Sunday, 13 November 2011

Nothing to do with the Scillies

mmmmm! Desert Wheatear!

It was going to be mmmm Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler and Pallas' Warbler, but they'd both fucked off, so mmmm....

It had last been reported just after lunch Friday, but my bag was packed and it was all or nothing. Caught the last train to Kings Lynn, caught a taxi, got out of the taxi when I realised it was going to cost me as much as a train ride to Cornwall, and walked.

I'd got as far as Heacham before I realised I might have to re-mortgage so only a 6-7 mile walk at 02:00 AM. I had thought about using the facilities at Titchwell, but that would have added a couple of miles on to my journey, but I was getting knackered. Sleeping in the dunes would be cosy I thought considering the huge amount of clothing I had brought . I got that slightly wrong.

Anyhow the walk was great: Tawny Owls hooting, Redwing over, Robin singing in a Hunstanton tree by a lamppost, Golden and Ringed Plover calling in the dunes. Some strange unfamiliar noises/calls too.

So the dunes were a non starter so I wandered around a bit. It remained stubbornly night, though a weak moon lit the paths up rather nicely. I tried the bench that a certain Mr Jarvis (bird artist) had dedicated to the NOA on the event of his death. I salute you sir as his seat was far more comfortable and warmer than the beach. I even got some sleep.

06:40 and darker than any other time that night I got up, shook myself warm and went down to the metal gate where the last report had instructed me to go. Unfortunately I had failed to read the last, and probably vital bit of information that said north on the tide line. This oversight was put right by the second birder who came up the path from Thornham.

I tagged along as he went off through the dunes meeting up with two other guys coming the other way. As we stepped on to the shore, bingo job done.

Part 1 of "the plan" ticked off, now for Part 2 - a bit of seawatching for Long-tailed Duck, Slav Grebe, Little Auk and anything else absent from the year's list. Cornwall it wasn't but for variety and entertainment right up there. The sea did it's bit by remaining fairly calm and unchoppy and the results, well awesome: 20 + RB Merganser, Goldeneye, Goosander, Scoter (common and some velvet), Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, Eider, 2 Long-tailed Duck (kerching, the male still in his breeding best), Red-throated and GN Diver, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Grey Plover, juv Pom Skua, hundreds of Lapwing, thousands of geese, Northern Wheatear, hundreds of Little Gull etc.

Highlight for many people though was the Peregrine I picked up hammering after a sorry thrush coming in off the North Sea. Three times the falcon had the poor thrush in the sea, the last time was its end. The hunter taking the bird to the shore for its lunch only to be robbed a few minutes later by the female. My sympathy was with the thrush, insight of land only to be clobbered a few hundred feet from safety.

To calm myself down I went to Titchwell...

Met up with an old twitch associate, Richard Cockerill, who was meant to be at a wedding. Rather than that we went for Rough-legged Buzzard at Dersingham which was meant to be spending the afternoon sitting in a tree. We saw a tree, and a large bird of prey sitting in the tree, but as we got closer the tree was empty with only a juvenile Peregrine sailing around.

Now Dersingham is a great place, I saw Great Grey Shrike a couple of years back, but it does lack birds and one RL Buzzard in particular. It was getting dark now, and Richard gamely drove down the road for the GG Shrike at Roydon.

That looked a non-starter too as we met folk coming the other way shaking their heads. No show, ha! Other birders we met up the ridge said, it had been seen but now had disappeared round the back of the hill.

I went to look round the back of the hill. On the way I met a guy who inquired: "You looking for the shrike?"

"It's just down there". Blimey it was. It had gone by the time the others arrived but was quickly spotted again at the top of a tree to the south of where I was looking.

mmm shrikes!

That's it right at the top of the tree. Amazing shot!

Just time for a quick Little Owl and a fly over Yellowhammer. Missed a male Hen Harrier who was quartering the common, which would have been a fine ending, but all in all a good day and the best yet to come: my own bed.

And I really don't care about the Pallid Swift and Hoopoe that came up on the pager too late to be actioned, sod em!

Jackdaw, hundreds of the buggers. Norfolk is roost to the UK's Jackdaw population. That's a fact!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Sunday, Monday, happy days!

After a hearty dinner of local crab tagliatelle, fresh hake and seasonal veg and a pud, which I forget, washed down with cheapest wine on the list (after all I was paying for that!), I slept well. Up before dawn and out before dawn, I was in place at the ISBG hide before dawn. A plan you see, while all the rest of them would be at dump pool where the Water Thrush would appear first before doing its daily rounds of Lower Moors. Prime position you see.

Needless to say the bird didn't show and I missed breakfast. I watched the Wilson's Snipe for a bit and got bit, some showy Water Rails and got bit some more. Looked like it was going to be fabulous day.

