Monday 24 February 2014

This is getting ridiculous 24th February 2014

Well not really if you like birds and especially rare gulls. I made a third trip to Littlehampton in West Sussex to see the Kumlien's and Glaucous Gulls still residing there, lured by Andy and Mark who had never seen either and the fact I was not doing the driving but would accompany them in Andy's new car. It made sense, as I know Sussex well and having been to Littlehampton twice already knew precisely what to do and where to go when we got there

I had worked out a plan that if all went well at Littlehampton we could then go on to see some other good birds along various parts of the Sussex coast, known to me from when I lived there in what seems a lifetime ago.

Meeting at Andy's in Oxford we drove the short distance to collect Mark and headed off down the A34. We were very lucky as unknown to us the A34 had been closed earlier one junction back from where we joined it due to a crash allegedly caused by the police attempting to collect a dead Badger from the road! Sadly a lorry driver died in the resulting crash. Judging by the number of dead badgers left lying around our county roads one wonders why on earth the police were trying to remove this particular dead badger in the first place.

Arriving in a grey but dry Littlehampton at around 9.30 we followed the same routine as I had done twice before, parking free of charge in a nearby road and walking the short distance to the seafront. It was only on getting to the seafront that we realised how strong the wind actually was. It was almost gale force from the southwest so, as before, we sought sanctuary in a shelter and set up our scopes. The tide had only just turned so the gulls were some way off but within thirty seconds Andy had located the Glaucous Gull and he had his lifer as did Mark. I then found the Kumlien's Gull not too far away and now we had seen both gulls within a few minutes of arriving. 

Glaucous Gull

Kumlien's Gull
We settled back to enjoy looking at them but not before being joined by two other birders one of whom was particularly annoying by trying to impress us in a loud voice reeling off reasons why the Kumlien's Gull was not one but in the process just showing his ignorance. I could not take this for very long so Mark and myself descended onto the beach to get closer, thereby annoying the ignorant birder who thought we should stay in the shelter and wait until the tide came in, as by walking out onto the beach, in his opinion, we would flush the gull. He might have hours to wait but we did not. 

I could see a beachcomber already very close to the Glaucous which true to form was totally unphased by the near proximity of a human being and was sat on the breakwater by the river outflow surrounded by Turnstones, busily feeding. I walked out to the beachcomber  who was getting ever closer to the Glaucous.  I did not want him to flush it and asked him if he would mind backing off while Mark took some photos. Frankly I was expecting some argument but instead found myself talking to a very co-operative, nice man who was most interested in the gull and it's origins. We chatted whilst Mark got on with recording the moment then the Glaucous decided to leisurely fly off over the river and out of sight onto the west beach

By now Andy had joined us on the wet beach as had Neil, an acquaintance from Sussex. We turned our concentration towards the Kumlien's which by now was almost opposite us but still distant on the tideline. Battered by the wind blowing hard and straight into our faces it was not easy looking at it so we retreated back to the shelter. Sanctuary. Thankfully the annnoying birder had departed. Some passers by, as they always do, stopped to chat about the gulls and their minor celebrity. We passed a few minutes in friendly banter and scoped the gulls on the beach which in addition to the Glaucous and Kumlien's included no less than one hundred and six Mediterranean Gulls, stood stoically facing the wind and easily outnumbering the Black headed Gulls. I found a lone Kittiwake amongst the throng. Grey Plover, Turnstones, a few Sanderlings and a single Common Redshank fed along the beach or by the restraining wall at the river outflow .

As the tide slowly came in the gulls gradually came closer following the tide's edge as it advanced up the beach. We walked out again so Mark and Andy could try to take some photos. On the beach the wind whipped around us, sudden gusts pushing at us and trying to topple telescopes. Eyes watered, fingertips numbed.

The Kumlien's Gull flew around with a cockle in its beak which it was attempting to smash and eat every time it landed. It was regularly harried by other gulls and each time would take off just as Andy and Mike got ready to take its photo. Most frustrating. Andy turned around from the wind and sea and there was the Glaucous Gull right behind us stood on the shingle by the river wall. "Bloody hell, it's really close".

Just at the crucial moment a lady allowed her dog, which as per usual was totally uncontrolled, to race at the gull barking but the Glaucous just rose and floated in the wind above it. 

The sea sodden mutt ran off and the Glaucous descended back onto the wall. Why do people do this? She could see what we were doing and what we were looking at. There is miles of beach she could utilise. So why? Totally fearless the gull stood there. We moved closer and closer with no response from the gull. It just carried on seemingly ignoring us. The wind buffeted it and even with its great size it struggled to perch on the wall, using its wings to balance. 

