Friday, 16 October 2015

What's the plural of skulking?

Autumn, winds from the East and Norfolk. Can only mean one thing - rarities!! Had to be done, so at 5.03 I left the house for the drive across to the coast.
First stop was Well's Wood. This is just down from Holkham but is really just part of the giant reserve and migrant trap that is the North Norfolk coast. The woods held one main target for me, a Blyth's reed warbler, which would be a lifer in the UK, with a back-up cast of Hume's and Pallas's leaf warblers. After a good trip down I got to the site just after dawn although the light over the whole day was never really good. The instructions for the Blyth's were to go to the toilet block and look in the woods near them - lovely. The toilets were actually closed for the Winter anyway!!
There were three other birders on site already and we spent about an hour trudging around the bushes and trees looking for a bird which had been described as "elusive". It certainly was. I think I heard it call twice, a sharp call like two stones being knocked together which is also a bit like blackcaps and even robins! No sign of the bird though.
What was present though was a stunning Pallas's warbler. Imagine a cross between a goldcrest and a chiffchaff. Bright white underneath, deep green on top with three bright stripes on the head - the three-striped sprite. Always active, never still, I got onto this one as part of a group of goldcrests in a holly bush. The goldcrests were everywhere, there must literally have been hundreds in the wood together with freshly arrived, or arriving, redwings.
I gave up on the Blyth's as a Hume's warbler had been reported 10 minutes walk away. This is similar to the Pallas's, a stripy-headed leaf warbler. This one though was hard to see. It was calling well but refused to come out of the canopy of the silver birches it was in. Strong winds didn't help and over 30 minutes or so I got only brief glimpses of it.
So, back to the Blyth's for another look. Another 30 minutes, no bird. One thing I did want to do was to get some seafood for the weekend though, so I decided to head off-site and do a bit of shopping in Burnham Market. Whilst I was in the fishmongers though the pager went off - "Blyth's reed warbler seen by the boating lake". Back in the car, back to Wells Wood. I quickly found the person who saw the bird which had shown for only about a minute or so. It was still alive though. We staked out the same tree and quickly about 10 people had joined us. Then one of people I had met earlier turned up - he had a photograph of the bird from 2 minutes ago and 30 yards away. Another quick yomp and we were watching another bush. "Is that it", no a blackcap. "just flown in", no a robin. Then a sharp "chack" call and a plain brown bird popped up in the middle of the bush. Looked like an Acro warbler but was that it. Then finally it gave itself up and sat on the top for all of 10 seconds before disappearing again. Success!!!
Most others stayed for better looks but I decided to try for my other targets. Holkham woods were about 10 minutes away by car but I had to walk for 40 minutes to get to the next bird a red-flanked bluetail. No idea why it got that name!!!! As was the theme of the day it was a skulker. I joined 8 others staring at a patch of nondescript low scrub. Fortunately after about 10 minutes the guy I had walked down with tapped me on the shoulder and pointed up into the trees. A bird with a whitish underneath but a distinct red patch on it's side. That was it. Another 15 minutes gave me no sightings so I moved on.
On the path back was an Isabelline shrike. When I got to the area it had been seen there were about 15 people staring at an empty hedge! No sign. Still, a couple of minutes later we did see a stoat hunting a rabbit. You can just see it in the very photo!! The rabbit escaped by the way!

 Finally another birder walked past and helpfully said "it's on the hedge down there" pointing us about 100 yards along the path. Another quick yomp and there it was sitting up on top of a bush. Finally a bird you see for more than 5 seconds, albeit some distance away! Still I good get a few snaps of it.

I finished the day off with a bit of sea-watching at Cley where there were hundreds of gannets passing the beach along with 5 bonxies, 4 common scoter and a pair of mergansers.
All in all though a very good day in terms of the quality of the birds if not the quality of the views of them. Still, a lifer, 4 other year ticks and up to 236 for the year.