Monday 25 September 2023

Grey Phalarope

Since picking up my binoculars again after a summer of blinkered mothing, I seem to have hit one of those all-too-rare purple patches where decent birds throw themselves at you. Like at Cogden this morning. With a zillion square miles of heaving sea in front of me, I chose to look at the exact spot where a tiny bird happened momentarily to be visible. I was so convinced that the subliminal speck I saw was not some random bit of flotsam, that I immediately dug out the camera and scurried along the top of the beach for a closer look. Then followed at least two or three frustrating minutes of scanning before I eventually saw it again...

Grey Phalarope. Imagine this exact pose, but much, much smaller and further away, and that is what my initial view was like. Unmistakeable.

But the bird was an absolute pig to keep track of. Not because it was flying around or anything, but because the swell was so big. Trying to photograph it was a nightmare, and this is the best shot I managed...

First-winter Grey Phalarope at Cogden Beach, around 07:45.

It was very slowly drifting east but seemed happy enough with the little rafts of weedy debris to pick at, so I was hopeful it would linger, and that Mike and Alan would get to see it. However, shortly after taking that photo I lost it again, and another ten minutes of scanning failed to relocate it. Had it managed to depart unseen? I was a bit gutted to think it might have sneaked off. Thankfully, well over an hour later, a message from Mike confirmed that the phalarope was still present, a bit further east. Excellent. And Mike kindly sent this terrific photo...

This shot totally captures the vibe: the bird, the light, the sea... Classic. © Mike Morse

There was another refugee of the recent weather bobbing about just offshore...

Juvenile Gannet. It looked well enough, but this really is not where a Gannet ought to be. Judging by the way passing gulls occasionally paused and gave it a speculative look, I don't rate its chances.

The zoomed-in shot is deceptive. The Gannet wasn't especially close to the beach, and the Grey Phalarope was further out still.

There wasn't much else on offer, and the only other birds I bothered noting were 4 Wheatears, plus singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff. Did I care?

It is many years since I last found a local Grey Phalarope. I know it is still September, but I can't help wondering if I've just used up all my autumn jam. Time will tell.


  1. You are certainly on a roll Gav. With the luck you are having right now, you could well end up with a 'Yank'. In your moth trap.

    1. I can think of at least one Nearctic moth that's turned up in Britain: Stephens' Gem. I wonder if it's dropped into any Pembrokeshire moth traps recently?! 😄

  2. I would love to have some sea to look at. When I retire perhaps. Quality bird there, nice one. Whatever you're eating for breakfast keep having it.

    1. I may occasionally moan about local seawatching but do appreciate how fortunate I am to live close to the coast, and try hard not to take it for granted. When we first moved to Seaton, it took many months to lose the the strange 'surely we must be on holiday?' feeling that accompanied every visit to the seafront. Yes, I am sure you would not regret a move to the coast one day...

      I've seen less than 10 local Grey Phalaropes in 20 years (though could have twitched a few others), and I think found two, maybe three of them. I am pretty sure coffee and toast were responsible in each case. 😊

  3. Hi Gavin, just been going through your blogs, as I wondered I had not seen any on Twitter. All very good as usual and I have missed them but now I have found them again. Martin Wood

    1. Thanks Martin, yes, I'm not on Twitter any more. Glad you've 'found' me again. 😊👍