Friday 11 November 2011

Sharp Tailed and Bristol Fashion 11th November 2011

Dawn rose in Witney as Clackers boarded the Audi to be transported to the exotic West where the beautiful go to die. A Sharp-tailed Sandpiper had been found on Blagdon Lake in Somerset the day before and having been alerted by Badger that same afternoon I arranged with Keith Clack (Clackers) that evening to go and see it the following day.

Clackers was in morose mood as we headed for the M4 as the night had been clear and he was convinced the sandpiper would have flown away. He also filled me with a sense of doom as in inimitable Clacker speak he regaled me about how he had never had much success twitching at Blagdon Lake or nearby Chew Valley Lake for that matter. My head spun from lack of sleep and all that crap stuff that life sometimes brings in the wee hours of the morning. With Clackers on board there is no need for a radio to keep one awake so I listened to his stories which sufficed to keep me conscious and the car on the road. We persisted heading west into a beautiful sunrise and approaching Bristol Clacker’s pager predictably announced there was no sign of the sandpiper. Why was I not surprised? We were negotiating a roundabout at the time and I was all for doing 360 degrees and heading for home but for some reason decided to drive on, figuring there may be a chance it had just moved to another part of the large lake that is Blagdon and someone would cover themselves in glory by re-finding it.

The pager, by way of regular updates, made it clear that it wasn’t to be and after taking a detour through some pleasant golden leafed lanes due to our original route being blocked by road-works, we arrived not at Blagdon Lake as planned but at nearby Chew Valley Lake and Herriot’s Bridge to be precise. 

'Let’s stop here Clackers and ask this birder if anything is about'

We drew to a stop and asked the question of our Wurzel friend. 

'Bain’t be nuffin’ here my lovely' he responded. 

'OK. Thanks'

'Clackers old boy  Badger was here only a few weeks ago and he had a Spotted Sandpiper on this side of the bridge although it is hard to see and he had to jump over the fence to see it'

Clacker’s fence jumping days are long gone so I took a speculative look over said fence and to my total surprise the Spotted Sandpiper hove into view. Well at least we had now seen something worthwhile so I suppose we could claim the journey was slightly salvaged. Clackers called over the few other birders present and they watched it too. It then flew out of sight. 

'Well that was good.' 

Not really, we had come to see a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and it had gone. Nothing could adequately substitute for that. 

'Come on Clackers let’s look at the main lake on the other side of the road'

Clackers went lightweight (chortle at in joke) with just his bins. I took my scope and bins and walked over the road. There were an awful lot of ducks on the lake but I was more interested in a distant muddy margin beyond the reeds which had some waders on it, although they seemed to be mainly Lapwing.

The usual impossible hope in such situations came into my head. What if the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is here? I have had these longings and impossible hopes many times before in similar situations and they have never been realised and it looked like I was not to be disappointed this time either. Clackers located a distant, large, grey wader in his bins. 

'What’s that one?' 

'It’s a Black-tailed Godwit - there’s another one to the right of it'.  


The Lapwings took off and I could see a flock of small waders in amongst the whirling black and white mass which quickly returned from whence they had risen. Scope on them. 


Oh well.

I scanned the now settled Lapwing flock again. 

'Hang on what is that grey bird with a very long beak and sewing machine like probing action? It’s too small for a godwit - it’s a Long-billed Dowitcher! Actually there are two of them. Undoubtedly the Blagdon birds'. 

Normally this would be cause for some satisfaction but our main prize and the reason for our journey was missing. Nothing but nothing could make up for that. What if we saw these and then by some miracle we saw our main target? Wouldn’t that be nice?

I scanned the shoreline again. When does hope exceed all expectation? In situations like these, sadly. I despondently counted the Lapwing with the Dunlin pottering around amongst them. Funny, that one looks a lot smaller. It’s smaller because it’s a stint. I looked at it again and it was grey with no pale braces on the mantle/scapulars and its movements were unlike a Little Stint being slower and almost sluggish. The bill looked slightly thicker and blunt ended although I was attempting this delicate identification process at extreme range with full zoom. Another birder asked me what it was and I said it might be a Semi-palmated Sandpiper but there was no way I could be absolutely certain from the range we were looking at and I was calling it as a stint or small peep of some kind and leaving it at that. 

A local then said there had been a Little Stint around and this was probably the same bird. Because of the distance and the alleged presence of a Little Stint there ensued only a subsequent mild discussion about the identity of the small wader we were now looking at and I left it as unproven due to the extreme range we were viewing it from. Both myself and Clackers were tempted to err in favour of Semi-palmated Sandpiper but regrettably in such situations one just has to accept that it is not always possible to make a positive identification**

I looked again at the assembled waders, hope all but gone, feeding on the shoreline where there were some old tree stumps in the shallow water and almost missed a small brown wader, standing motionless, sheltering in front of one of the stumps. 


Zooming the eyepiece once again to maximum revealed it to have a rusty orange cap, a large, flared white supercilium, a dark patch on the ear coverts, rich brown upperparts with scaly scapulars, an unstreaked orange-buff breast band  contrasting with white underparts and yellow-green legs. 

My insides screamed YEEEEESSSSSSS. I remained outwardly calm.  

'Have a look at this Clackers'. 

He duly looked through my scope. '

Is that what I think it is?' 

'Yes Clackers I think it is'. 

'I will go and get my scope. Keep an eye on it there’s a good fellow'

'No problem'. 

Clackers returned with his scope. Clackers grilled the bird too. I announced to our fellow birders that we have re-found the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Discreetly I do not ask what the f**k have you all been doing before we arrived. We are congratulated and thanked by the small number of other birders present. We assist some of them to locate it on the mud. Some of them ask to look through my scope. 

'Please go ahead”. 

'I can only see some Dunlin'. 

'It’s the brown one with the rusty orange cap and big white supercilium that is not grey and white like the Dunlin”. 

'Are you sure, I thought it would be bigger?' 

'No, they are the about the same size as a Dunlin but with slightly longer legs and bill'

I apply the coup de grace. 

'I have seen quite a few in China you know' 


'Yes. That is a juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper'

Clackers gets out his pager. He is the only birder present with a pager. We debate briefly whether to publicise our find. 

'Give it five Clackers. Let’s watch and enjoy it for ourselves, just for a bit. I’m enjoying this. There’s plenty of time”. 

We watch it for ten to fifteen minutes. 

'OK Clackers give it out. Let’s go nationwide!'

