Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Delayed Post from October: Blonde Birders Ride Again

Leaving work on Friday - now at the Open University - I headed to the station to catch the train to Birmingham. Tom had some talk, or mime act, or something... I forget; I was going along to be supportive. I stepped onto my super cheap, excruciatingly long train to be met with a wall of commuters and, joy of joys, a stag do travelling from south of London to poor, unfortunate Brum. I dragged in my rucksack as far into the pack as I could, tucked it behind me to protect the camera within, and settled in for the long stand.

After chatting with the teacher next to me for a few minutes I finally ended up in conversation with - amongst others - “Peppa Pig” and “Jeff Goldbulm” in the stag party (I was “Pixie”)… Turns out, they were an epic bunch; like seriously great! Friendly dudes who were very, very happy to share the beers; even buying my in on another round when they ran out. By the time we rocked up in Birmingham we’d been chatting for about an hour and - with hugs all round - I headed off on my now slightly tipsy way for food and comedy. (Guys, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re weekend was amazing!). With a start like that, you know the weekend is going to be great, and boy did it deliver.

During the evening I managed to see my cousin and the lovely Rachel, drink a lot of gin, meet Jasper Carrot, and roll in at two. At two. We were getting up at four. So after just two hours of sleep, Tom and I were cursing as we dragged ourselves out of bed and into the car, bound for Spurn point. By 6 we had pulled into services at Doncaster, filling up on toasties and coffee to fend of my threatening hangover. At 7:45 we were at Easington, roaming the church yard in search of the previous day’s red-flanked bluetail. There were already a handful of eager birders about, but no bird; we gave it half an hour and then headed towards Kilnsea. En route we stopped off at the wetlands, picking up tree sparrow and what would be the star of a big bag of redwing. Here we also found out that at least two little bunting had been seen on the point. Steeling ourselves for a trek, we headed toward The Warren; parking up and pulling on the walking boots.

As we walked down the point we were plagued by goldcrest, redwing and robins; they were everywhere, and after our dip in the church yard we jumped at every wing flick. The best bird we got was a brief view of a flushed woodcock and a nice whinchat. By the time we reached the point, we were ready for a new tick. At the entrance to the lifeboat station we met up with Nathan, who put us onto a black red that he had just seen, then we piled on for the VTS tower and our potential little bunting. 

When every wing flick grabs your attention, the hoards of robins and GC's are enough to give you a tic

Boy was our luck in, after a few seconds of waiting our target flitted up to the top of a hawthorn opposite. Sat high for a minute, before disappearing off again. Two minutes later it was back. We snapped another frantic set of pictures and it flew again. This time we properly celebrated; high fives, mountain dew, and lemon ice relentless all round. Time for another hour’s walk and hopefully a few more gems like this…

Man, it is one hell of a walk now. But halfway round we hit a bonus. A group of birders were clustered at the wash over. Focused firmly on a Lapland bunting… which was not happy to be observed and was soon flushed. We carried on north, now set on rustic bunting; the bird of Big Year notoriety (seriously folks, watch that film). After what seemed like forever now, we reached the car and headed back toward the Crown and Anchor, parking just before Church Field. Here we managed a quick chat with a couple of other birders and took a quick look in Church Field for the rustic bunting, but it was far too busy. Ring ouzel and shrike at Sammy’s Point it was.

Good views of breast "scales"

Luckily the ring ouzel was feeding in the open right by the car park, giving better views than any we had on our last trip around the Cairngorms. The shrike was a different matter. We trudged along the top, scanning every bush, getting steadily more annoyed at the number of robins. We considered dropping into the scrub for a brush bash, but after the trip down the point we lacked the will. Reaching the end of the hedges we swung round and headed for the car, and as we wandered back we passed Steve again, who let us know that the shrike had been refound on green lane. Picking up our pace, we bundled back into the car and hopped to the other side of Easington. Wandering up the lane, the birders we passed were happy to inform us that the shrike was sitting happily in full view. A nice easy tick for me and a few blurry photos to go along with it. 

Bright sunlight catching on the GG shrike's white breast

We rounded the White Horse, and took up position with the birders starting into the trees; preparing ourselves to jump at every flitting movement. We chatted to the other birders, and I managed to get a longer chat with Andy Roadhouse (who’s book I will get round to buying soon). I explained that no, we hadn’t seen the olive-backed pipit, we hadn’t seen it shouted for a while; only to be quickly informed that it was still there and easily viewable. Suddenly, I didn’t have much patience for the flycatcher. I glanced at Tom, he needed the bird, not me. Then, thankfully, the flycatcher dropped onto a branch to the right of the tree; I called it, just as it decided to fly out onto the roof of the building, flash its underwing, show its arse and disappear back into the foliage. After pausing for a high five, Tom and I boosted over to Vicar Lane for the Olive-backed Pipit and what turned out to be the easiest bird of the day. Out of car, along lane, birders, bird, watch bird, bird flies, too tired to wait to refind bird, back to the car. Seriously though it was a beaut, the colour change from orangey buff to white in the supercilium and the relatively unmarked back were clearly visible, even through the fence. My pictures do not do it ANY justice. Back in the car, we shared our last high five of the day.

Ah, photography through fences

Form here it was 3 hours of driving, jokes and real talk, during which we realised that we’d not eaten in 16 hours, sending us in search of kebab, naan bread, fried chicken and battered sausages (Tom bought something too I think). Getting back to the house I managed about a third of my food and an episode and a half of Red Dwarf, before realising that my real craving was for sleep. Making my excuses… I crawled off to bed.

On Sunday morning I woke up at 8, dressed, and wandered in search of my leftover kebab. We had made a vague plan to go for a sedate wander in search of purple heron; but after the joy of the day before, we wanted to ride the luck wave. After a vague conversation and some shovelling of remaining food, we pointed the car in the direction of Norfolk and the Radde’s warbler.

It certainly felt luxurious leaving the house at 9 o’clock, but we regretted it later. Turning up at Holkham, we were met by a stream of slightly miffed looking birders trudging back along the path… “1 hour wait, no bird”... “1 ½ hours wait, no bird”... then… “2 hours wait, quick sighting, ten minutes ago.” Boy did we hustle then. And we stood… and stood. Surrounded by around 5 un-appreciated yellow-browed warblers. One person, with consent of the group, tried the tape… a warbler shape flew over… that was it. Sod it. We weren’t going to end the weekend on a dip, we hopped in the car and headed for Titchwell. Out of the car, boom, yellow-browed, hide, pectoral sandpiper, snap snap snap, home-bound, bagging a cheeky little stint on the way out.

Pec Tick

Slightly more awake on this drive, we made plans for using my new base - the “bird-barn” - for future birding trips, caught up on 6 months of gossip, and plotted our 300 before 30 and 400 before 40 dreams. If they’re all weekends like this, we’re unstoppable.

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