Sunday 21 November 2021

Allez allez

Last weekend a Little Auk was reported late in the day on both Saturday and Sunday in Weymouth, so late in fact that going to see it wasn't an option. On the rare occasions that individuals of this species appear in these parts they are usually a bit windswept and prone to being eaten by large gulls, so regular re-appearances of this one throughout the working week seemed to confound the odds. With a full diary for most of the week and non-work commitments on Friday, I thought my only chance of seeing it would be if I made a very early start on Thursday morning, as it would surely not last until the weekend.

Little Auk in Weymouth Harbour
A cuddly toy amongst birds!
Little Auk can often look close to death but this one was pretty perky
While an early start didn't really appeal, Little Auk - or Alle alle to give it its scientific name - would be a highly desirable addition to the non-motorised year and life lists. Plus crossing another cycling rubicon - a pre-work twitch to Weymouth - felt like a challenge, and with my mid-week cycling greatly reduced since the clocks went back, I told myself the exercise would be good for me. 
The Little Auk in Weymouth Marina
It spent a good while preening and resting on the surface
A bit dark in the shade of the posh boats
Leaving at 0515 I was passed by just 23 cars during the 19 mile ride to Weymouth harbour, and it was still dark when I arrived. After a bit of a wait I enjoyed good if brief views of the Auk thanks to my ex-colleague Tom Brereton relocating it from a survey vessel as it was about to leave the harbour. I was delighted but had to hammer it home to get back for work which I managed in good time with the aid of a following wind. 
In the calm waters of the Marina
As close as it got to a flight shot!
Again a bit dark in the shadows of a 'Sunseeker'
On Friday I travelled back to my native Gloucestershire for the funeral of an old schoolmate. In our late teens, Vince was the charismatic front-man of our college band which briefly tore the pants out of several pub skittle alleys around the Forest of Dean. I spent a memorable few hours with a group of friends reliving happy memories of our mis-spent youth, but the long journey home was full of sadness for our friend who had been taken too soon.
The Auk showed so well that many non-birders also enjoyed the spectacle
While showy in the Marina, when feeding the Auk could travel long distances underwater and be difficult to relocate
Some half-decent reflections in the calm waters of the Marina
The endorphins from a good bike ride seemed like a good way to cheer myself up on Saturday so I resolved to head back to Weymouth hoping for more leisurely views of the Little Auk. Incredibly it was still around and an enjoyable day was spent chasing it up and down the harbour, taking pictures, eating chips, catching up with old friends and making new ones among the crowd who had come to admire the Auk. The bike came in particularly handy for bombing over the town bridge when the bird appeared on the 'wrong' side.
Just three more...
...for the Twitter trolls...
...moaning about too many Little Auk photos on social media ;-)
Bird Twitter inevitably featured plenty of Little Auk photos, mine included and, Twitter being Twitter, I noticed a few sarky posts like 'has there never been one in Dorset before?' or 'it's hardly a Varied Thrush'. Such comments seemed to be missing a few points. First, rarely is such an enigmatic species seen this well (and certainly not in Dorset); second, these birders who should no better seemed to be mistaking 'rarity' for 'appeal'; and third, what appears on your Twitter feed is a reflection of who you follow so you only have yourself to blame if you don't like what you see!
Fieldfare in the half-light of Thursday morning below the Nothe Fort

Purple Sandpiper on the walls of the Nothe Fort was unexpected on Saturday
Bearded Tit was on my yearlist as a 'heard' only but I managed to see several yesterday at Radipole Lake
Anyway, rant over, it was a joyous day, the memory of which not even the social media trolls could destroy and I'd have done it again this morning had my legs not been a bit burnt from two trips to Weymouth in 3 days, and a total of 88 miles cycled. Today required something more sedate so I bimbled through Rempstone Forest, finally adding Redpoll to the yearlist thanks to a calling bird flying over James Leaver and I in a spot where James has been seeing a flock recently. 
Cormorant in Weymouth Harbour with what fishy Twitter identified as a Sea Scorpion

Spectacular mist formations over the Jurassic Coast on Saturday
White Nothe from Weymouth's stone pier (taken with 400mm lens)
Phone pic looking east from the stone pier
From there I continued east and met up with the family for lunch at Studland, clocking up 3,000 miles on the bike for the year in the process. By the time I got home I had done 26 miles - not bad for a 'rest' day - and it is a measure of my improved fitness that when I did a similar distance on 1st Jan at the start of this caper it nearly finished me off! As the weekend draws to a close, the yearlist stands at 214, of which the Little Auk is right up there with the very best - evidence that accessibility, character and an ability to defy the odds can be more the key to a bird's appeal than its rarity.
White Sika stag on the Frome water meadows this evening
Sika deer
Corfe Castle from Soldiers Road

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