Twenty minutes later the vanguard of pager alerted birders arrive. We are surrounded by an increasing throng of anxious birders. 

'Where is it mate?' 

'It’s flown out of view but it always comes back, usually with the Dunlin flock to that area of mud with all the Lapwings on it. By the way there are two Long-billed Dowitchers out there also'. 

Clackers regales anyone who will listen on how the sequence of chance events led to us finding the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. For a tense twenty minutes there is no sign of it, the birders present reach three figures and then as predicted it flies back in with the Dunlin. 

Everyone gets to see it.

We hang around for an hour or so getting some really good but distant views as we are at the front. We also find a drake Goosander and a couple of Bewick’s Swans. Eventually we decide we have had enough and leave them to it. Oh yes! Life can be so good!

This is only the second juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper to be found in Britain since 1974 and only the 29th record of this species in Britain. Three have also been seen in Ireland

** It turns out that our suspicions about ‘the stint’ were correct. It was a Semi-palmated Sandpiper, as a local birder managed to get much closer to the waders and this particular individual and took some conclusive photos which were published on and a link was put on Birdforum on 03rd December. So an already brilliant day in retrospect just got a whole lot better

Twitchers at Chew Valley Lake

Saturday 22 October 2011

A Siberian Rubythroat at Gulberwick Shetland 22nd October 2011

It sounds so innocuous, does it not, but this was no ordinary event. The bird in question, a Siberian Rubythroat was only the eighth of its species to be recorded in Britain and for the vast majority of British birders represented the ultimate prize in birding cum twitching, especially as it was a male in all it's splendid finery. I saw it. In fact I saw it fifteen times over a period of six hours whilst standing at one end of a windswept stony drive leading to a house, sheltered by ornamental bushes and wind stunted trees. It took me three days, 1102 miles and 16 hours of driving plus two 12 hour ferry crossings in heavy seas to do it but I achieved it in the company of Paul Wren.

This is the sequence of extraordinary events leading to our successful twitch.

Badger alerted me by text on the 19th October to the fact that there was a male Siberian Rubythroat on Mainland, Shetland. Shetland! - you have to be joking, that’s virtually Scandinavia. No, wait a minute, it is Scandinavia! To get there costs a fortune and the only way is to fly as birds like this never remain for long. To fly costs a fortune. I cannot afford that and anyway it will be gone tomorrow. Tomorrow arrives and it is still there. I call Badger who sensibly declines any ideas of going but suggests trying Paul. I call Paul who is already asking his wife to look at flights. I find myself agreeing to also look at flights and logistics for him. Why am I doing this? I’m definitely not going. Certainly not after finding out the cost of flights from various airports around Britain. I speak to Paul and tell him it is out of the question. He responds with the fact that there is an alternative - a car ferry. 


'A ferry, it sails from Aberdeen.' 

I respond, saying 

 'Aberdeen is a very long way away and we will have to drive for eight hours before we even get on the ferry'

Paul replies 

'You are right let’s forget it ............ but it is a male'

The phone goes dead. 

I go to bed that night with no further thoughts other than it would be nice to see a Siberian Rubythroat that was about six hundred miles nearer, preferably on the local RSPB reserve at Otmoor or in my garden. I wake at six the next morning with an IDEA! Ideas at this time are not good news but I persist and eventually by half six I have formulated a plan. Normally these plans become dust as sleep recedes and sanity prevails but I persist. I will wait until seven, then call Paul immediately, suggest we meet at nine at the latest, drive five hundred plus miles to Aberdeen, catch the ferry which we haven’t even booked and which takes twelve hours to get to Lerwick, drive off the ship and no problem the bird is only a few minutes from the ferry terminal. We should be there on Tuesday morning. 


The only remotely encouraging and sensible part of this insanity is the fact that the bird is very near the ferry terminal. It will however, undoubtedly be gone by the time we get there. Siberian Rubythroats only show themselves to birders who charter planes. 

Forget it.  

Seven am arrives and I call Paul. I put the plan to him and astoundingly he agrees to it, telling me he is at work but already has his bag packed with all his birding gear just in case. How does he know? I now, having had my bluff called, find myself having to hastily pack everything I need, inform my ever supportive wife of the insane plan and head off into the morning traffic.

I collect Paul at Woodstock and we are on the road bang on nine in the morning. It really is happening. Paul tells me the bird has already been reported this morning as still being there. We book ourselves and the ever faithful Audi onto the ferry as we drive up the M40. We are now twitching. Big time. This is it. A huge gamble. A big adventure. A steady drive north with two stops for coffee, diesel etc and we arrive in Aberdeen at five thirty that evening in the rush hour. 


We find the ferry terminal with “nae bother” and line up waiting to board the car. Paul announces he wants to go to the toilet but remains in the car. Thirty minutes later he finally decides to go and sets off  just when I am given the go ahead to drive onto the huge ferry, MV Hrossey. 

A hasty return to the car by Paul. 

'I am sure they must have toilets on the ferry'

We get on the ferry, find the toilets and then the bar. Sailing time arrives - seven thirty -  and it is dark as we slowly creep out of the harbour past huge, brightly illuminated oil rig support vessels. 

'I told you we were in Scandinavia - they all have Norwegian names.' 

Not a trawler in sight. The lights of the vessels and Aberdeen recede into the darkness and we contemplate the daunting prospect of twelve hours of nothing but trying to get some sleep in the not so reclining chairs. They are not comfortable. We try the floor. Even less comfortable, horribly hard and cold. We try the seats again. We close our eyes hoping when we open them it will all be over. We open our eyes, it is only nine pm. Another ten hours of this. Groan. Back to the floor. Then the seats. Then the floor again. Finally the seats again. I throw my fleece over my head to cut out the lights and I must have passed out. I am awakened by an announcement that we are one hour out from Lerwick. I have no idea how long I have been asleep but I do not feel too bad.

We go down to the car deck, driving off the ferry as it is just getting light in Lerwick and as Paul, from previous visits has the local knowledge, quickly find ourselves at Gulberwick Church which is the designated spot for our tilt at eternal happiness. 

Gulberwick Church
Paul is very nervous and convinced the bird will have flown but I am confident it will be here. There is no reason for my confidence. I know just as much or little as Paul but throughout the journey driving north and on the ferry crossing I just knew it would not have gone and we would see it. We parked the car, at just before eight am, in an empty car park by the church and walked up the track to a gate across a drive and a sign which says 

Stand here to get the best views of the Rubythroat

We stand there with our scopes focused on the far end of the drive. Other birders join us from a taxi. I just keep looking at a particular spot at the end of the drive which looks the most likely place for a Siberian Rubythroat to appear. Not that I know anything about them apart from the fact they are skulking and behave like a Robin. 

