunday afternoon, this one in a quiet, delightfully unkempt walled garden next to the East Beach car park. And what is more, comparing photos proves it a different bird to the familiar slipway female...

Black Redstart

Was this the bird that gets along the East Cliffs? I am still going with the theory that there have been four Black Redstarts in West Bay this winter, but will I ever know for sure? Of course not. And probably I should be grateful for all these little mysteries that keep the questions coming...


  1. Spring is reluctant but inevitable Gav, I just hope that when is does turn warm it continues as such. I fear for several species of butterfly if they get another cold blast after waking up.
    We've got a heavy covering of snow today so life remains dormant.

    1. Hopefully this wintry interlude was just a glitch. Awoke to snow-covered car this morning (in Lancashire) but back home this evening it feels a bit milder. Possibly double figures tomorrow. All good. 😊