Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Big dipper

Or: Neither booted nor barred

Autumn has come, people; autumn has come. It mooted its presence last week in the shape of a pectoral sandpiper at Cley. There were in fact pecs at Cley, Titchwell, Welney and Hickling. And did I see any of them? Nope. I was at Cley three times during the sandpiper's sojourn there. But I saw it not. I failed too to see a barred warbler at Holme. I was leading a walk there on sand dune succession. I saw interesting weeds aplenty, and bramble scrub weighty with blackberries, the very berries on which my barred friend was feeding, somewhere. I saw him not.

Nor indeed did I see the Sabine's gull which dallied for a day around Sheringham, Salthouse and Cley. I missed it by five minutes. As for the mini-fall of pied flycatchers around ten days ago; well, I was otherwise engaged.

I was excited therefore, in the wake of this impressive spate of dipping, to hear from my great friend Oli on Friday night. He would be in Norfolk on Sunday; would I like to go birding with him? Of course I would. So I did. We hit Walsey Hills first, where a yellow-browed warbler had been seen. Chiffchaffs lisped here and there, a bullfinch sorrowfully piped, a Cetti's warbler pizzicato-ed from Snipe's Marsh; but of yellow-browed warblers we saw none. We saw for that matter no yellow-browed anything. No bunting. No antbird. No oxylabes. (OK, I'll grant you that two of these were more unlikely than even the bunting, but it doesn't do to be complacent.)

This dip-fest continued on our walk from Stiffkey to Warham. There were young spoonbills with sooty tips to their wings in the saltmarsh and blue tits fidgeted in every hawthorn. But there was little else. The Gantletts shook their heads; they too had seen nothing of note. At Warham Greens, though, things looked a trifle perkier. Here Duncan from Wildsounds had seen a yellow-browed warbler and Pat from the Cley visitor centre had just heard one. Some folks had even seen yesterday's red-breasted flycatcher. So we searched, we waited, we walked, we peered, we stood. We saw dozens of long-tailed tits and scrutinised many a chiffchaff and dunnock. But the wind howled, and the drizzle drizzled, and during the whole time we were there no-one, least of all us, saw any rarer birds.

Oli and I didn't care too much, it must be said; it was great to be with an old friend, catching up on happy news. But birdwatching is about watching birds, so I was cheered on Monday afternoon to hear from DTH and his tuneful eldest son. Gav is the keenest Norfolk birder of us all, though he now lives in London, and on Monday morning he'd seen the Warham red-breasted flycatcher, in company with redstart and pied flycatcher. The word was that the dunes at Burnham Overy were now sizzling with rare birds, brought to ground by the northeast wind and the day's rain. So would I join them? As we spoke the heavens were rent asunder and pillars of rain crashed to earth outside my window. I would not join them. My decision was wise, as DTH and Gav were forced to turn for home on meeting this curtain of rain.

Undeterred we convened at seven this morning at Burnham Overy. Almost the first bird we saw was a beige warbler, the nothing colour of a 1980s bathroom. We saw it zip past at speed in a high wind. We saw it zip past again. And again. It was, no doubt, the promised booted warbler, but we could never see more than a bathroom-coloured bird whizzing by as the wind chapped our ears and the gathering pinkfeet yapped over the marsh.

We tried our luck in the dunes. Try, yes, we did. We tried jolly hard. There were reed buntings, plenty of those. There were meadow pipits, plenty of those too. There was almost certainly a tree pipit, though the wind was too strong to hear it properly as it sailed by. Yesterday's little bunting was not to be seen; nor yesterday's red-breasted flycatcher or wood warbler. On our return to the booted warbler twitch we saw a willow warbler and chiffchaffs, which the excited gaggle were trying at all costs to turn into a booted warbler. They couldn't. They weren't. We didn't.

News went up that in the mound of bramble, laden with fruit, at the end of the boardwalk a barred warbler had just been seen. I have form this week with mounds of bramble laden with fruit, and barred warblers; remember? True to it, we saw no warbler, though seconds before it had been sunbathing in plain view.

Golden plovers kited the wind and a grey plover wailed from the marsh (perhaps he too had dipped spectacularly). Two young marsh harriers blustered by and, in the company of these forever friends, I did not mind missing everything. I lie: we did not miss quite everything. Two dowdy quiver-tailed redstarts were in the dunes, my first of the year.

By way of illustration DTH sent a lovely photo of a much less dowdy male.

Redstart by Dave Horsley


common redstart
Phoenicurus phoenicurus

2012 Totals
Mammals: 82
Birds: 854
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 8
Fish: 11

1 comment:

  1. We had a spur-of-the-moment trip up on Saturday afternoon - gorgeous day and we did see the RB-fly, but no yellow-brows! Would have given you a call but we didn't decide to come till mid-morning and I thought you'd be out already... Kx