A Robin duly appears out of nowhere, feeding furtively on the drive. I don’t make a fool of myself! 

Some fifteen minutes later there is a flick of wings and another bird flies low from the bushes on the left, across the drive and perches briefly atop a large stone on the other side. Tail cocked and wings drooped. Grey brown body, white stripes on black face and an almost luminescent red throat. No time to be excited. 

I just say 

'There it is - on the stone' 

Even as I speak it flicks its wings and is gone further right and out of sight.

No one else saw it but me. Paul did not see the bird as it was just too quick. However at least we  definitely know it is still here which was a major concern for Paul and so he and the other birders can hopefully, partially relax in that knowledge. Another tense wait ensued. Forty or so minutes passed with just the odd Blackbird landing on the drive and then it flew back low across the drive from the bushes on the right and a few seconds later showed itself from under the same bushes it had flown from when I first saw it, hopping along the side of the path, perching on low growing plants and then the stone before finally disappearing back into the bushes. Various exclamations and gasps of relief came from around me as all my fellow birders connect with this beautiful and much desired avian gem. 

It all happened so quickly that it is difficult to remember what I saw but this is what I think I noted at the time or maybe this was amassed over the fifteen times I saw it. Who really cares. What a picture it presented, a magnificent, iridescent red chin and throat, huge white stripes over its eye, broad white stripes running down the sides of the throat from the bill contrasting with a black face. Its upper-parts were more grey than brown. The under-parts showed grey on the breast and a warm orange buff on the flanks with pure white under-tail coverts. Its behaviour was very robin like, bobbing and flicking its tail and wings, constantly nervous and rarely still for longer than a few seconds. It appeared slimmer and possibly smaller than a Robin. 

The relief of tension amongst my fellow birders was palpable. Paul was now one very happy and relieved man, grinning and punching the air and shaking everyone’s hand. Up until this point there had been absolute silence as everyone waited to see the bird but now the volume levels increased considerably as adrenalin took over and birding decorum rapidly went downhill. Despite the rising decibels we decided that we would remain here for as long as possible to see as much of the bird as we could because this would probably be a unique occurrence for both of us and we should make the most of it. We had after all travelled an awfully long distance to see it. The bird seemed to have developed a vague routine and would show itself briefly every forty minutes or so, usually in the same area of bushes. Some of the views were excellent, others more brief and tantalising but it was constantly thrilling waiting for the next glimpse and by the time we left at two thirty we had seen it from all angles no less than fifteen times and really felt our huge effort and long journey had been fully justified and we had seen the bird really well. No Bagnallesque micro-second only views for us! I estimated over a six hour period (0800-1430) we had seen it for around seven to eight minutes.

I must also acknowledge a huge kindness from Mr Ockendon, the friendly owner of the property who about four hours into our odyssey drove down the drive, passed through the gate and parked his car behind us. What was going on? He duly opened the tailgate of the car to reveal thermos flasks of coffee and packets of Digestive biscuits and invited us to help ourselves, no charge. 

What a truly magnificent gesture and a life saver for us, as with no breakfast I was feeling a little faint from lack of food. The sustenance and the kindly gesture revived me no end and I am sure the same sentiments were probably felt by the rest of the birders present. The wind had been steadily increasing during our vigil and was getting progressively stronger, blowing straight into our backs and up the drive.  Thankfully there was no rain so we stuck it out for a while longer and were rewarded with further views but we had agreed that at two thirty we would leave which is what we did.

The road leading to the distant house where the rubythroat
was to be found

So the successful end to our madcap twitch came and it was back to the car but not before celebratory photos to record the moment of our triumph. Both of us were ravenous by now not having eaten anything substantial since the night before and we went in search of a fish and chip shop of which there appeared to be no shortage in Lerwick. We settled on the Happy Haddock which had the twin attractions of being warm and had tables so we could eat inside the premises.

With hunger satisfied we did a bit of birding around the quaysides before going in search of the ferry. The main highlight was very close views of winter plumaged Black Guillemots. Finally, as the light began to fade we made our way back to the ferry terminal to book in for the trip back. The forecast was dire, with gales and strong seas predicted. Our spirits began to waiver at the prospect of another twelve hours lying on the floor of the ferry or trying to sleep upright in the not so reclining chairs. Grown men should not cry but it was coming close. I spoke to the girl on the desk about the weather prospects and almost as an afterthought asked if it would be possible to upgrade our tickets to get a cabin and if so how much would it cost. 

'Just a wee minute I will have a look' says she 

Then announced she had cabins available but it would cost another £84. I looked at Paul and he looked at me. There was something in his eyes approaching desperation. Probably the same went for me. Neither of us spoke, the world turned and then I spoke the fateful words. 

'We’ll take it'

The sense of relief and warm glow that enveloped me and I guess Paul will stay forever. One of the best calls I have ever made. The nightmare scenario of THE FLOOR was banished. Paul broke into smiles and was obviously as relieved as me. I was relieved Paul was relieved. Let’s face it if she had said £840 we would probably have taken it. We boarded the ship with just a few other people, found our cabin and looked in awe at the facilities now available to us - a mattress and a duvet for each of us, our own bathroom, shower and tea making facilities. The night was now not to be feared and would be more than bearable. It would be brilliant. I confess I lay on the bed and just kicked my legs in pleasure. We were like a couple of kids released from school and the world had become a much better place.

A change of clothes and up to the bar for a few celebratory whiskies - Glen Morangie for Paul, Old Pulteney for me. We watched some football on the TV, a trawler crew proceeded to drain the bar, the ship slipped out of Lerwick and began to roll on the raging seas. We looked at the time, only eight in the evening, we tried to last out to nine but it was hopeless. We were more tired than we cared to admit. Inwardly content with that indescribable feeling of a successful long haul twitch under our belts we hit the pillows around nine and felt the ship being bounced around on the seas as we slept on soft mattresses. Pity the poor souls who were roughing it on the floor. They would be rolling in the aisles - literally. The ship was inevitably delayed getting into Aberdeen due to the heavy seas and we docked at around nine thirty. It was then a long drive south with a couple of hours stop in Glasgow to see Polly, my daughter. We were home in Oxford by eight that night. It seemed like we had been away for weeks.

We had done it. 

We had gambled. 