The Kumlien's right on cue arrived to perch close beside it. Amazing, the two desired gulls were by far the nearest to us and together. Who could ask for more? Even I, sated with two trips worth of these gulls already, got out the camera. They were so close. Too much to resist. We all took far too many images but enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Eventually we were satisfied and walked up the beach, through the funfare tat and back to the car. With time in hand our next birding experience was to be at Shoreham where we hoped to see the other  second winter Glaucous Gull frequenting the Southwick Canal but unfortunately the gates to the quay were locked so access was denied. Never mind, Andy and Mark had already seen their Glaucous so it was not too disappointing. A slow drive eastwards through Brighton and Hove, up along Telscombe Cliffs, through Rottingdean, Newhaven and finally Seaford found us descending into the Cuckmere Valley and the Seven Sisters Country Park.

The attraction here was a Eurasian Spoonbill and three Greater White-fronted Geese. To see them necessitated a walk along the west side of the River Cuckmere. At first the track was dry and firm but progressively became muddier and more waterlogged until at one point we were wading in our walking boots. Not to be deterred however we forged on regardless of the mud and water. Still no sign of the Spoonbill  Various white blobs out in the fields  resolved themselves into Little Egrets, Mute Swans and paper bags. We were well down the track now heading for the mouth of the river. Some Canada Geese were feeding on the grassy fields and three partially hidden brown geese materialised into the three whitefronts. Good, as now at least we had seen something to compensate for the mud that encased our boots and trouser bottoms. We came to a gate, beyond which the track became a swamp and impassable without wellingtons. 

The Seven Sisters Country Park with large flock of gulls sheltering in the field
We stopped and looked down a wet channel to our left. Three white blobs previously invisible  from the track we had walked until we looked down the ditch became two Little Egrets and yes, the elusive Spoonbill. Distant but instantly recognisable, sheltering from the wind in front of a high hawthorn hedge, preening and looking totally at ease. 

The water filled channel with Little Egrets and Spoonbill in far distance
Closer to us a Kingfisher sat sentinel in the edge of a hawthorn looking down on the channel. The blue and orange body plumage set off in sharp relief by the dark twigs of hawthorn. It's enormous bill tilted in readiness towards the water's surface

The trials and tribulations of our periodic submersion of feet in liquid mud became worthwhile. We had seen our two targets and so returned whence we had come, meeting other intrepid walkers heading out for a muddy and wet reunion with mother earth.

The oh so muddy and waterlogged path on west side of the River Ouse
On getting back to the car it was good to get out of the wind. I had promised Andy and Mark the chance of seeing Purple Sandpipers at either Newhaven East Pier or Shoreham Harbour and now the moment of truth approached. "Let's hope they are there" I quietly said to myself. Confidence belying my inner uncertainty. Newhaven was close by and on our way back west so we stopped there, parking at the Tidemills and walked out onto the shingle beach and along to the East Pier. It was really blowing now,  a constant almost gale force wind straight in off the sea. Waves were crashing up and over  Newhaven West Pier and it's iconic lighthouse  where for ten years or so I  sea-watched in all seasons and weathers. The pier juts out for a quarter of a mile into the sea but is closed now for Health and Safety reasons despite having been open to the public since Victorian times. I honestly wonder about this country sometimes. Surely  there are better things to worry about

Newhaven West Pier and lighthouse viewed from the East Pier
No such restrictions currently exist on the shorter East Pier although some jobsworth will surely attempt its closure sooner or later. The East Pier has, since I can remember, provided a home for wintering Purple Sandpipers on its concrete supports. The birds feed  on the weed that grows on the submerged parts and is then exposed as the tide retreats.

Today I feared the worst as I  thought the birds would feel far too exposed in the wind but should have realised that Purple Sandpipers are made of sterner stuff. Walking along the pier and halfway out the distinctive twittering of a Purple Sandpiper came to me. 

Newhaven East Pier looking inland
We walked still further out and individual birds showed themselves below us on the concrete supports. Portly, with engaging personalities they remind you of stout little gentlemen sleeping it off after a good lunch as their rotund bodies while away the time until the tide recedes. 

