Thursday, 16 March 2023

Powerful Urges

Migration is a constant source of wonder for me. The powerful urges that provoke those long, potentially hazardous journeys to breeding or wintering grounds are not to be denied, but there is no doubt that birds will often wait for the right moment, then move en masse. Some recent examples...

Last night my nocmig kit detected one Redwing call. The night before, five. The night before that (Monday) - wait for it - 684! By far the biggest Redwing count I've ever recorded in spring. Sunday night's count of 35 provided no hint of the upcoming flood!

During the first two weeks of March, Wheatears had been dribbling into the country as the odd singleton here and there. Clearly they were on their way, but I wonder if anyone could have predicted the widespread arrival experienced along the south coast yesterday? I was working, but the local WhatsApp group provided the gen: four at Sidmouth, at least six at Seaton. Between jobs I popped down to West Bay and quickly found two on the undercliff at the west end of the prom. They didn't hang around, and before I could get a photo they were off inland. One perched briefly on a roof...

First Wheatear of the year.

...and then they were away.

West Bexington had 10, and Portland, 50. Definitely a Wheatear day!

The incongruous flock of c10 Golden Plover that battled its way across an angry sea on Monday morning was not an isolated incident. Steve had a couple of small flocks do likewise off Seaton, and a handful passed Portland Bill too. Nice. Golden Plover is certainly a species likely to be migrating at this time, and a realistic possibility for the early-spring nocmigger. I have single records from March 2021 and March 2022, and had kept the streak going with one on March 1st this year. However, no way would I have predicted last night. Between 23:31 and dawn there were at least 13 occurences. At first I suspected a single, lost bird performing massive circuits, but some of the gaps were rather big for that to be a plausible theory. Then I had a flock. And another flock. Obviously I have no idea how many birds were involved in total, but evidently there was a big movement of Golden Plovers last night!

Wonderful. Birds are just endlessly fascinating, aren't they?

Before work on Tuesday, I popped down to West Bay for a quick walk in the gorgeous sunshine. The beautiful weather had stirred some other powerful urges, and I found a Rock Pipit singing his little heart out. Early days perhaps, but he was winding himself up for the full monty, with a bit of song-flighting, a bit of chasing around with a potential mate(?) or rival(?). The last sentence just emphasises my ignorance really, but my money would be on the former. Here he is...

West Bay Rockit, presumably a resident petrosus bird.

Going for it. There was a lot of posturing like this, and this particular lump of undercliff clag was a favourite spot to which he returned often.

So, just common species - Redwing, Wheatear, Golden Plover and Rock Pipit - but loads of very welcome entertainment. What's next I wonder?


  1. Migration is difficult to get your head around for our local minds. Quite how a tiny bird decides when and how to fly so far is amazing. I'm glad they do though, it lifts the heart just to hear that first chiffchaff or swift.
    I've got wrens nest building in the garden, is that early?

    1. It's early for nesting, but not for nest building. Males have to build several nests prior to the breeding season (which is typically mid-April on) so the female can pick one.

      Very much agree re the heart-lifting power of migrant arrival. 😊