We had seen the birder’s Holy Grail. 

A Siberian Rubythroat. 

Tuesday 20 September 2011

A Scilly Twitch on St Mary's 20-21st September 2011


The Megamometer rose to dizzying heights on the weekend of 17-18th September with a report of a Black and White Warbler being found in the woods at Lower Moors on St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly. Shortly afterwards, it went completely off the scale as a Northern Waterthrush was reported nearby on the Project Pool, overlooked by the ISBG Hide. This combination was virtually irresistible and I called Badger to see if he was interested, later in the week, in a drive through the night to Penzance and a trip on the jolly old Scillonian. Badger wanted to hang on and see what happened but with a bit of prodding from yours truly accepted that this was the chance of a lifetime to see two mega American vagrants in one go. In the end we waited until Monday and when both birds were reported as still there it was agreed that we would go in the early hours of Tuesday morning and because of the potential difficulties of seeing these birds would stay a night on Scilly and return on Wednesday afternoon. The reasoning being it would give us more time to see both birds - for they were not guaranteed by a long shot as so far they had both proved elusive, especially the Northern Waterthrush and only brief views of both birds had been obtained. 

So it was that Badger spent the night at my house in Kingham and we left for the west at three am on Tuesday morning. Some three and a half hours later we arrived in Penzance to be greeted by a grey and damp Cornish dawn.

The Audi was secreted in a convenient lay by in a side street near to the harbour at Penzance, we loaded up our gear, walked down to the pier and after a little wait boarded The Scillonian. Whilst sat waiting to leave the pier Badger arranged overnight accommodation via his mobile phone with Marlene who ran a bed and breakfast at a house called Treboeth in the wonderfully named Buzzer Street in Hugh Town on St Mary's. We were now all set for a serious twitch. 

The two hour journey over to St Mary’s was uneventful but the weather was becoming increasingly unpleasant with light rain getting progressively heavier and showing no sign of abating. We got chatting to a bird artist called Richard Thewlis who had just been made redundant from the BTO(British Trust for Ornithology) and was going to spend a week on Scilly. We exchanged phone numbers, mutually promising to get in touch if we had any news whilst on the island about the two mega rarities. This was, in hindsight, the smartest move we made that morning. Fifteen Storm Petrels and a slightly queezy stomach later, The Scillonian eventually docked at eleven thirty in Hugh Town and we made our way in the rain to our accommodation.

We left our stuff with the obliging Marlene and in no time set off, still in the rain for Lower Moors to try to locate and hopefully get to see the Black and White Warbler. Admittedly it had not been reported all morning but because of the rain I could not see how it could have gone anywhere. We arrived at the wood and my heart sank. The wood was extensive with many no go areas of dense dripping vegetation and was, in places, a quagmire underfoot. How on earth would we find a tiny warbler in all of this? Thankfully we had heeded the advice to bring wellington boots so we left the path and waded through various 'grimpen' bogs and ducked under low branches, following a rough trail made by other Black and White pilgrims. We carried on to the other side of the wood until we came across some birders gathered forlornly in a slightly open area under the dripping trees. It transpired that the warbler had been seen here briefly that morning so at least we had the assurance it was still in the wood but finding it was an entirely different and far more uncertain prospect.

Not a bird was in sight on our arrival and for the next two hours we stood staring at a very boring collection of wet twigs, branches, leaves and fellow birders, occasionally becoming briefly animated as the arrival and equally hasty departure of a Wren, Great Tit or Common ChiffChaff raised and then dashed our collective hopes. We were soaked and in my case literally to the skin with the incessantly falling rain. Having been up since three in the morning, now absolutely soaked through and getting progressively colder I was losing a lot of my initial hope and optimism. In fact to be honest I was downright miserable, nothing new there then, but I reasoned it was best to stay put as from my experience vagrant warblers develop a circuit and reason dictated that if we stayed put eventually the warbler would show up on it's circuit. It had apparently been seen most times at this very spot but my faith in my theory was now being severely tested. Suddenly there was a murmur and slight kerfuffle amongst the fifteen or so birders scattered around me. Had they seen the warbler? No - a Baltimore Oriole, another mega, had been found on The Garrison. Those whose patience had run out and/or still had some common sense intact, left in a hurry, but there was no way I was going anywhere. I had put in two hours of purgatory and would stay here until dark if necessary to give myself the best chance of seeing this elusive warbler in the metaphorical wood cum haystack.

Half an hour later my iron resolve was turning to rust and I too was on the verge of going to try somewhere else, when one of the six birders who had remained behind with us cried out he could see the warbler. Badger had wandered off as Badgers do and came back at a fast amble but was told to stand still exactly where he was as the bird was right above his head! Panic, anxiety, frustration all the usual mix of twitcher angst passed through me and probably everyone else as I sought the transatlantic waif in amongst the twigs and wet leaves in the tree above. It did not take long to locate it and this almost hallowed bird from far across the ocean put on a command performance for twenty five minutes that will live long in the memory. It's pleasing black and white stripes, broad white supercilium and black crown with central white crown stripe were all seen to good effect. It behaved much like a Great Tit moving up and down lichen covered willow branches and even hanging underneath them, digging into lichen and loose bark, at times giving  really close and extended views. It occasionally called a hard “tzek, but for the most part remained silent. It appeared untroubled by our presence and foraged constantly for invertebrates in amongst the leaves and lichen covered branches. We followed it with varying exclamations of pleasure and in fact the person behind me regularly let out gasps and groans of almost orgasmic intensity. A bit scary and highly amusing. In fairness he too had been waiting five hours in the wet. The warbler moved slowly but constantly through the twigs and branches from tree to tree, occasionally staying still to deal with a caterpillar it had found in the lichen. The last I saw of it was when it was using the rain as a shower, bathing and preening on a twig high up in a tree and then finally moving off to become lost to view in the wet leaves of another tree.

Oh Yes! Oh Gawd! Oh Wonder!.We had done it! The gamble had paid off. Badger and I shook hands, the other birders became our instant friends and we released the tension of the wait by sharing our experiences. I think I just stood there for a few minutes savouring this magical moment and then we retreated from the wood with me gallantly pushing a guy in a wheelchair out of the wood and over the fields to the road. How he got in there in the first place was a source of wonder as even with the full use of two legs it had been no easy task.