There must have been ten in all, possibly more, sheltering from the ferocious wind behind blocks of concrete

Note the upper first winter bird's orange tarsi, feet and basal third of the bill.
The wing coverts are also more obviously fringed white whereas the lower
adult bird has dull greenish yellow tarsi, feet and basal third to the bill and
grey fringes to the wing coverts

It was exhilarating in the wind, surrounded by the sea with just a narrow strip of concrete leading to land and listening to the sandpipers conversational twittering echoing from the concrete supports below us.

A good day and now even the sun was shining as if in a blessing

Friday 21 February 2014

A February evening at Otmoor RSPB 2014

Otmoor currently presents an apocalyptic vision viewed from the top of the hill at Beckley. Water as far as one can see. I am unused to this and feel a slight unease. The comfortable familiar image of the reserve has gone to be replaced by something strange and unnerving. Nature has pushed back the boundaries of comfort, changed the land and resurrected within me the primal fears our ancestors must have felt at the surrounding and then much more dangerous landscape.

I view the floods from the gate by the bridleway. My hands rest on the cold steel of the gate. The bleak waters  mirror the grey blue sky and look as cold as my hands are. Everywhere is the colour of the dead, brown of various hues, earth to earth bisected by the pale orange beds of the dead reeds. A slash of green grass adds a bright contrast to this almost monochrome vision.

A stray clump of Snowdrops fails to dispel the still over riding sense of winter. Overwhelmed by the empty landscape they cower in the bottom of the hedge tangle. Each flower's fragile parasol of petals hang half open like a bedside Tiffany Lamp. White, tinged with pale green undersides 

Lapwings stand in lines across the flood looking like the tops of submerged fenceposts jutting above the water. Hunched into the wind. Resting but ever alert. Others, possibly local are restless and already displaying to a mate on tiny areas of ground showing bare above the flood. They bow their breasts to the ground on flexed legs, tails pointing skywards, calling peevishly to their mate.

The empty, wind scoured sky suddenly fills with birds. Great whorls of Lapwings, flashing black and white, yin and yang, rise and wheel in brief alarm and form up in great flocks to slowly descend back to the land. Golden Plover also hurl into the sky, so many they are individually indistinct but the huge numbers make the flock look like dispersing smoke. The flock become a pale brown distant smudge in the sky. Seven Pintails arrow upwards from beyond the far hedgeline, fast, hurtling at breakneck speed  into the sky. Perfection in formation. Precise. Extended necks and attenuated tails accentuate the image of streamlined speed. They circle once and flee downwind. Gone

A Kestrel rides the chill air. Blown downwind it turns and stalls. Hanging there motionless. Held by the air. Its element. Something we can never know. The world seems to stop with it.  A catch of breath. Just a fraction of time as it hovers and then time moves on again as it slips away.

Fieldfares, feathered vikings, chacker overhead into skeletal treetops. The survivors of the hordes that invaded our land in the autumn. These are the strongest or luckiest. Proud and haughty they land in the very tops of the trees bills pointing to home in the north before flying off to roost.

The City of Oxford is but a short way over the hill but in the slowly encroaching dusk the world and ways of humankind are beyond, for just a brief hour, any physical distance. Something precious, intangible and elusive slips briefly into my consciousness but then is gone. 

So bitter. So sweet.

Thursday 20 February 2014

Lil' ampton revisited 19th February 2014

Myself and Terry took advantage of the current lull in the stormy weather and headed for the south coast. Our mission was to go to Littlehampton in West Sussex and see the long staying juvenile Kumlien's Gull and a second winter Glaucous Gull that had replaced the adult that I saw on my previous visit a couple of weeks ago.

In rush hour traffic we idled along in tailbacks and quietly contemplated the rear of many and varied a vehicle around Heathrow Airport but once clear of the notorious M25 we were back on track and traversed without further delay the rural cross country southwards routes through Surrey and Sussex, arriving in a grey and slightly damp Littlehampton just on 9am.

The day got off to a good start with us finding a free parking spot and in no time we were on the east pier scoping the gulls that were standing a fair way off on the tideline of the east beach to our left. No luck. Others were trying their luck from the west side of the river mouth. My phone rang.  A travel company calling back about my enquiry concerning a proposed trip to Equador. As I commenced giving them details simultaneously a huge roar emanated from the landward end of the pier as some pile driving machinery got into full swing. Much shouting and arm waving ensued, gulls forgotten as I tried to communicate my needs with the travel company and in the end we both started laughing. Eventually I managed to give them the details and requirements and just as I finished the call silence descended on the pier. Such is life.

I returned to the scope. A small  and friendly birdwatching lady of a certain age appeared. 

