19:23 An email arrives from DTH: long-tailed duck, red-necked grebe, Slavonian grebe and great northern diver have all been seen today at Titchwell. Nothing for it: I shall have to go tomorrow when one high tide is in daylight and before the weather gets worse again.
19:45 I leave to drive along two local lanes where long-eared owls have recently been seen hunting. I am undeterred by the fact that I have driven along these lanes at night in winter hundreds of times without once seeing a long-eared owl. I see no owl. Bach’s Magnificat on Radio Three is a splendid consolation.
04:40 I get up. I have NWT work due before Christmas and if I’m to make high tide at Titchwell this morning I must get in a few hours’ work before I leave.
06:00 Work is going well, the blackbirds begin to chime and the female mallards start their raucous laughter.
07:30 A touch of inky light can be seen.
07:50 A dunnock sings, the first I’ve heard in months.
08:05 The jackdaws get up, strewing themselves across the sky in noisy sine-waves. A house sparrow chirps.
08:15 I leave for Titchwell.
09:00 I reach Titchwell. The first bird I hear is a greylag; the second is a waxwing and, looking up to the top of a youthful car-park oak, I see him, cheerful and perky-crested. I take this as a good sign for my morning.
09:05 I pass the island hide. The water has dropped, so I peer diligently at the newly-exposed mud in the hope of seeing a jack snipe or a water pipit. No such luck, though a spotted redshank flies off the marsh towards Thornham, calling sharply.
09:15 I reach the sea. It is raw: bleak, misty, grey and raw, in a manner dickensian. A lone birder struggles off the beach looking blue. He saw a Slavonian grebe on the sea much earlier and long-tailed ducks have been flying past.
09:16 I train my ‘scope on the large raft of goldeneye and two long-tailed ducks fly past. Long-tailed duck! At last! 999!
09:16 to 10.38 I scan the sea. I scan the sea some more. I scan the sea again. I chat to other birders. There are many goldeneye today, more than I remember ever seeing here. Among them are female eider and a few female common scoter. Occasionally a long-tailed drake drops in to visit.
All around them on the sea are winter-plumaged great-crested grebes, none of which I can morph into a red-necked or Slavonian, no matter how much I squint. Razorbills purr past, three red-throated divers drift through, and a female red-breasted merganser joins the duck flock. In the surf sanderling whirr to the west and with them are bar-tailed godwits and redshank.
I scan harder. The sun rises and the mist lifts. Despite their distance, we see the ducks superbly in the morning's gathering light.
10:38 I scan the duck flock once more and do a proverbial double take. One of them is a broad-backed, smudgy-grey-backed, round-headed, glossy-greeny-blacky-headed Aythya with a pin-prick golden eye. An advanced first-winter drake scaup. In January I saw a female lesser scaup, a hugely rarer bird in the
He bobs on the sea in a flock of goldeneye, oblivious to my presence, oblivious to my list. I though shall never forget him.