We left him, at his insistence, on the road and resolved to go and try for the Baltimore Oriole at The Garrison. I was now sweating and in fact steaming after my exertions with the wheelchair as well as soaking wet from the rain. My feet hurt after standing in wellington boots for hours but we pressed on to the Garrison. In the wood the rain had appeared to be relatively light but out in the open it was really heavy. We arrived on the Garrison to learn from Bob Flood that we had just missed seeing the Oriole and the rain continued to fall relentlessly. To persevere in this rain was hopeless and a waste of both time and energy. We agreed to retreat back to Lower Moors and the ISBG Hide where at least we could sit in shelter and hope the Northern Waterthrush would put in an appearance when it flew into roost, still some hours away. I did not hold out much hope but it was by far the best and most appealing option in all this rain. 

We commenced the walk to the site and as we approached Badger received a call from our new friend Richard. Gasps and exclamations emanated from the Badger. What is it? It must be good? On finishing the call a bedraggled Badger announced that Richard was on his own at the hide watching the Northern Waterthrush! Great fortune seemed to be still smiling on us as we were literally only a few hundred metres away from where Richard was located. Then a unique and surreal experience occurred as the Badger broke into a run. I had never seen this before and it was not just an amble but the real thing. I chased after him still trying to believe my eyes. We ran as best we could down the path, into and through the wood and followed the obvious trail through the reeds. I could see Richard standing by the Hide with an incongruous umbrella held over his head and after a few twists and turns we reached him. I should add that I never saw anyone in the hide. Presumably it remained unoccupied as it resembled something from the trenches of the First World War complete with knee deep mud at the entrance. Maybe there were still ghosts of birders in there who had never re-emerged from its stygian depths. 

Richard told us quietly that the waterthrush had been showing really well but had just disappeared behind a clump of juncus at the back of the pool. Apparently it was very shy and kept retreating into the subterranean gloom beneath the overhanging and very soggy vegetation around the pool. Richard whispered 

It’s in the far right hand corner, just wait and it will come out. It’s been showing really well.”

A short wait of just a few minutes, some movement and there it was. Bins to eyes and nothing! The bins had misted up against my hot and sweaty face! Panic with the tissues and then clarity through the bins. I should say that what I first saw standing out in the gloom under the bank was the most enormous, yellowish cream supercilium, on a bird with otherwise nondescript brown upperparts. It moved left and more into the open between two clumps of juncus. Now I could see the whole bird. The underparts, clearly visible, were creamy white with lines of dark spots running from it's throat all the way down the breast and along the flanks. The upperparts were mid brown and featureless. But it was that amazing supercilium and the dark eye stripe that caught my attention every time and it was always the supercilium that kept me on the bird when the rest of it was so hard to see in the gloom under the banks. It seemed to gain confidence and came more into the open and worked it's way around the pool coming ever closer. Two short flights brought it from one side of the pool to the other and ever closer. I said to Badger all it needs to do now is appear on that mud just a few metres in front of us and it duly did. This bird, dare I say it, edged the Black and White Warbler into second place. But that is my personal opinion. The views we were getting were fabulous and then it came right out in the open and oh! so close. It was always nervous and behaved more like a pipit or wagtail, running with short steps and constantly pumping it's tail downwards. Richard, Badger and myself stood and watched this ornithological gem, utterly entranced. Just the three of us communing with a mega but then Richard felt he should put the news out for other birders to share our good fortune which was only right. 

We continued to watch it for another twenty minutes before the first wet and hyper anxious birder arrived, swiftly followed by even more hyper birders. Their frenzied arrival spooked the bird and it retreated into cover. We gently tried to tell them to calm down and relax and it would show up again. A nervous wait and then they too saw it. The tension eased, we relinquished our spaces in the cramped viewing area to others, thanked and bade goodbye to Richard. We were wet, cold and tired. Did it matter? Not one bit! Any inconvenience had all but been forgotten in that magical hour while we watched the waterthrush. We now started being silly and I took photos of Badger doing acrobatics and adopting silly poses as we walked back to Treboeth on Cloud Nine. We changed clothes and tried to dry out as best we could. The euphoria we felt was almost tangible. We had done it in one day! Incredible, considering how many difficulties everyone before us had experienced with the Northern Waterthrush. Could it be that the rain and consequent absence of birders had encouraged it to be so bold? Whatever, it was our good fortune to watch it close up for almost an hour. We need not worry about tomorrow, for now we could relax next morning, have breakfast and take our time looking for the other goodies on the island.

The weather forecast for tomorrow was for sun and no rain. But for tonight  The Mermaid pub was now top priority and we got a table and hit the Rattler cider with a vengeance. Four pints and a delicious meal later we veered off back to Treboeth. I was so tired I cannot recall even lying on the bed, we may even have done handstands on the way home but next morning I awoke at seven and was ready to go birding.

The next day, Wednesday, the weather was, as promised the direct opposite of Tuesday.We had a leisurely breakfast and headed for The Garrison. Now the mission was to try and nail the Baltimore Oriole which had already been reported that morning from the vicinity of the Pig Field at the back of The Garrison. On arrival at the spot we received the usual dreaded incantation “You should have been here a few minutes ago!” No matter we took up position overlooking the field and waited. I cancelled the taxi we had booked for Newford Duckpond. We waited some more. Badger wandered off to make some calls and this doubtless inspired the oriole to fly into the bushes in front of us on the far side of the field. It treated us to a stunning display of it's features as it consumed blackberries. Badger was seen running for the second time in two days and everyone was happy as the oriole hung around for thirty minutes and then was gone as suddenly as it arrived.

We decided to head for the ISBG Hide at Lower Moors, not for the Northern Waterthrush but for the Solitary Sandpiper which had decided to also make the pool it's home today rather than Newford Duckpond. We reached the hide to find a lot more birders than yesterday, waiting in vain for the Northern Waterthrush which was not co-operating. Smugly we watched the Solitary Sandpiper whilst everyone else was willing the waterthrush to emerge from wherever it was hiding. Richard was here again, making a painting of the waterthrush, as seen by us yesterday. I commissioned him on the spot to do one for me and was delighted when he agreed. We watched the confiding Solitary Sandpiper living up to it's name and then headed for the airport to view some Buff-breasted Sandpipers but half way there changed our mind and turned instead for Newford Duckpond as the Blue-winged Teal had apparently returned there after a day’s absence. It was a long and tiring walk, especially as I was in the dreaded wellingtons. We trudged on and found a couple of Spotted Flycatchers. More amazing to me was the host of seemingly exotic plants thriving in the gardens. It was just like southern Europe in some sheltered parts. We finally reached the Watermill area and started down the road to Newford Duckpond. I remarked to Badger about the number of Song Thrushes that were about here and following one in my bins suddenly found myself looking at a European Bee-eater swinging in the wind, perched on a twiggy hawthorn. It was quietly chirruping to itself and every so often would make a sortie after a bee. Bee-eaters being one of Badger’s favourites meant we spent some time here and I did my bit for birder /public relations by showing passing non birders this colourful bird and without fail elicited the required Ooohs! and Aaahs! when they saw it through the scope. 