"Any sign of the gull?" She enquired.  

"Sorry but no" we replied. She wandered off.

Back to scoping the gulls. Please no more interruptions. A Mediterranean Gull yodelled as it descended onto the beach, ghostly white in the sealight but with a fully black head and scarlet bill. Such a beautiful bird and thankfully in these depressing times for wildlife increasing in numbers. The pile driver shattered the peace and my nerves once more. 

"Come on Terry. I can't take much more of this racket. No point in staying up here. The tide's coming in so if we go and stand by the first groyne over on the beach the gulls will come in with the tide and from my previous experience the gulls will come pretty close and there will be plenty of photo opportunities".

We descended onto the deserted beach and took up position by the groyne. 

Littlehampton East Beach with groynes
I scoped a group of large gulls on the still distant tideline. The third bird from the left was huge and pale and was the second winter Glaucous Gull, looking incredibly white in amongst the crowd of drab brown juvenile Herring Gulls.  

"It's the Glaucous Terry! Quick, look through my scope and then you can get it in yours"

The Glaucous would be a lifer for Terry. Terry looked and Terry saw. Mission now 50% accomplished! The Glaucous flew closer to us along the advancing tideline. They always look so menacing, even outdoing a Greater Black backed Gull on that score

I called to the lady from the pier who was now walking off down the promenade. She came down onto the beach and joined us. "Not the Kumlien's but there is a Glaucous Gull over there if you would like a look?

"Yes please." she said. I lowered my scope for her.

She related to us that her Swarovski scope had recently broken and been sent for repair so she only had bins. 
"Feel free to use my scope while we go and try and get closer to the Glaucous for photos". 


We took some photos of the Glaucous but as it turned out we could just as well have waited as the gulls  came closer and closer, feeding at the edge of the incoming tide and subsequently we got very close and personal with the Glaucous who showed little concern about our presence. It wandered around picking at bits and pieces on the sand and in the seaweed.

We got chatting to the small lady and found out she lived in Glasgow although she was originally from Sussex and was down here house sitting for a friend. My daughter is at Glasgow University and we chuckled about the recent news that the students had voted Edward Snowden - he of whistle blowing fame - as their new Rector. She also did a WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count on the River Clyde as did I at West Wittering in Sussex until this year, so we compared notes and experiences and somehow the conversation got on to Jack Snipes and how hard they are to record on a count. We asked each other why we liked Jack Snipe so much. I recounted the tale of how, when I had just started dating my now wife of more than 25 years, she expressed over a cocktail or two how much she would like to see a Jack Snipe after listening to my smooth talking description of their plumage shot with purple and green. It must have been quite a few cocktails as a couple of days later I drove the love of my life in my immaculate white TR6 sports car, she looking very glamorous and wearing a fur coat in case it was cold, to Hersham Sewage Farm where I strung up a net across one of the settling beds and by some miracle caught a Jack Snipe. Suitably impressed the result was she agreed to go out with me on a second date (not to the sewage farm) and the rest as they say is history. Style or what?

Anyway back to the beach and the present. Our new friend wandered off down the beach in search of the Kumlien's. I suggested she remain with us as it was bound to show up but she went off anyway. Five minutes later scoping the brown juvenile gulls I came across the Kumlien's, right in front of us. By now the lady was too far away to call out to so we just got on with taking the gull's photo from every conceivable angle.

The lady eventually returned and we had the pleasure of showing her the Kumlien's, and so it was that we spent  the next happy forty five minutes or so watching and photographing two excellent gulls. More people, curious as to what we were looking at joined us on the beach. We explained what was going on and lowered our scopes again so they could look through them. We showed them what all the excitement was about and explained where the gulls had come from and why they were rare here. It is really gratifying to share these pleasurable experiences with other interested folk and in the end there was a small crowd looking at the gulls. A man and his daughter started to kick around a football on the beach, the gulls lazily flew to a little way offshore. Our time by the groyne was up now as the gulls would not come back to the shoreline and the tide was coming in fast. The Glaucous Gull left the beach and flew right to the very far end of the west pier and loafed there with other large gulls.

Littlehampton West Pier with feeding gulls on the tide race and the Glaucous
Gull at the far end of the pier along with many Herring Gulls
The Kumlien's joined some Black-headed Gulls feeding on who knows what brought to the surface,  by the upwelling from the conflict of the swollen river flowing into the sea and meeting the incoming tide race. The Kumlien's  was just a few metres off the end of the east pier so we went back to the end of the pier with the pile driver thankfully now silent and watched it from there. It seemed to have abandoned its gentle demeanour and was now getting more and more aggressive, mixing it with any Herring Gull that had the temerity to encroach on its feeding area and occasionally trying to mug the Black headed Gulls also feeding at the river outflow. Terry got some good images of it from here with his new camera.

c Terry Sherlock 
c Terry Sherlock
"Breakfast Terry?

