Sunday 23 June 2013

Its all rosy in Norfolk 23rd June 2013

Friday evening and I had the usual what shall we do tomorrow conversation with Badger.The weather forecast was as per normal, dire. Hey it's only June what do you expect? I checked the forecast again. Go West? Go East? The marginally better forecast was for the East. Norfolk it is then. Why Norfolk? Well an adult Rose coloured Starling at Wells on Sea had been featuring for the last four days and judging by the resulting photos you could get close to it. Both of these facts were somewhat novel as virtually all my previous experiences with Rose coloured Starlings had been of juveniles which are frankly totally uninspiring in their pale brown plumage and are usually found distantly on rooftops which seems, like their commoner cousins, a favoured hangout. An adult Rose coloured Starling at ground level is something else altogether, being attractively presented in a combination of pink and black which seems to encompass the more vivid colours of their usual habitat. Even their bill is pink. 

The previous week had been tiring both mentally and physically with long non birding trips to Norfolk and Essex leaving me down and slightly depressed. I find going for a run the antidote to this so I took to the lanes on Friday morning to get those endorphins pulsing through the brain. It did the trick but advancing years means I inevitably feel tired and stiff the next day. I struggled early next morning to the rendezvous with Badger and Andy at our meeting point in Kidlington and with enormous gratitude slumped onto the back seat of Badger's car for the three hour trip to Norfolk. We indulged ourselves in the usual birder conversational drivel, dissing all and sundry to pass the time away and eventually I slumped into a light sleep. Awake as we approached Kings Lynn I navigated our way through the lanes to Wells on Sea and we arrived  at the location, a pleasant little narrow lane with houses on one side and a creek with saltmarsh beyond on the other. There was no mistaking where the starling was frequenting. The spot was staked out by a frighteningly large number of birders on both sides of the lane and virtually every car parking space was taken along the lane. Yellow lines were prominent so parking was difficult but we found a space further up the lane by the yacht club. As we walked back a large percentage of the assembled birders appeared to be dispersing. Obviously they had been waiting to see the bird and it had appeared then departed whilst we were parking and getting it together. No problem it will be back again. The bird was apparently favouring a stunted sycamore tree hung with feeders opposite a whitewashed cottage with the very accommodating and welcoming owner ensconced outside guarding a collection bucket for the Norfolk Air Ambulance.

The Tree. The Rose coloured Starling is in there somewhere!
We took up position by her house looking directly across the narrow lane at the feeders. There were not so many birders now. The starling, apparently was in the tree and invisible but we were assured the starling would drop down on the feeders from the tree. We waited and we waited and we waited. The usual busy Saturday morning procession of cars, bicycles, locals, dog walkers and tourists passed by. Some stopped to chat others did not. I needed the loo and wandered back down the lane into town. A pub offered relief but only for patrons. I entered and forking out £1.50 for tea served in a pot and on a tray with milk and sugar, found both a bargain and relief. I drank the tea quickly and walked back to the starling site assuming it would have shown up while I was absent but Badger and Andy told me I had missed nothing. 

The world according to Wells carried on. Swifts flew low over the rooftops and a Common Tern reconnoitred the creek. A man with a small dog under his arm waded the creek in his bare feet. They were not webbed. Yes it really was that interesting. I jest. A bespectacled, stick like young man with a ridiculous, affected posh accent strode down the lane and demanded of the assembled camouflaged innocents, 'Just who had blocked his car in?'  It was none of us so he was therefore completely ignored and stalked off back down the lane. Two hours had now passed and doubts as to whether the starling was actually in the small tree were now becoming very real but suddenly the starling rose from it's hiding place in the leaves, ascended to roof top height and crossing the lane perched on the roof tops behind us. Andy missed it as in his boredom he had resorted to digiscoping a Jackdaw scoffing fat balls from one of the feeders. 

There was a mass migration of birders to the middle of the lane to get a brief but obscured view of the elusive starling on a rooftop before it flew off. See what I mean about rooftops? 