Plan 2 was to eat a hearty breakfast. Bugger!

Plan 3 was to, er, find some birds and explore as much of the island as possible.

The Rose-coloured Starling was not at home and might have moved islands. Consolation though in the form of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth: extremely good. Moving on. Penninnis Head was somewhere I'd heard a lot about, mostly because its name makes grown men laugh, but also because good stuff gets found there. I found Black Redstart. Actually someone else had found them and left them for those that followed. Either way it would have been good if I hadn't seen Black Redstart virtually everywhere without much effort. A Richard's Pipit had also been found there but had gone.

Round the headland there is a little wood the path goes through down to Old Town Bay, just ripe for all sorts of rarities I thought. The fact that no one else had seen anything noteworthy was no deterrent whatsoever.

There were a lot of Song Thrushes! In fact the island is heaving with them, you have to watch where you step to avoid them. I have nothing against the bird, I like them, except for their pink legs. Not right at all. It's just that I paid out quite a lot of money to see things that were not Song Thrush and indeed a hell of a lot rarer than Song Thrush.

Through Old Town and up to the airfield that had previously held American Golden Plover, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Dotterel even, just days before - to find Wheatear. Now I have nothing against Wheatear, in fact I love them but.....

I sat on a tor munching on authentic Ginster's Cornish pie and cursed the winds. Looking up the deserted runway I counted 7 Wheatear and a young man running across the grass. I heard a shout. Was he shouting at me. I hadn't inadvertently flushed anything for a good few hours now, so I was pretty sure it wasn't in frustration at my sitting on a tor eating a Ginster's pastie.

He was now standing in the middle of the heather looking eastward. I tried to get on to what he might be seeing, but it was no good I'd have to go over and find out.

Black Kite's, 3 of them, just soared across from Cornwall. Hmm, I think I've seen these before somewhere. Yup Cornwall!

The guy was talking on his radio and it sounded like everybody on the island was getting on to the birds. While not as close as in Cornwall, it was great to see their interaction and their powerful grace as they circled with barely a wing-beat across St Mary's.

Enough, I have birds of my own to find and while I am at it I'll have a quick butcher's at the Blue Throat in Porth Hellick.

A nice place Porth Hellick. It would have been nicer with a showy Blue Throat, but still a nice place. News of a Melodious Warbler at the old school meant that there was no time for birds that want to be elusive when there was one "showing well".

It hadn't been "showing well" for some time when I arrived and for the hour or so after. The crowd began to disperse the Water Thrush having taken over the mantle of "showing well". I would wait it out, from my limited knowledge, Melodious were one day wonders so if was to be it would have to be tonight. A Great Northern diver flew over. Ooh year tick! But as for the warbler nothing. It was getting late and I still had to get the WT, either tonight or in the morning. I caved in and hoofed it round to the dump.

Another plan. If I didn't see the bird tonight then at least I would no how to find my way to the pool before daybreak the next morning. Ingenious. When I arrived I was met by people on their way back and the news that the bird had flow off. Not to worry it had been seen as late as 7 PM previously. Those words from Dick Philby, so gospel then.

There were just four of us at the stinky little gnat infested pond, then three, two and just me and the flies. It was getting darker. A Water Rail edged round the pool just below me, the last of the Swallows had passed over on their way to roost and it was getting quieter. Just a bit longer, Dick Philby said...

The Melodious was "showing well" again. Arse!

A small movement at the back of the pond in the gloom caught my eye. And there it was and, even in this poor, what a stunner! It came closer acting like a cross between a wagtail, dipper and flycatcher and for ten minutes I watched ignoring the increasing number of singing insects in my ears. Then as it came it was gone.

My pictures were truly bad, so the new plan for my last few hours on the island tomorrow would be: Stinky pond for better pictures. Breakfast. Medodious and anything else I could stitch up before the Scillonian left at 4:00.

And so it came to pass.

That nice Mr Lethbridge let me use this

...and this one too. Can't see the difference between the 4 shots myself

Water Thrush eventually showed well (the picture bit didn't quite work out). Breakfast was had, and after a few non-starts the Melodious gave itself up to my appreciative gaze.

And that was kind of it. A few hours to kill, not enough time to do something properly and more than enough time to be at a loose end. It is always thus at the end of things.

Nine lifers and two extra year ticks.

Best bird: the Pom Skua I found off the back of the boat on the way back, so close I could have kissed it, so close it would have been a great shot but for the camera being in the bag and somewhere else on the boat.

Self found birds: Pom Skua, er that's it. I am a tart.
Next time I'll find them.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Day 2 The Scillies

.... and we're back!