The duckpond was close by and on arrival we found to our distress that the teal had flown leaving a motley collection of Mallards and a lone male Gadwall in eclipse plumage, swimming around on a ridiculously small area of water. We stared at the mud, water and reeds as if the teal should appear by magic but it was not there. Now what do we do? We backtracked and had another helping of the Bee-eater and then re-traced our steps. My feet were getting progressively more tired. Curse these wellington boots but they would come into their own later. A diversion up a lane to try and see a Red-eyed Vireo proved fruitless. We cut our losses and decided for more Black and White Warbler action.

Wellingtons were now definitely the footwear of choice as we squelched through the mire and water to re-find the spot where we had seen it yesterday. We reached the hallowed ground but there was no sign of the warbler despite regular reports of it being seen throughout the day. An hour passed and then a low whistle from a birder some hundred metres away alerted us to it's presence. A controlled rush to the spot and six very happy birders enjoyed watching the feathered humbug do it's stuff in the trees. This time there was no rain to obscure lenses and a relaxed atmosphere permeated the woods as we watched the warbler examining in almost leisurely and systematic fashion every little nook and cranny in the branches. We watched it for over an hour this time and got even better views than yesterday. I noted as many plumage features as I could – its pale lower mandible, the striking white covert bars and the broad white line along the outer edge of the tertials, its dark eye in a plain white face and the white spots on the underside of the tail come to mind. What a star. 

Time was now rolling on and soon we would have to head for the Scillonian which like the tide waits for no man. However there was still time to visit the airport where we found the four juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpipers plus an unexpected Ruff. Three Whimbrel and a Curlew flew over and White Wagtails and Northern Wheatears chased around on the short grass by the runway. We could not locate the Woodchat Shrike but for us it was mission accomplished as in the space of twenty eight magical hours we had seen three megas plus some other very good birds. A fast walk back to Treboeth to change footwear and then an even faster walk down to the harbour and onto the Scillonian. Unlike yesterday it was packed with birders many of whom had come just for the day and were now returning. They had opted for the very strategy we were, in hindsight so wary of, and rightly so, as all of these day birders had failed to see the Northern Waterthrush. Needless to say it was seen the next morning! We chatted to our fellow birders about our Scilly experiences and about the controversial Long-toed Stint at Weir Wood Reservoir in Sussex which so far had been three different species in seven days. I sea-watched on the sunny deck of the Scillonian, as a pod of Common Dolphins sped around us and two Black Terns and a couple of Grey Phalaropes on the sea rounded off the day. All we had now was the long slog home but nothing could dampen our spirits after such an amazing experience.

Northern Waterthrush - Painting by Richard Thewlis

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Two days birding in North Norfolk 1st-2nd February 2011

I took two days off from work and as the family were away on a week’s cultural tour of Florence the early hours of Tuesday morning found me wending my way to the north Norfolk coast in the rush hour traffic heading for Kings Lynn. 

At this early time, tired of driving and in the half light, the bleak desolation of the surrounding countryside seems to permeate one’s soul with a suitably depressing effect. I was headed for Titchwell RSPB Reserve, as my first location to go birding, and arriving at eight found it totally deserted, even of staff! This was good news for me and to my liking as at this time in the morning after a long drive I would hardly call myself sociable. In fact it takes about thirty minutes for me to find some sort of emotional equilibrium and purpose after such a tiring and often boring early hours drive. 

I checked the feeders for Bramblings and the alders for Redpolls but there was nothing of interest apart from five Siskins, so I made my way along the seaward path to the newly opened and I have to admit, wondrously modernist Parrinder Hide. The weather was grey, windy and miserable and it looked like rain, so gloriously alone I ensconced myself in the hide. I had the place to myself for over an hour. 

Just before I got to the hide I had peeped over the wall and found myself looking at an adult male Snow Bunting literally a few metres below me on the saltmarsh and in the company of another six. A good start and now, much encouraged, I entered the hide and started to look for the Twite which had been reported from here. At first all I kept seeing were the seven Snow Buntings and various other passerines such as Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, feeding on the saltmarsh. 

After some time a flock of small birds suddenly flew up and landed again. These must surely be the Twite and on locating them in the scope that is what they were. Now feeling I was getting into the swing of things I watched them feeding in the saltmarsh vegetation and then suddenly they took alarm and off they went but soon returned and settled right in front of me. They were close enough that I could discern that two were colour ringed and I made a careful note of the colour combinations with a view to reporting them on the relevant web site when I got home* 

I carried on watching them and then noticed a party of birders coming along the approach path. Like me they could not resist looking over the wall at the saltmarsh and in the process scared a pipit into flight which flew up fast, and calling a single loud peep, dashed around the marsh. I followed it as best I could. Would it carry on flying far away or land on the saltmarsh? 

It landed on the saltmarsh and getting the scope on it I found myself looking at a Water Pipit. This was the other main target species for me here. I was joined shortly after by the others and pointed out the Twite and Snow Buntings and mentioned the by now out of sight Water Pipit. Intriguingly they had not heard or seen it when they inadvertently flushed it. It took a long time to locate the Water Pipit again but eventually one showed itself but was not the same bird as before. It was slightly darker and not so white on the underparts. So there were two present, at least. 

A Marsh Harrier flew over and a male Ruff joined the passerines in front of the Hide. There were now severe rain squalls passing over so I remained in the Hide until they ceased and then left. Still, to my surprise, there was no one else on the Reserve and looking over Thornham Marsh I found a dark harrier with a white rump hovering for a long time over one particular spot. Surely this was the Northern Harrier? I was pretty certain it was but then it flew away from me towards Thornham, the biting wind made my eyes water and a positive identification became impossible. 

