Friday 6 December 2013

Dodgy fly-overs

Birding Orcombe can be great but it can also be extremely frustrating. Orcombe doesn't often hold species for long. This year's white-fronted goose was an absolute exception. All my best Orcombe birds have been one day birds, or less, and a heap of good stuff has just flown straight through. I've had to let a lot of potentially good stuff go as I just can't be 100% sure I've correctly identified the species.
 A couple years ago I heard an odd, nasal, single-note call - It was repeated several times and I briefly got on the bird, just a silhouette but obviously a finch of some sort. It continued west and I was left all day with the niggling feeling I'd witnessed a twite fly through - what else could it possibly be? Later that afternoon, still bugged, I birded an area around Foxholes and suddenly I could hear the same call coming towards me, quite low - unbelievable, a second bite at the cherry! Fully expecting a twite to fly over I got the bins on it but it was a brambling! I must have heard hundreds of brambling over the years but this call just didn't register - certainly not the typical loud and nasal 'vooeet'.
It seems every autumn something trips me up and years of experience often seem to count for nothing.
This autumn's lapland bunting didn't sound quite right as it took off and had I not seen it well in flight, and later on the deck, I wouldn't have counted it (and I'm not going to submit my heard-only snow bunting).
The richard's pipit thankfully called several times and showed itself to be large and long-tailed. The call was spot on and having seen the slighter, shorter-tailed blyth's before I'm happy the identification is correct. I'd have let it go had I not had reasonable views and repeated calls.

Several years ago I pursued what I originally thought was a serin, near the Bridge Inn, Topsham. After a while I realised the call was coming from beside the river Clyst - it was a common sandpiper belting out a rippling three syllable call that I'd never heard before or since for that matter!
I don't think I'm too cynical a person but I have to admit I shudder when rare species are 'heard-only briefly' fly-overs or seen poorly by the observers. In my experience common birds often make 'rare' noises. 

                           Not a snow bunting - Orcombe Point - Nov 2013

This red-throated pipit gave me the right run around in October 2009. Initially the call sounded scarily tree pipit-like and I would definitely not have counted it had I not eventually seen it well. Last year's bird was heard repeatedly and uttered the classic hissing 'psssssss' at close range in take-off and in flight. Again, a distantly and/or briefly heard bird would have been let go.


  1. Ah the joys of the un/poorly seen flyby! The Lap Bunt is interesting, I presumed your bird was the one I had at the Warren a day or two previously, that also called oddly and was only nailed on views! As an aside what day was the 'snow b' photo taken?

  2. Hi Kev - it was November 15th - had me going at first I must admit. I can't see our laps being the same but I suppose it's possible. I reckon there are many more laps out there on suitable Devon farmland judging by the frequency with which they seem to turn up on Orcombe. Good birding.

  3. Thanks Matt not the reported Warren Snow B then. Agree there are likely many more Laps out there but certainly a recent increase, I had my first DW bird in 91 but had to wait until 2003 for the next but now 6 in the last four years.

  4. Glad you have started this blog. I shall follow this one keenly.

  5. Hi Matt and welcome to the world of blogging!
    I couldn't agree more about fly-overs - Personally I don't believe you can do Lap Bunts on call only unless they give the rapid "mini machie gun" trill call as the "tew" cal is too similar to Snow Bunting. As for Richard's Pipit, the bird I had on the Otter actually responded to the very similar Blyth's Pipit call(!) so always wary unless seen in flight like yours.

  6. Great Site Matt- I love the sketches – hope you add many more to the site, it’s a dying skill and art form!
    I am also very wary and sceptical of scarce /rare flyovers there are too many common species that can make some very odd calls. Some recent examples I ‘ve heard – and luckily nailed - were Great Tit calling like a Pallas’s Warbler, Robin giving a Common Sandpiper call and even a distant dog whistle sounding like a Bee-eater.
    A rare scarce flyover really has to be seen and in some cases seen well. Personally I’d always let something go than count it if not seen properly – I get no satisfaction from adding to my personal list something I did not see well. Competitive listing of many kinds has a lot to answer for - it encourages birders to push their limits just to add to the list. It can be very easy to claim a poorly seen (or heard only) scarce/rare flyovers as they rarely leave room for re-evaluation or hard proof!
    Seawatching could be labelled as another activity ready made for easy claims, letting something go as a possible/ unidentified/ one of two species, must always be an important part of the observers philosophy.