Thursday 12 October 2023

Flashback #7; September 2022 Second Half

The next instalment in my attempt to blog a complete year. A big year.

Friday 16 September

Despite only getting home after a week's birding in Cornwall the day before we weren't about to rest on our laurels. And we still needed a Wryneck for the year list so decided to drive to Minsmere to twitch a really showy bird that had been parading on the beach for everybody that wanted to see it for the past three days. By the time we arrived rain had set in and we spent a miserable couple of hours staring at a small twiggy branch on the shingle beach. I'm beginning to hate Wrynecks. That's the fifth one that we've failed to see this autumn already. The only consolation was happening upon a male Merlin feeding on a dead Deer carcass as we drove away from the Suffolk coast.

Saturday 17 September

Red-necked Phalarope was another bird missing from the year list so we headed to Herefordshire to twitch one that had been found a couple of days previously at Brockhall Gravel Pits a few miles west of the county city. Unlike Wrynecks, if a Phalarope is present then it will usually be easy to see because rather than skulking birds they are members of the Wader family and hence will be somewhere near or in water. The photos I'd seen of the bird didn't show a bird that appeared to be showing closely but they're always nice birds to see regardless. 

Thankfully I'd managed to get some info in how to find the pit that the Phalarope was on, otherwise we'd never have even gotten to it since access was very less than obvious. As we walked down to the pit I stopped a couple of times and scanned the water but couldn't see any sign of the diminutive wading bird. I noticed a couple of birders stood almost right by the waters edge and thought that they had probably disturbed the bird by encroaching far too closely. A few steps more and I realised that neither had they gotten too close or sent the Phalarope since it was scuttling around the edge of the pit right next to the feet of the three birders stood there!

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)

Relieved that we'd finally managed an easy twitch we joined the others. I then spent the next hour or so filling up a memory card with photos of the diminutive wader. Apparently this was the best the bird had showed since it had pitched up, possibly because the island it had previously been favouring had mostly submerged after overnight rain.

We made new acquaintances while we enjoyed the Phalarope and the pleasant warm sunshine of the afternoon. The Red-necked Phalarope was totally oblivious to our presence and at times would literally walk within feet of where I sat on the ground. I've had close views of Phalaropes before but not as close as this one.

On occasions the Red-necked Phalarope would fly over to what was left of the island where it would loosely associate with a juvenile Ringed Plover. Both birds also enjoyed sharing the shoreline where we sat although the Plover kept its distance.

Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)

An interesting behaviour was exhibited by the Phalarope as a Common Buzzard flew overhead, when it adopted a very flat and low profile on the water while swimming. Once the danger had passed then it was quickly back to normal again.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

It really was fill your boots time with such a lovely subject. I wanted some flight shots and the Phalarope even obliged me with a nice flypast. Most surprisingly, BirdGuides even granted me a Notable Photo for one of the flying shots. All in all a good day in very pleasant surroundings.

Year List addition;

278) Red-necked Phalarope

Saturday 24 September

Another tilt at adding a Wryneck to our year list and finally at the sixth attempt, a successful outcome! We made our way to Lepe Country Park by The Solent where a Wryneck had shown well for at least three days previously. Before we got there the bird had already been seen in the morning so we knew that we should get it without too much trouble.

We found the small patch of bramble, easy because several other birders were already there, and were told that the Wryneck had dived into it just a few minutes before so we knew the target bird was in the tangle of branches somewhere, it was just a case of waiting for it to show itself. The first bird to emerge out of the scrubby vegetation though wasn't the Wryneck but another of my most favourite of birds, a Dartford Warbler. I fell in love with Dartford Warblers the first time I saw one, on Dunwich Heath at the turn of the century. They will always be high up my list of most admired birds. The bird that was sunning itself was a female, not as striking as the purple-red and grey male, but still in my eyes, a beautiful creature to behold.

Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)

The Dartford Warbler, having had a good look around became more active and in true inquisitive fashion explored the whole bramble patch and was probably responsible for encouraging the Wryneck to show itself a few minutes later. I'm not such a big fan of the leg-irons that the Warbler had been forced to wear but I'm not in complete agreement with the assurance given by the bird ringers that the bling doesn't affect the bird at all. It's all done in the name in science apparently. I see it as bird-meddling.

Anyway, the Dartford Warbler had done us a good turn, and it was me that noticed the Wryneck emerge slowly and partially out into the open at the base of the brambles. In typical Wryneck fashion, it had a good look around before moving a little further out into the tangle of grass and brambles and start feeding.

Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)

The Wryneck remained furtive for a while, often disappearing into thicker vegetation. It went missing for a couple of minutes before suddenly appearing right in the open, stood on a thick bramble twig, and only around twenty feet away from I knelt on the shingle beach. Get in!

Now the Wryneck was comfortable, it continued to show extremely nicely for the half dozen of us watching. We had extended views for several minutes until an uncontrolled dog disturbed it and it disappeared into the thicket again. 

It didn't show again for over ten minutes but then appeared again, right at the highest point of the bramble. The Wryneck stood motionless slowly turning its head in almost a full circle. I've seen many Wrynecks act like this. They like to choose an exposed perch from where they have a good view of everything around it. 

Once satisfied the Wryneck worked its way stealthily through the thorns of the bramble. My views of the bird were almost, but not quite, rivalling the ones that I had when watching a Wryneck on a South Wales estuary once. That bird showed at point blank range as it looked for food amongst rocks and grass next to a bracken and gorse slope. In my opinion, the photos of that session are some of the best that I've ever taken. But this bird was giving me a good chance of getting close to the same results again.

The Wryneck flew out of the bramble, over a fence and into an enclosure of short grass and scattered bushes. This was obviously its main feeding spot. Although further away it was now possible to relax a bit and move around. I'd been knelt down, as still as I possibly could, and my tender knees were beginning to play up!

Crows and Jackdaws often pushed the Wryneck off of the short turf, and the Wryneck would seek refuge in the gorse and other spiny bushes. The activity gave me the chance to grab some flight shots of the bird.

The twitch was getting busier and we needed some lunch so after a last look at the bird which was preening and shuffling around on another exposed bramble stem, we headed back to the car and made our way to a nearby country cafe for some food of our own. 

We had another quarry for the day, close to home at Port Meadow in the centre of Oxford. A Grey Plover had been frequenting the popular public space for over a week but could be frustratingly hard to find and see amongst the tall grasses. Furthermore when the flood plain of the Thames was busy with walkers and the like, the Plover could disappear altogether. I had word via a local birder that the Grey Plover was actually showing reasonably well for a change. By the time we arrived there were few people about and no other birders around at all. Knowing where to look helped immensely and within ten minutes I had found the Grey Plover amongst a small flock of Lapwing. Grey Plover is not a rare species in Britain but they are generally found by the coast and can be hard to come by for the inland birder. Waiting until nearly the end of September to record a Grey Plover was remarkable, even by my poor standards. I was glad to get it on the year list.

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

Year List additions;

279) Wryneck, 280) Grey Plover

Sunday 25 September

On our wedding anniversary, the long staying but elusive Kentish Plover at Burnham on Sea decided to shun our invitation despite us waiting for almost three hours for it to show up. Some birds eh?

Monday 26 September

The day that became folklore in Oxfordshire birding circles, indeed for many birders throughout the country when a Common Nighthawk was found roosting on a garden fence in Wantage. This unbelievable occurrence is documented here. A once in a lifetime experience!

Year List addition;

281) Common Nighthawk

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