Monday 6 November 2023


I had to get on with some proper work today. Catching up after a load of rough weather is normally a bit of a slog, but today was better than usual because of something that happened before work...

It was just a short visit to West Bay. Maybe 20 minutes around the seafront - where I saw almost nothing - followed by a quick look at the Melplash Showground flood. Not much of a flood now though, rather a soggy field with big puddles. Still, there were a few gulls. And it was here that I saw what is actually a new West Bay bird for me, though it took me a day of periodic pondering to feel happy with it.

So this post is a kind of whodunnit? As you read through the clues, see how quickly you can work out what the bird is.

So, there I am by the showground entrance, coffee perched on a handy wall while I scan the gulls with bins. I'm guessing there were about 20-30 Herring Gulls and 40-odd Black-headed Gulls scattered around, along with four Med Gulls, two of which were first-winters. Since the field flooded I've counted up to 24 Med Gulls at a time but so far no first-winters, so I wouldn't mind a photo or two. I reach down to unclip the flap of my camera bag. Unfortunately, at that very moment the gulls flush.

Dog walkers normally enter through the gate and head right, which is away from most of the gulls. Eventually they may circle around to the far side of the floodwater, behind the gulls. Either way, any gull flush caused by dog walkers - even when dogs off the lead run into the wettest areas, right among the birds - is partial, beginning at the periphery. Normally birds flush in a falling-dominoes kind of fashion, and not too panicky. They just fly out of harm's way, frequently dropping back down somewhere they feel safer. This flush is not like that. It is instant and total. Also, apart from the sudden rush of wings, virtually silent.

I glance quickly around the field, but already know it isn't going to be a dog. So I look up, expecting a Peregrine maybe. Sure enough, there is a bird of prey gliding left over the flood, but it is totally the wrong shape. Surely a mere Sparrowhawk didn't cause that panic?

The bird is gliding quite rapidly south with wings half closed. Too distant to get much detail on it, but I am pretty sure the tail is rounded. It is quickly losing height, though heading away towards the coast. Suddenly it turns, quite low now, and doubles back, landing on the far end of a stone wall that runs east to west, a bit left of my position...

Yellow blob = me; white dot = bird

Just before alighting on the wall, four or five wingbeats. They are ridiculously slow wingbeats, like flapping in slow-motion, and not the slightest bit Sparrowhawk-like. At the range involved (around 180-190 metres according to Google Maps) I am struggling to get a feel for the bird's size, but it certainly doesn't look huge. Obviously I am thinking now of something other than Sparrowhawk! It is basically brown, though too far away to make out feather detail. Try as I might, not even a hint of a supercilium.

How I wish I had decided about two minutes earlier to photograph those Med Gulls. Now I really must get that camera out. But before I can even switch the thing on, the bird is gone. With my naked eye I see it leave the wall, but cannot pick it up again with bins. So presumably it is away low and out of view, perhaps along the river.

Looking up towards West Cliff, I spy a figure at the vismig watchpoint. A quick heads-up phonecall to Tom, and he guesses what I've seen as soon as I describe the flush. In fact, less than 20 minutes earlier he had a possible/probable flying east over Bridport. After our chat I scan the flood once again. Apart from a Pied Wag it is utterly birdless.

So, yes, I have spent a pleasant day on autopilot, replaying this morning's events over and over again. And I have added Goshawk to my West Bay list, presumably a juvenile male.


  1. Nice one Gav. 👍 I managed to guess the bird at the r-slow wingbeats stage.

    1. Well done Ric. Not a species I ever expected to encounter on the coast here.

  2. I guess a goshawk through a process of elimination. Another one from the Haig jam jar. I have many locations for goshawks around me and a mate in Gloucester that's become obsessed by them yet, I have still not seen one.

    1. For such a large bird they can be amazingly hard to catch up with. They seem to have a rather under-the-radar kind of lifestyle.