I carried on towards the sea flushing a Spotted Redshank and a slightly groggy Avocet which wobbled away on unsteady wings into the strong wind. I arrived at the shore and soon located the huge flock of around 2500 Common Scoter offshore, looking like a black stain on the grey sea. There were undoubtedly Velvet Scoter in the flock but unless they flew I would never be able to locate them and that looked unlikely. After a cursory scan, finding Common Goldeneye, a selection of the commoner waders on the deserted sands and a Snow Bunting flying over my head, I decided to head back to the car, make my way to Thornham and look over the adjacent marsh from that side in the hope of seeing the Northern Harrier. The wind was strong and getting tiresome, the light hardly brilliant and my bones were getting chilled. 

On getting to Thornham I sought shelter in the lee of the coal barn at Thornham Harbour and stuck it out for around an hour with no sign of the Northern Harrier but did have the luck to see a ringtail Hen Harrier pass close to me whilst two Spotted Redshank waded up the creek in front of me.

Spotted Redshank

I was now in a bit of a quandary as to where to go, finally deciding on heading east for Burnham Overy to look for Rough legged Buzzards and Black Brant. I drove along the A149, through those quaint, picturesque but horrifically expensive Norfolk villages that have been taken over by the chattering classes, or so I suppose, and turned into little echoes of exclusive middle class city suburbs with expensively renovated pubs and restaurants. Cley is probably the extreme example of this with an upmarket delicatessen full of wealthy people with clipped and loud public school accents who think everything is frightfully jolly and then pop over to the equally pretentious and expensive Pinkfoot Gallery to wave their cash around. Personally I find it all quite dreadful. 

Eventually, as I progressed along the A149 I noticed huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese flying off the saltmarsh and landing in a fallow field by the road near to Burnham Norton. Initially all I could see was wave after wave of geese crossing in front of me, making a tremendous noise. I drove the car down into a dip in the road and pulled off slightly beyond where they were coming down and looked across to what appeared to be a fallow field but was in fact brown from the huge numbers of geese feeding on it. It was an incredible sight and sound as skein after skein descended onto what was an already seething mass of geese, all feeding and vocalising frantically. I then noticed there were just as many geese in an adjacent grass field but these had obviously fed and many were squatting on the grass, wings resting 'akimbo' on the ground which so many geese seem to do when they are replete and at ease. I got out of the car and scanned the feeding flock with my binoculars and with much excitement discovered the adult Ross’s Goose feeding at the far side of the flock. 

However, having just landed, many of the geese were still not settled and my movements, although distant, alarmed them and with a tumultuous roar of wings and staccato calls they all took off leaving the field empty. The sight of so many geese in the air at once was one of those moments I will treasure for the rest of my life. Like a mushrooming cloud they burst skywards and then levelled out at no great height. I have never seen anything quite like it as five thousand geese passed over me and headed back towards the saltmarsh. Strangely the geese in the nearby grass field remained unperturbed by my presence and were in fact joined by quite a number from the fallow field. I prayed that the Ross’s Goose had joined them but was disappointed, though in a way its disappearance lent it an air of mystique and romance.,

Having watched where the geese had gone I drove down Marsh Lane to the back of Holkham NNR to see if I could relocate the Ross’s Goose. I parked and getting out of the car I could hear them but they were invisible beyond a rise in the ground with no access to allow me to get closer. There were some Dark bellied Brent Geese mixed in with some Greylag and Canada Geese which were visible and on checking through them I had the pleasant surprise of finding an adult Pale bellied Brent Goose with them. 

So now it was on to Burnham Overy where I found a group of fellow birders scanning from the road across the marshes to the dunes. An enquiry elicited the fact that there was a Rough legged Buzzard perched atop a bush just below the distant dunes. Eventually it revealed itself, its white head and breast standing out and contrasting with its dark chocolate brown underparts. The inordinately long walk required to get closer to it did not appeal to me so I left it at long distance views and made my way to Cley. 

Near the Three Swallows Pub a waterlogged field harboured four Mute Swans and another swan on its own which to my surprise was an adult Bewick’s Swan. I carried on through the village and made my way to the East Bank, just getting the last place in the tiny car park by the road. A longish walk along the track towards the sea eventually brought me to within range of the small and distant Eurasian Wigeon flock in which there was an adult male American Wigeon. A couple of scans through the flock and the American Wigeon revealed itself. A pleasingly attractive bird more subtly patterned than its European cousin, with plum coloured flanks, pale cream blaze on its forehead and green eye patch. It was easy to relocate after taking my eye off it as I noticed it displayed a large square white patch on the wing which really stood out whereas the Eurasian Wigeon only showed a white line between wing and flank. 

A pleasant forty five minutes passed watching this and then I made a brief visit to nearby Salthouse to view the flock of Snow Buntings frequenting the car park by the shingle bank. Many photographers come to take their picture, all bringing some seed with them, so the buntings are always present and sure enough a flock of around fifty were flitting around the car park and shingle. 

Male Snow Bunting

I got some good photos of them as they crouched in depressions in the shingle. They would take alarm frequently and always land on the shingle, hiding themselves in the small depressions and remaining motionless and watchful until, relaxing, they would begin to feed by shuffling over the stones. They are incredibly well camouflaged in the multi coloured shingle. Such attractive and appealing birds, the old males with so much white in their plumage really stand out as the twittering flock sweeps across the shingle. 

My final destination on this fabulous day was Warham Greens where I hoped to see the Hen Harriers coming into their traditional winter roost. The roost is out on the huge area of saltmarsh east of Holkham which entails a very tricky drive down a long, unmade and rutted track to a tiny car park with room for three to four cars, if that. I and the car made it unscathed and immediately found a Barn Owl perched on the National Nature Reserve sign before I was even through the gate. 

I walked off to my right out of sight of the gate which is where most people watch from as I wanted to be alone. It was now a sunny although still cold and windy day and finding a sheltered spot I settled down to wait. After the inevitable excitements and anxieties of the preceding hours it was a pleasure to relax and look out over the evocative wildness of the saltmarshes with Holkham away to my left and skeins of geese flighting out to sea. There were a number of scattered and small Brent Goose parties feeding on the saltmarsh and to while away the time I checked through them. Most were Dark bellied Brent Geese but then I found two families of Pale bellied Brent Geese, one pair with an incredible six young and the other with three young. Everywhere I have seen Brent Geese this winter there have been good numbers of young present so it has been a good breeding season for them in their Arctic breeding grounds. 

Over to my right a Barn Owl appeared and on checking I found I could still see the other one by the gate to my left. This was the ninth Barn Owl I had seen today in various locations in Norfolk, all hunting in broad daylight. A ringtail Hen Harrier flew close by me and inland. As evening approached Grey Partridges started their creaking calls in the field behind but remained invisible in the long stubble. 