"Why not". 

We left the pier and adjourned to a restaurant with a somewhat nautical theme just off the promenade. Walking through the restaurant I was surprised to see that it was fronting an amusement arcade.

It was half term. Loads of kids. Mums looking for something to keep the little horrors amused. A cacophony of electronic noises issued from the arcade. I resisted the exhortation to overload on cholesterol.

However it was the 'Full English' for our Terry but a more restrained scrambled eggs with mushrooms for me and very nice they were too. Suitably revived we dodged the dog turds on the path back to the car and headed for West Wittering which for twenty five years was my WeBS count sector in Chichester Harbour. "There are loads of Brent Geese there Terry" I promised. We arrived thirty minutes later and not a goose was to be seen. Strange, as it was coming up to high tide and traditionally they should be feeding on the fields. The mystery was solved and my total loss of credibility avoided when we found them all on Snowhill Marsh at the back of the fields. We walked round to the marsh. 

I said to Terry "What's the betting the minute we get to the marsh they will adjourn to the fields.

And sure enough they did. We scoped the marsh anyway and found two Spotted Redshanks, frosty of face and so much paler than the many Common Redshanks present. A Greenshank, all innocent elegance and showing white and grey against the dark mud banks paraded at the far side of the marsh. So it was worth the effort.

We returned to the fields where from force of habit I counted the geese. Sorry but it is almost instinctive now after twenty five years!  Two thousand Dark bellied Brent Geese were feeding close to the fence. It was like meeting up with old friends again. I watched as they fed, packed into close formation and all the while keeping up a low gutteral growl of communication. Random black necks, just like periscopes, shot up from the feeding throng to check for danger. I scanned through the geese but there was nothing exciting like a Black Brant present. Half term meant lots of mums with kids here too and inevitably two kids accompanied by a mum with a dog arrived, throwing sticks in the direction of the geese. The result was predictable and with a mighty roar of wings and much calling the entire flock rose and wheeled over the fields. A really impressive spectacle.

Now in the early afternoon we headed to Beeding Brooks to try and see a Short eared Owl. After a brief erroneous excursion into, as we learned from a humourless lady, a private trailer park, we found a footpath overlooking the brooks which predictably were widely flooded with water from the River Adur. The whole place was inundated as far as you could see. No sign of any owl but hundreds upon hundreds of wildfowl, mainly Wigeon and Shoveler and with close to two hundred Pintail present. Then Terry found a Short eared Owl flying along over a very distant reedy ditch. It pitched down before I could see it but then I found it perched on the bank. Three Magpies, scolding and flirting their tails chivvied it off and it flew further. Distant but unmistakeable in flight.

So our day ended as we got progressively chilled in the wind and dusk came calling.

Thursday 13 February 2014

I went to see the RFB 13th February 2014

After my long distance epic twitch on Tuesday to see the Yellow-rumped Warbler near Durham in the fine company of Clackers I made a solo trip today to see a Red-flanked Bluetail near a place called Marshfield, some eight miles east of Bath on the Gloucester/Wiltshire border. It was only an hour's drive from home so was not overly strenuous on both my physical and mental resources.

I left Kingham in sunshine, somewhat of a novelty these days and all the way to Marshfield was driving in similar conditions but as I approached Marshfield the sky from the southwest turned that ominous blue grey heralding another onset of yet more rain. I followed the Satnav instructions, turning down a couple of  narrow lanes and parked on a sodden, mud churned verge hoping the car would not get stuck when I came to leave. The rain by now was hammering down so any venture into the great outdoors was put on hold. Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed and slowly the rain eased and the sky in the west began to brighten again.

I was out of the car the minute the rain stopped and ambled down a narrow road to a stile which led into the narrow steep sided  Shire Valley, full of sheep and with a stream or small river running through, it was hard to tell due to all the rain making it swollen. The ground was absolutely sodden and the sheep had churned many a muddy trail across the steep valley side. I sought out the areas still relatively grassy rather than muddy and slip-slided my way along the upper side of the valley to a distant gate. Through the gate about a hundred metres on the other side I could see a group of around ten birders, most with cameras focused on a couple of isolated hawthorns.

