Beside the Seaside

Magazine Source

Gavin Haig

Magazine Author

Gavin Haigh

Magazine Date
28-07-20
Magazine Article
One of the best things about living where I do is just down the road. The seaside. When we first moved from Herts in December 2002, every visit to the seafront made us feel like we were on holiday. We had to remind ourselves, 'No, we actually live here now!' It took many months, perhaps more than a year, before that feeling eventually subsided. But even now I occasionally find myself paused at some gorgeous spot, a salty breeze on my cheek, just gazing out over the swell or along the coast at the wide sweep of Lyme Bay, barely believing my good fortune...

Of course, for a birder a coastal location has everything going for it. Migrant-wise it's the point of both arrival and departure. And there is sea to watch. Okay, the local seawatching could be better, but there have been some absolutely brilliant moments over the years. And there are gulls; sometimes a lot of gulls. Moreover, it is just beautiful.

Anyway, I am sitting here tapping this out after a walk at East Bexington with Sandra. Just a stroll really, no intensive hedge-grilling or anything like that, but even so we managed at least 2 Yellow Wagtails, single Reed and Cetti's Warblers, a superb Hobby which slowly worked its way west, upsetting loads of hirundines en route, and this Wheatear...

My first E Bex Wheatear of the autumn.

There were surprisingly few gulls along the beach. A handful of Herring and GBB Gulls, and just 3 Black-headed caught my eye. We were almost back at the car park when I spotted a group of four small gulls heading towards us. They were all Meds. So, to spice things up I pretended the juv among them was actually a Laughing Gull, and that the mission I had chosen to accept was to get a clinching photo...

Camera bag open - camera out - switch on - check settings - zoom - point - focus - a-a-a-a-and...

Nailed! Imaginary Laughing Gull.


Yes, whether or not the birding is good, you can always make it better. For example, yesterday there was a bit of a blow here. I contemplated an early start in the strong southerly and rain, but decided against it in the end. Too many wet disappointments in the past. I finally made it out at 17:30, by which time the wind was easing, and swinging steadily more west. It was dead out there. Lifeless. Twenty minutes in, and I think I might have seen one Gannet or so. And then suddenly I picked up two very distant shearwaters. And I mean very distant. I zoomed right up and squinted hard. What were they? Well, not Balearics. They were shearing like mad, big easy loops. Balearics never do that. Manxies? I couldn't detect even a hint of paleness, but if they were back-on then I probably wouldn't at that range. But they had a kind of relaxed, lanky look, and obviously I was toying with the Sooty option by now. But let me tell you, inner-Lyme Bay Sooties are very scarce indeed. Even so, by the time they'd gone out of view I'd decided what they were: possible Sooty Shearwaters. It's the one time you're allowed to be as stringy as you like - when super-distant seabirds go past. As long as you keep away from 'probable' and (heaven forbid!) 'definite', you'll be okay. If your mates further along the coast see nothing but Manxies, rather than think 'What a plonker!' they'll be grateful that you bravely gave them a heads-up, despite your evident deep uncertainty. Why not 'probable'? Because it's way too close to being a claim. And once you start with the 'probables' it is just a short slide down the slippery slope to 'definite', otherwise known as full-on stringing. So don't use it. Trust me.

I've just read the last few sentences back, and...er...it is obvious when I'm being a bit tongue in cheek, right? I hope so. Anyway, as the seawatching clock ticked on and my will to live shrivelled some more, a pukka Balearic skittered by at 18:23, quite close. So I gave it another forty minutes of my precious remaining life. Groan...

This morning I noticed that BirdGuides had picked up my seawatching results from Twitter, so, if you noticed '...also 2 possible Sooty Shearwaters although distant', well, that was me brightening a dull seawatch. Still, they honestly might have been, and if someone at Charmouth, Lyme Regis or Seaton had seen 2 Sooties fly past last night, naturally I would have had 'em...

Wheatears do like to be beside the seaside