Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Back to the Dell of Broken Dreams

The period of easterlies appears to be drawing to a close, so I headed off to Norfolk once more to try and get a rare siberian vagrant. A quick check of birdguides, and I found myself back at the Dell of Broken Dreams.

About thirty of us scoured the area, peering under every hollybush in the vicinity of the beach huts for the Olive-Backed Pipit that had been seen earlier that morning, but only one person saw it, the extremely capable Howard who did his level best to get everyone onto it but the bird just wouldn't co-operate.

I gave up after two hours with nothing to show for it but some Goldcrests and Robins and went to Burnham Overy Staithe intending to walk out to Gun Hill and search for migrants. I met a birder coming back who'd had just four Redwings. At this point, dear reader, I had something of an epiphany. I thought "sod it. I'm not going to spend five hours in the car and several hours bashing round dunes with nothing to show for it. I'm off to Titchwell." I think something in my birding psych died there and then. It was as though I'd decided to stop cooking my own food and simply order takeaways from now on.

So I joined the queue of fellow geriatrics at Titchwell and marvelled at the exhibits. Yellow-Browed Warbler by the feeders. And there it is! flitting around a nearby bush. Jack Snipes (plural!) in the marsh by your feet. And there they were, bobbing away. Little Stint on the scrape! Two sparkly birds whizzing around being chased by Golden Plover, their juvenile plumage interspersed with new grey feathers. the bonanza continued with a Curlew Sandpiper going into dark brown/white plumage but just a hint of buff on the breast. From the beach two female Velvet Scoter with their twin face spots just visible. And on the return trip two Spoonbill in the far corner, not asleep, although there may have been more. And lots of Ruff.

Perhaps its a question of balance. If you spend all your time hunting Siberian vagrants you won't see much. It you go to well-marked out reserves you will see more but they won't be your personal achievements. Its up to the individual to find the balance that suits them best. I think I just about managed that today.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Dell. Where birding dreams go to die.

Easterly wind, Norfolk rammed with rarities, Holkham pines, stretching about 4km from Burnham Overy dunes in the west to Wells in the east is probably the pre-eminent woodland in the UK for rare birds in Autumn. Lady Ann Drive is smack in the middle and its here I pitch up at around 10 am.

For the morning I head west to look for a Radde's Warbler. It appears to have gone, but never mind I see four Yellow Browed Warblers, a cracking Firecrest, and out on the dunes a distant but clearly visible Great Grey Shrike, a Redstart, a Great White Egret in an adjacent ditch, and oodles of Thrushes and Starlings including my first Fieldfare of the winter and sufficient Song Thrush and Blackbird to mean they are clearly migrants.

The Road to the Dell is paved with good intentions.
But rarity-central is The Dell, at the other end of the pines. Yesterday it held Arctic Warbler, Radde's Warbler, and Olive Backed Pipit. the OBP has been seen today so off I yomp, ignoring calling YBWs on the way. I arrive to find a lot of morose and downcast birders standing gloomily around, and a huddle of people staring forlornly at a small grassy thicket. The pipit was seen just here, briefly, hours ago. And so it continues, with masses of Robins and Goldcrests, some Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs and a constant stream of thrushes overhead, but compared to the morning there is nothing.

This is not the first time I've struggled in the Dell. I wonder seriously what the ratio of birds reported to birds seen is, i.e. of the fifty or so birders who pass through the Dell on a day in October, how many actually see whatever the star bird is? Its a Bermuda triangle for rarities. It was so much easier in my student days bashing the Yorkshire coast. Far fewer bushes to bash for about the same number of rarities.

The Olive-Backed Pipit was here. And may still be here. Who knows?
Perhaps I'll just do the reserves next time. Clearly signposted easy-to-see birds. Or stick to the dunes.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Canvey Point - be careful what you wish for.

An easterly wind following a northerly gale; a rising tide; surely Canvey has to deliver seabirds galore today.

I was the only one who thought so. I arrived at 10 am with the tide rapidly rising from the recent low to a blank set of benches and that's the way it was for the next two hours. What did I see? well ...

The definite. the usual waders, Curlew, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Redshank, lots of Little Egret, some Teal and Brent Goose, and about 7 Mediterranean Gulls over my head including a sparkling 1st winter. Out on the river a likely max of 6 Gannets, mainly juveniles going out of the estuary but a party of 3 upriver. a Great-Crested Grebe, and at least 1 Kittiwake, though probably more.

the probables. I saw a tern flying down river. Darkish, probably a Black Tern, but hang on! Something wasn't right, it was deeper winged, possibly by-coloured on the wing, in all likelihood a juvenile Sabine's Gull. I watched it for about 5 minutes, but couldn't get a decent zoom on it to see key features. It was easy to pick out amongst the other gulls as smaller, thinner-winged, more tern-like.  Who knows ...

the possibles. I would have liked a skua. All the gulls were doing their best to look like skuas, with looking into the sun not helping. I think a number of them were kittiwakes due to the grace of their flight. There was one small bird that was all brown; a juv long-tailed? and another high up circling round like an Arctic Skua, but no white wing flashes. Oh well.

I'm not sure what I like most, setting with experts putting names to everything or being left to my own devices. I would have preferred some company but the challenge of trying to identify seabirds in a gale half a mile out is quite exhilarating!