Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Happy New WheatYear Twitch

It's New Years Eve, the phone rings, it's a TSB offer I initially refused (I'm normally TSB softcore section), then thought - wait, this is too good to miss. Any thoughts of alcoholic indulgence were scuppered and I was tucked up in bed by ten o'clock. Nightmarish dreams of past dips, although I rarely miss out - this couldn't go wrong could it? It was to be a 4.30 am start for the Burniston Desert Wheatear with Rich Vernon, Mike and Rob Stokes - a bit of hardcore, rain in your face, well 'ard, TSB birding!!

It wasn't the best of starts. After crossing the Pennines, in spite of a favourable forecast, the rain came p***ing down (= pelting/pouring - whatever, these are clean TSB antics!) down and down and down. We were amongst the first birders to arrive and became honorary members of the 'locals only' car park (well, they could't have stopped us if they'd tried). Desert Wheatear he we come!!

I did say hardcore. Bleary eyed, we ventured out into the rain and mud!! How many birders have walked this track recently? This was real birding and my only mistake was to to keep to the cliff edge avoiding the mud and nearly - well it was nearly a long drop.... The Wheatear had already been seen and had also already done its infamous disappearing act. So, apart from a few Stonechat to get us going, we searched, getting wetter and muddier until.... RV waved everyone over - it was in the adjacent field. And what a beauty, despite being as bedraggled as us - a little STUNNER. I fired off several shots from the camera (which had now emerged from the backpack), they were awful - no light, lots of movement (Jase you'd have been proud of these). Eventually it flew to the barbed wire fence where I managed a decent record shot. This must the 'most photographed' and usually a pristine bird, as seen on Bird Guides - mine is surely the only one (and it looks it) taken in pouring rain!

A Water Pipit reported nearby eluded us, probably flushed so we decided to head back to the car (a Northern Wheatear was now in the field), job done - handshakes and celebration time. No TVs out of pub windows or anything like that - (there was no pub nearby). It was Marshmallows (Tunnocks of course) all round!!!!

Staffs was to be our final destination but the long staying Long-tailed Duck at Williamthorpe Ponds (Derbys) was to be en-route - we were on a roll! (And my wet feet were about to dry out!!)

This was the complete opposite of the Wheatear encounter. It was dry and there was the Duck - straight out of the car, on the second of the ponds and what did it do - drift straight up to us. I had a converter on and actually had to back away to keep it in the frame! This was awesome stuff - another good bird for all of us and a second lifer of the day for me (no more Marshmallows - we'd eaten the lot)!!

This really is a gem of a site - literally 5 mins from J29 of the M1 - if passing, check it out!! We also added Water Rail and a few more bits and bobs (Rob had Willow Tit) for the year before moving on to Blithfield.....

Then, it could so easily have been end of story. Fuel was running low and RVs fuel guage announced we had 30 miles worth of fuel left. The next garage was.... 'closed', an anxious cruise in Uttoxter found a 24 hour Tesco - we were back in business.

Blithfield added another key bird - Slavonian Grebe (nice find RV) but we all dipped the Black Redstart and Rob was the only one to see the (very distant) Red-necked Diver.

Here's one I prepared earlier....

We spent too much time searching for the Blackstart and it was 3.30 before we set off for the Chasewater Gull roost. We'd therefore blown our chance of Great Northern Diver and Smew (they will keep for another day). But what a surprise we had in store at the roost. This is possibly one of the finest roosts in the country to experience and we undoubtedly missed a bird or two amongst the thousands on show but.... on the ski ramp showing really well we all saw - 1st winter ICELAND GULL and then clearly visible nearby a 1st winter GLAUCOUS GULL - what a finish!!

Another one we missed....

A great day, we hadn't seen an awful lot of birds (all of us were in the low 40s) but there was a real quality feel about the list!! Great banter too with at least seven of the twelve hours spent in the car - it's not just about the birding (H/C TSB can count me in). Oh and musn't forget - great marshmallows!! And yes we did dip on a few birds: Chaffinch (in fact every Finch), Blue Tit, Robin, 'Fieldwing', Buzzard to mention just a few - I reckon with a bit of luck these will be gripped back......

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