Saturday, 8 November 2014

Desert Wheatears

Its been a remarkable end to the week with the discovery of not one but two Desert Wheatears, a few miles apart and a few miles from home. First up a 1st winter male on the North Denes at Lowestoft on Thursday, easily located from the Links Road car park by the small cluster of birders on the sea wall. The bird wasn't on view when I arrived as it had gone on to the beach but I was told it would pop back on to the sea wall and sure enough it did. Desert Wheatears are known to be confiding and this one was particularly so, picking at small black flies swarming on one edge of the sea wall whilst birders watched and photographed it from the other. Conditions were ideal for photography too, windless with a bright low winter sun and a blue North Sea as a back drop.

At times it would come even closer and wasn't perturbed when a springer spaniel trotted past it just a foot away.

A brief seawatch produced a distant single Little Auk powering northwards and thankfully avoiding falling victim to one of the many Great Black-backed Gulls loafing off shore.
Today, it was the turn of the female on Gorleston beach, still in Suffolk to Suffolk birders, but Norfolk to Norfolk birders and the County Council. Although sunny, a brisk wind was blowing up the beach so this bird was taking shelter against the base of the sea wall rather than feeding on top of it. Just like the Lowestoft male, this bird was extremely approachable and was unworried by the birders and general public above it.

Given that any novice with a reasonable camera could get a decent photo why then was it that certain photographers felt the need to scatter mealworms on the sunlit area of sand to tempt the bird out from its shelter in to the sunshine? The wheatear would dash out, grab a mealworm and immediately return to the sea wall and stay there for several minutes before dashing out again. Some would say that feeding the bird helps it but equally, feeding it could tempt the bird to linger in an area that is unsuitable for it. Others compare feeding for photographic purposes to feeding garden birds but there is a crucial difference. The photographer puts out mealworms for the purpose of changing the behaviour of the bird in order to get a better photo, the bird may (or may not) benefit as a secondary consequence but once he's got his photo he drives away and abandons the bird. The garden bird feeder puts out food for the primary reason that it benefits the birds visiting the garden, the feeder getting the secondary consequential pleasure of seeing birds closer, and the garden feeder will continue to feed the birds day in, day out providing a dependable food source. The bottom line is that we have no idea what the consequences are of providing food to a displaced migrant and the motives of the mealworm providing photographers are essentially selfish. Who wants a photo of a wild bird with a very unwild mealworm in its beak anyway?

Back home, there's a distinctly wintery feel to the marsh. A ringtail female Hen Harrier seems to be lingering in the area and a Stonechat seems to have taken up winter residence along the reed fringed dykes. Small flocks of winter thrushes pass over daily and a swirling flock of several thousand starlings is also gracing the area. The first groups of Pink-footed Geese are also on the move up and down the valley but are yet to arrive in large numbers

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