I did not bother to move. OK I had seen it fly from the tree but it had to be better than this before I was satisfied and yet another rooftop view was not on the itinerary!  Another hour passed. Nothing happened apart from a regular scrutiny of Jackdaws, House Sparrows, Common Starlings and Collared Doves on the feeders by yours truly and virtually everyone else. I checked the camera settings yet again. The number of birders slowly increased. Lethargy took over and I slumped down the wall of the cottage onto the gravel and went into a light doze. How long I was like this I do not know. It always seems longer than it actually is but then a seemingly distant voice said  'Here it is' and scrambling to my feet  I saw the starling returning to do a fly past and then circling back over the creek, descend into the sycamore tree and become invisible once again. We waited and waited. Not a sign. Come on. Please, not another two hours. Twenty, thirty minutes passed and then there it was, suddenly dropping from the leafy depths down into the fork of the tree and then onto the feeders.

What a beautiful bird. An adult in full breeding plumage. Coral pink underbody and mantle offset by glossy black wings, tail and head, complete with crest. The bill was also incongruously pale pink. It attacked the peanuts and  fat balls with relish whilst cameras went into action filling the lane with high speed staccato shutter bursts. For five or ten minutes it hung on the feeders and then it dropped down on the creek side of the privet hedge enclosing the tree and was out of view for us. Dilemna. Do we wait here for it to possibly pop back up onto the feeders or move position to view it on the other side of the hedge? Other birders positioned some metres back up the lane and on the other side by the creek were obviously watching it. We moved to join them which was in hindsight a wise decision. It was showing in glorious isolation perched on a concrete bird bath and posing in all it's pink and black glory. 

So exotic when compared to the browns of  the local sparrows and juvenile Common Starlings. Carefully, so as not to obscure the view of others I edged forward and just pointed the camera and fired it off for all it was worth. No time for consideration of light or angles. This was the moment. It could be gone in an instant. The starling moved right onto a whitewashed wall and gave yet more photo and gawping opportunities.

Andy was doing the same as me with his digiscoping set up until some unthinking idiot stood right in front of him just as he was going to get his best photograph. Why do people do this? Control, you must exert control of your emotions and anxiety and think of your fellow birders. Restricted space, restricted opportunities. Just a little thought. Any conflict such as this will ruin the experience and just leave you with unfortunate memories. Such was the case for Andy which was both sad and annoying as you cannot legislate for the unthinking behaviour of others. You want your colleague to share the same joyous experience and if they do not, it somehow diminishes it for everyone. Before Andy could re-adjust the starling flew off onto the saltmarsh and joined a feeding flock of starlings. 

We watched it from the seawall, it's bright pink plumage obvious amongst it's darker cousins as it fed with them and joined the flock in flight as the starlings periodically rose and settled on the saltmarsh. Then the whole flock of around sixty starlings rose up one more time and flew off over the lane behind the houses. It was over. Four hours in Wells-on-Sea.

Wells town centre in distance, the creek and 'the tree' just visible extreme left
It was now two thirty so there was still most of the afternoon left. 'Let's go to Titchwell. It's always good there'.  Titchwell was predictably busy but bearable. I grabbed a pasty for my lunch while Badger and Andy perused the RSPB shop. Wandering out to the huge new hide with it's innovative design and viewing facilities it was obvious that there were a large number of waders present. Avocets were everywhere, their constant liquid calls permeating the whole area. 

It was sunny but windy, very windy, so we headed for the shelter of the hide. A veritable wader fest greeted us on looking out through the wide windows. Most remarkable was the large flock of Knot, around a thousand, with a few in full breeding plumage, tightly huddled together in classic Knot fashion out on the scrape before us. I imagined them saying, 'Are we still going north or is this it? Let's stop here - stuff Greenland. The weather's not much different.'

Almost two hundred Bar Tailed Godwits were with them, either females or males in non breeding plumage. Around a hundred Black tailed Godwits, conversely virtually all in summer plumage were energetically feeding in the shallow waters. Their bills probing the mud at a ferocious pace.

The more we looked the more we saw. Badger found a summer plumaged Spotted Redshank, completely black apart from dark crimson legs and bill. Almost sinister as it fed by the far reeds.We then found seven more. Badger found a Green Sandpiper. Andy found a Little Ringed Plover and then a Ringed Plover. I found a Little Tern. Sulphur yellow dagger bill and short yellow legs. It's black eyestripe giving it continental waiter chic. Up to six immature Little Gulls wandered along the shore picking at insects. Common Shelduck, Mallard, Common Pochard and Shoveler all had broods out and about. All the buzz and activity of a breeding season in full swing with just a touch of sadness about the inexorable passing of the promise of Spring

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