I was in no hurry to get there but more intent on remaining upright in the treacherous conditions underfoot and anyway some other birders who had passed me going back to the road had told me the bluetail was performing really well. I joined the other birders standing line abreast, stepping precariously and gingerly down the angled side of the valley, half sliding downwards using the sheep tracks to slow my momentum and stopped on a sheep track and took up position. One false move, one slip descending the bank and my momentum would have been unstoppable in the slippery conditions and I would have skittled the rest of the birders straight into the stream. Now wouldn't that make me popular?

The well publicised grassy mound where the bluetail would come to feed was liberally strewn with meal worms provided by the photographers to my left. They had also erected some sort of perch affair from a couple of branches to get what they hoped would be the ultimate shot. The clouds had now cleared and the sun shone once more with white clouds and mainly blue sky. There was no sign of the bluetail but I was assured it was in the hawthorns and would soon come back to the mound for more mealworms.

Shire Valley with the photographers branches centre and two hawthorns left
Now with a little time to spare I had time to assess my surroundings and discovered I was in a quite beautiful valley which in less soggy times would be a pleasure to walk through. An upmarket farmhouse was the other side of the stream/river which in full spate was flowing along just down to our left. A Grey Wagtail chissikked it's way downstream and a Raven, its black plumage iridescent in the sun, came cronking over the valley from our right.

There was then a really annoying incident when the photographers decided the arrangement of branches was not to their liking so went to the mound and altered the position of said branches. They looked fine to me. The point they seemed to miss is the bluetail would not now show for a little longer due to the disturbance. We settled back to wait once the re-arranging was accomplished when blow me they were at it again still dissatisfied that they would get the ultimate shot, so back they went again to move the branches. I started to get agitated and suggested I would quite like to see the bird rather than some artistic arrangement of branches thank you. The person moving the branches around said he was only doing what he was told by his pal. So presumably if I told him to jump in the stream he would? No I didn't say it but felt it. We have all I am sure experienced this annoyance at some time or other when birding. The point was made however and no more forays were made to the meal worm strewn mound or the artistic branches

Time passed easily in the pleasant sunshine and I chatted to my two immediate companions. In the process I learned a lot about the importation of bricks for building. Yes foreign imports cause problems there too. Did you know Latvia make a lot of bricks?  My other companion who was taking video of the bird came out with the somewhat alarming information that he had never heard of a Red-flanked Bluetail until he looked it up in a book before coming to see it here. I forgave him though as he knew a lot about butterflies and we reminisced about Oxfordshire's Black Hairstreaks by the M40.

Finally the bluetail appeared at the edge of the hawthorn. Its iridescent blue tail flirted open and flicked downwards at rapid intervals. Quick bobbing motions and a highly strung nervous demeanour announced its presence. If you saw it in silhouette it could be a Robin so similar was its behaviour. But when it perched in the sun, there the comparison ended. Apart from the blue tail and rump the rest of the upperparts were, yes, robin brown with the same black boot button eye but the underparts were dull greyish white with a sensational slash of orange on the flanks. It also had quite a natty creamy white bib when seen head on. Why is it called Red-flanked Bluetail when its flanks are orange? An absolutely beautiful bird regardless.

It jerked up and down on long brown legs before flying the few feet from its perch to the grassy mound, grabbing mealworms in a flurry of movement and literally in a flash of orange and blue was gone, back into the hawthorns and the sanctuary of the dense twigs and branches. It would then compose itself and sit or preen until it felt the need for more mealworms when the whole routine would be repeated. We were relatively close but the bird showed no signs of being worried at our presence.

Its arrival on the mound precipitated a volley of camera clicks as everyone took the maximum opportunity to get its picture in the brief time it was on the mound. It came to feed every twenty to thirty minutes but would only remain on the grassy mound for no more than twenty seconds, often less. The rest of the time while I was there it just remained sitting or preening near the centre of the hawthorns. Why would it need to do anything else?

I watched it come to the mound four or five times. Two more Ravens appeared and then two Common Buzzards did a close pass above us before I then departed the valley still in bright sunshine. 

Not a drop of rain had troubled me since arrival to departure which was fortuitous. I also met Nic Hallam another Oxonbirder, both of us not recognising each other under all the waterproofing, hats and thermal clothing until Nic turned round and we found ourselves facing each other.

A really pleasant interlude in an idyllic English pastoral setting came to an end. I wonder if the Red flanked Bluetail  thought it was in China?