We started the new decade off with some relaxed birding on New Year's Day at our two best known local sites, the morning being spent at Otmoor and then the afternoon at Farmoor. After deciding that we would give year listing a miss in 2020 our opening day list still amounted to 66 birds seen, which interestingly beat our first day total of 2019 by over 20! The best birds were the apparently wintering Slavonian grebe and Greater Scaups at Farmoor while conversely on Otmoor neither of the ringtail Hen Harriers, the Peregrine or Bitterns put in an appearance. It was a grey old day to start the year so I hardly took a photo!
|Goldeneye male (left) & Tufted Duck males|
|Greater Scaup, 1st-winter female (centre) & 2 1st-winter males|
|Great Northern Diver|
With just a few days left before I had to return to work, we planned a trip out for the Friday. A long desired addition to our life list, a Desert Wheatear, had been discovered next to the sea in North-east Norfolk on New Year's Day. It had stayed put the next day too so we decided that the long drive to see it just had to be done. When we arrived at the car park the weather was far from pleasant with a fine drizzle being blown in from the sea by a fairly brisk breeze. The bird was supposedly to be seen feeding on the concrete sea defences that had been constructed to save the dune system and the settlement of Eccles-on-sea from the ravages of the North Sea which was rapidly eroding parts of the unprotected coastline a few miles to the North at Happisburgh. A returning birder told us that the Wheatear had been showing well so at least we knew that we'd soon be seeing it which made the walk to where it should be a little less uncomfortable since the rain had gotten heavier since we started out and the wind had increased in ferocity too. When we reached the end of the sea wall there was no sign of any other birders, we were alone on this one, and no sign of the bird either. Not that we could see very far in the unrelenting horrible conditions. The weather had been forecast to be fair by ten o'clock so the meteorologists had clearly been drinking too much sherry over the Christmas break. The weather had deteriorated and not improved. We half-heartedly looked for the Desert Wheatear, certain that it would still be around but also equally sure that it was probably sheltering from the distinctly un-desert like weather. We took shelter behind a set of steps that led up and over the sea wall and were joined firstly by a sole Turnstone, which was totally disinterested in us and sauntered past at a distance of just a few feet, and then by another desperate chap who had, obviously, come for the Wheatear. When the rain eased slightly I peered up at the sea wall and there, thankfully, about fifty metres away was the Desert Wheatear feeding very inconspicuously amongst the weedy grasses that have managed to grow up in the cracks between the sea walls concrete panels. I hadn't bothered to get my camera out to photograph the Turnstone but I had to gain at least a record shot of the Wheatear.
We were joined by Britains best known twitcher and a few others and thankfully the rain abated a little allowing me to worry less about my camera getting damp. The Desert Wheatear was now just twenty or so metres away and still approaching our position at the top of the steps. After the inclement weather so far, the improved light meant that I was now able to add some reasonable images of the latest addition to my life list. For some reason I have never totalled up my UK life list but have an idea that it isn't particularly impressive when compared with more hardened birders and with those who visit Shetland or Scilly on a regular basis. I certainly won't yet have achieved the landmark of 400 species but must be getting closer to that significant number. The top UK lister has 605 on his life list which I find incredible. One of Oxon's finest is nearly at 550! There isn't enough time left, or funds, in my own life to get anywhere near those numbers.
The Desert Wheatear suddenly took flight and disappeared over the sea wall and inland presumably to spend some time sheltering in the adjacent and private caravan park. It was gone for around twenty minutes before being found again a little further down the sea wall. The sea wall is punctuated by a series of steps which give access to the houses behind and we now strode off to the next set to get more views of the Wheatear.
|The Sea Wall and Steps. The Desert Wheatear fed along the top of the wall.|
I rejoined Mrs Caley at the steps and suggested that maybe we should head off for a coffee, I'd spotted a cafe right by the carpark, but she nudged me to look along the sea wall once more and there working its way towards us was the Desert Wheatear. We were the only folk still present and I thought that this would be our big chance to get unrivalled views. If we kept quiet and still, the Wheatear would walk right up to us. Just as the bird was coming into prime range for photos another birder appeared at the top of the steps and loudly inquired "where is it then?". Unsurprisingly the Wheatear took flight at that and was away over the dunes again. Why do some folk struggle so much with basic fieldcraft?
Unwilling to spend any time with the loudmouth, who had severely tested my New Year's resolution to stay calm, upbeat and nice to people, I decided that time was up and we needed that coffee. The soaking that we'd endured had left us less keen to go looking for any other birds, we are not going mad building a year list remember, so apart from stopping to see a group of Common Cranes at long range in a field next to the route home, three of which obligingly flew around bugling loudly, we left Norfolk early and arrived back home before dark.
We parked up in a gateway, joining a handful of other hopeful birders, and saw the Mistletoe bearing trees just fifty metres or so away. Asking around confirmed that Hawfinches had been seen that morning but in trees right at the far side of the field opposite. For the next hour and a half I studied every tree within half a mile but only came up with more common species. Then Mrs Caley beat me to it and spotted a couple of our largest Finches in those furthest trees but they flew off within seconds. It was then another forty minutes or so before I spied another trio in the same trees. The Hawfinches were perching in the spindly branches above some Yew trees. After a few minutes they dropped down into the Yews and disappeared. Another five, or maybe the same plus a couple of others, Hawfinches appeared in the same trees and after a few minutes descended into the Yews. It was clear that the distant views was as good as it was going to get so we settled for what we'd got and made plans to look for Hawfinches somewhere else during the winter.