The next day it was ever so tempting to stay in bed and hit the snooze button. A strange bird was calling outside, or at least that's what I thought it was, then again perhaps it was some kind of alarm system, or part of the plumbing.

After a fine breakfast I wandered up to the Garrison. Specifically for the Rose Coloured Starling, but on the off chance the Sub-Alpine Warbler would be "showing well" in the pine walk. Either way the grand plan was to get off St Mary's for Tresco, St Martin's or St Agnes - clean up there and then back for a bash at the long-staying Water Thrush, while keeping the pager handy just in case something unmissable turned up.

A Black Redstart flew from roof top to roof top as I slowly lumbered my way to the Garrison (too much breakfast). Through the gates and then a backtrack, as I was informed I had just missed another Wryneck sitting on the roof of the cell block. Wistfully I watched the bird sun itself before it dove off into the gardens behind.

Back up the path to the fort I did a slow circuit coming out at Hugh Town where the RC Starling was meant to frequent. The RC bird was not frequenting. But news of a Raddes in the Pine Walk spurred me on. It too was a no show, but the Sub-Alpine chose this moment to feed along the hedgerow by the football fields giving some good but brief views.

Time was ticking on so I scuffed it down to the quay for the boat to Tresco, the island famed for its sub-tropical gardens. I would have but a few hours here to catch up with the two main targets Spotted Crake (dipped on three occasions at the London Wetland Centre,Rainham and the Ouse Washes) and a Least Sandpiper.

Off the boat and through the dunes a couple of Stonechat were flycatching for insects. All was well with the world until I reached the pool of said crake. for some reason I blundered on to the beach there; perhaps my Shetland approach kicked in - flush 'em, see 'em. It was only as I pottered along the reed edge that I noticed the camouflage of a trio of birders further up what I thought was a deserted shore line. I back tracked immediately.

When I arrived where they sat, the one guy admonished me correctly for behaviour. I apologised profusely. Apparently the bird had been feeding happily by the water until yours truly blundered in like an elephant. I perspired for a while hoping I hadn't screwed theirs and my day. Luckily about half an hour the bird re-appeared affording some great views of this very secretive reed dweller.

My mood lightened appreciably and after rattling of a good number of shots and behaving myself I slunk off for the Least's. That bird had apparently flown from its shoe-in position on one of the lakes and had now lost itself on the shore. The odds were not looking good.

I scoped the nearest section of the beach for a good hour, picking out Greenshank, Curlew, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, a couple of Sandwich Tern and some barwit. No small yank wader. Nor had anyone else seen the diminutive bird, with parties scouring the shore to either side of me. I turned and scoped the pond where it should have been more in hope than anything, but also to get the Lesser Yellowlegs that was feeding there.

It was nearing the time to leave so I thought I'd given the Red-backed Shrike a few minutes on the off chance. No chance. A couple of fly over Siskin and some Gadwall. Some other Least lacking birders came up and we were informed that the bird was showing o the beach between us and the boat. Excellent the very direction we needed to be heading in.

A forced march, brought us to to a point where we could see a trio of birders standing in the seaweed. It didn't look too promising. It's over there they answered to our quizzing. And there it was. It could have been a mile off it was that small. We approached. It did nothing. We approached further. It did nothing. We could have probably approached a lot further and might have got some specs for pictures, but the return boat was imminent.

Unfortunately when we arrived back at the jetty. The guy who had questioned my field skills was relating the episode to one of his mates. "... and here's the idiot now!".

His mate chimed in something about respecting the birds and the birders, while dark thoughts rumbled through my head. How about respecting your tripod and camera up your arse sideways. Came out meekly as: "I did apologise..."

I still felt bad and considered throwing myself off the boat, but that would have meant missing supper, and they would have probably turned round and saved me.

I made sure I was last off the boat and hoofed it in the opposite direction when we landed. Luckily in the same direction of another Raddes sighting at Salakee Farm.

Another quick step east up Carn Friars Lane happy faces coming the other way. There was still a sizable crowd when we arrived, just lacking the one thing. The warbler!

It soon reappeared along the field margin and then proceeded to feed in the verge in front of us. Sweet but short fleeting glimpses and at best all ways quite deep in the cover. I went manual. Shouldn't have bothered.

After about half an hour of on and off sightings it flitted over our heads into the farm yard. Time to move on. I decided the less populous route down by Porth Hellick and around the Giants Castle back to Old Town. Beautiful. Not much to see bird wise, nor was there in a quick detour to Lower Moors and the IOS hide. Darkness fell and that meant supper/dinner/food.

And then it all went sadly wronger. Imagine if you will a Raddes Warbler...