The Hen Harriers started to appear as the visibility faded and I found that fortuitously I had positioned myself almost opposite where the roost was located. It is very difficult to estimate how many harriers were coming into roost as they have the habit of making many false landings, on each occasion after a short time on the ground, flying up and circling around before finally becoming settled. It is almost as if such an aerial bird has great difficulty in accepting that it has to be earthbound for the night hours. A rough estimate put the number coming in to roost at between eight to ten individuals and all were ringtails. There was also a Marsh Harrier roost close by and here there appeared to be around five birds. So ended what had been a quite superlative day of winter birding in north Norfolk. 

I drove gently back up the track to rejoin the road and headed east to the unpretentious and welcoming Dun Cow at Salthouse to reward myself with a home made fish pie, fresh vegetables, a bowl of chips and a pint of superbly clear and well kept Adnam’s ale. The perfect end to the day. 

I made my way to my accommodation in Gayton, which although quite a way inland is worth the trip as the rooms are huge and so are the bathrooms. A long and reviving soak in a hot bath and then blessed sleep. Next morning, revived and taking a leisurely breakfast I was away by eight but the weather was very misty as I drove to the coast. However as I approached the coast visibility became clearer although the wind had strengthened. On the drive I encountered my one and only Red legged Partridge wandering across the lane. 

I had decided to visit Choseley Barns first as there was a report of a Waxwing in a hedge in the vicinity. I failed to find it but had the pleasure by the Barns of a mixed flock of twenty five Corn Buntings and fifteen Yellowhammers, the male’s yellow plumage almost glowing in the sunlight. A quick scan of the field by the lane revealed a male Grey Partridge by the hedgeside which then joined a female in one of the furrows out in the field. Now where to go? 

I tried Holme Dunes for a bit of sea-watching but the wind was ferocious and the visibility poor. All I managed to see were a lot of roosting Oystercatchers. Giving up I returned to the car thankful to get out of the wind. I retraced my route to yesterday’s site of the Pink-footed Geese and found that my arrival was obviously coinciding with theirs. I parked the car in the same location as yesterday and just enjoyed the sight of skein after skein of Pink-footed Geese flighting in to the field.

They just kept coming and coming. I scanned each group to try and see if the Ross’s Goose was among them as I could not see it in the geese settled on the field. No luck but then another look at the field and there was the Ross’s Goose in exactly the same position in the field as yesterday! I took my time and gave myself extended views through the scope of it feeding with the other geese. 

I now had a choice of going to Burnham Overy to walk out to the dunes to see if I could get close views of the Rough legged Buzzards. There are usually good flocks of Dark bellied Brent Geese here often containing Pale bellied Brent Geese and even Black Brant to enliven the walk. Today, maybe because of the almost gale conditions there were no geese and scans of the dunes from the road showed no sign of any Rough legged Buzzards. It was just not worth the time and effort so I made my way east to Salthouse to try and find the first year Spoonbill that had been present for some time on one of the pools between Salthouse and Cley, called Sea Pool. Parking in the car park I did my best to ignore the Snow Buntings still flitting around on the shingle and walked west for some 300 yards and looked through my scope, finding the Spoonbill at some distance in the company of a Little Egret. I did not go any further as I just could not face another tiring slog across the energy sapping shingle and I really was anxious to find the nine Shorelarks reported from Cley at the far end of the East Bank. When I got to the East Bank I could see birders obviously looking at them but they had moved a long way east of the end of the Bank and the walk was considerable from the road. However the fact that it was such a long walk obviously deterred others so when I got to the location I was on my own. 

But could I find them? 


I walked east looking, with no luck, over the shingle, then walked back retracing my steps and a brown bird flew up with a thin seep call and promptly disappeared again into the shingle and stunted grasses. Eventually I found it again and there were the Shorelarks, all nine of them but quite flighty. 

I took a lot of photos and by standing quite still the birds became less wary. It is unusual for this species to be so wary. Normally they are quite confiding and I surmised that maybe they had been frequently disturbed by photographers and birders getting too close so I kept my distance and was duly rewarded. It is always a delight to encounter these attractive and scarce birds and I took my time watching them scuttling through the pebbles and grass, only leaving when some other birders arrived. 

Watching birds on one’s own is entirely different to watching with others. On your own you are so much more aware of other lives and beings, their totally different place in and sense of our world. I like to imagine their life here on the shingle, exposed to the elements night and day, never really able to rest in the sense that we sleep at night. How do they view the world around them through their eyes?

Satisfied with my encounter I now walked back to the car and drove back towards Holkham. On my way to Cley just beyond Holkham I had noticed a large flock of Brent Geese feeding in a field right by the road. The A149 is a difficult road to park on but luckily, on my return, there was an area to pull off onto, adjacent to the field, and getting out of the car I was pleased to find the flock remained tolerant of my presence. It was not long before I found an adult Black Brant amongst the Dark bellied Brent. In fact it was one of the closest birds to me. They are always a pleasure to find and looking through the flock I had the extra pleasure of finding another adult Black Brant at the far side of the flock. I also located two adult Pale bellied Brent Geese in this flock.

Content with these finds I now set off for my final birding destination which was Roydon Common just east of Kings Lynn. This is a site that I had not visited before but was meant to be the location of another Hen Harrier roost. I duly arrived a couple of hours before dusk on a deserted, cold and windswept moor. I found a viewing point where I could see over most of the Common and waited. 

After about half an hour a ringtail Hen Harrier appeared as if by magic and flew from east to west the length of the Common and disappeared but not before giving me really good views - much better than I had at Warham Greens. Time then passed slowly with only a flock of around fifty Fieldfare coming to roost to relieve the monotony. Then, on yet another scan, I located a fabulous adult male Hen Harrier floating over the Common. The excitement of seeing this lovely creature so well was intense and I watched it flying effortlessly back and fore over what I presumed was the roosting area. As I followed it in the scope I noticed another male had joined it plus presumably the ringtail I had seen earlier. All three harriers then flew around making false landings but always rising up again to fly in circles around the roost site. Eventually the ringtail landed and did not rise again but the males persisted in still landing briefly then rising again. Finally one landed and remained hidden and it was not long before the third bird also landed in the grass and heather for the final time. 

I must have watched them for around forty five minutes and it was a tremendous boost to my morale to see them, especially the beautiful adult males. Now spiritually fortified for the long tedious drive home I made my way from the bleak and now almost dark Common, putting up five Grey Partridge with others calling from around the Common as I left.