Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A twitch too far?

Next Sunday I will be leading a group of Bradford youngsters on a bird and nestbox survey, for the benefit of their education and the wider environment.

There, I feel better now. Knowing that I will be doing something positive next Sunday somehow assuages the guilt I feel for being a rabid tick-hungry twitcher, going on a monstrous journey to (attempt to) glimpse some rare birds last Saturday.

I went to see the first-winter male Common Yellowthroat at Rhiwderin, Gwent, South Wales. For the UK, this is a rare bird – very rare – with only nine previous records. I wasn’t going to miss this. Work, family, daughter’s birthday, and other commitments had slowed me down, but finally I got the opportunity to go – and also got a lovely, unsolicited note from my daughter.

Up at 3am, on site at 7am, great views by 9am. Get in! Only four birders present when we got our first brief views in the rain; but gradually, as more birders arrived and the skies cleared, the bird revealed itself. And what a peach it was.

It was a beautiful bright yellow on the breast, flashing as it flicked around the branches at different angels. The yellow was noticeable on the undertail coverts too, as it flitted along the hedge, sometimes at eye-level but mostly nearer the ground. Despite the bright colour, it was easily able to disappear in the undergrowth for long periods. It had a dark, almost black, mask with a grey supercilium, and dull green upperparts. Occasionally it fed near a Blue Tit and Robin, giving a good indication of its size.

Then it was on to Pagham, West Susseex, for an overwintering Paddyfield Warbler. Another long journey, and this time in vain. The bird didn’t show all day, on account of the wind I suspect, as it was nice and sunny while I was there. I didn’t hang around, many people looked like they’d given up and weren’t looking any more, and I felt a bit of a mug patrolling the path looking into all the reeds on my own for 45 minutes. Stonechat, Curlews and a Spoonbill flying over low were all nice, but not what I’d invested my time away from the family (and all that petrol money) on.

As luck would have it, a Rose-coloured Starling – another lifer for me – was reported at Hordle in nearby Hampshire. So off I went, with the intention of coming back to Pagham if there was some news. I arrived at the cul-de-sac in Hordle to hear the bird had just left the hedge I was stood next to. Sigh. So I spent an hour looking for the bird around the streets, roofs, tress, gardens (respectfully, of course), while most of the other ten or so birders stood next to the same hedge.

I shouldn’t have bothered. I re-joined everyone, and almost immediately the bird flew into the hedge, nearly hitting me on the head as it did. Bizarrely, most of the waiting birders still missed it as it arrived. Anyhow, we all got good views of the scruffy thing as it sang from within the hawthorn. I’d left my scope in the car but a couple of generous chaps (thanks fellas) allowed me to take a couple of photos with my creaky, first-generation iPhone (the one with the rubbish camera).

Rose-coloured Starling - Hordle, Hampshire, 3rd March 2012

 Rose-coloured Starling - Hordle, Hampshire, 3rd March 2012

No news on the Paddyfield Warbler, so I headed home. Via Kent. Bit out of the way, I admit, but there was (still is?) a female Hooded Merganser at Whedsted gravel pits near Tonbridge. This is a species I’d seen twice before in the UK – a perfectly good looking (and acting) female at Saltholme in Cleveland in 2009, and the long-staying showy male at Radipole in Dorset, which I saw on my trip that way in January.

Neither of these in were accepted as being wild by the birding powers-that-be, i.e. the British Bird Rarities Committee (BBRC). So here was another good candidate – worth another punt, I guess.

After getting lost (in the car, then on foot), I stumbled across a friendly local birder who was heading the same way. The bird was on a medium sized lake, diving frequently at the far side. It was a fetching chocolate-brown female with a lovely ginger crest showing nicely in the warm glow of the setting sun. Really glad I made the detour – regardless of whether it was a genuine vagrant or not.

Extremely boring journey home; but at least I got my two ticks, maybe three once the BBRC have done their stuff. Looking forward to next Sunday: WeBS count at Rodley Nature Reserve, followed by the Airedale Otters. All good stuff.

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