Monday, 20 September 2021

A Sunday Morning Wryneck

This Sunday just gone I'd got up with no real plans. My VLW was going off to play tennis as usual and I lounged about in bed nursing my second cup of tea and wondering what to do with the day. At shortly after 9 a.m. news broke on RBA of a Wryneck at Lark Hill near Wantage in Oxfordshire. Now Wryneck at Lark Hill had rather bitter memories for me: back when I still needed it for the county one had turned up there on a Saturday when I was out all day on a family trip. This bird had cooperated enough to provide quite a few of the lower county listers with their county tick though I could only follow the various county updates throughout the day from a far through gritted teeth. Fortunately I was able to get this difficult county species on my county list a little while later with one at Otmoor so there were no lasting hard feelings about it. Still, with nothing else to do that morning, I quite fancied the idea of trying to get what would be only my second ever county Wryneck so after a hurried breakfast off I set. 

Lark Hill is a deceptively ordinary bit of downland habit with just a single chalk track heading southwards between rolling fields of crops which at the moment were just stubble. There is very little cover apart from a few Hawthorns and Elders along the track and a couple of side hedgerows that mark the field boundaries. This uninspiring area is the patch of LB in Oxon and despite its sparseness over the years he has found three Wrynecks in this area - this would be the fourth. Having previously spent a fruitless Sunday looking for the Wryneck that I'd missed the last time round I knew of a sneaky little parking spot quite close by and was soon tooled up and yomping across the fields towards the area where it had been reported. There on the main track I found SJ, PJ and SB all peering back towards me down in a dip along the main track. I worked my way around to join them to get the gen on the bird. It turned out that it had been SJ and PJ (so not LB) who had found the bird this time: in a small clump of half a dozen trees along the track just as it started to slope down the hill. They had been seeing it every 5 or 10 minutes for a couple of seconds at a time as it crossed the path. However things had started to go a bit quiet by the time SB had turned up and he'd only seen it once.

There was no further sign of the bird in the next half an hour. JC turned up and the two original finders left to see what else they could find. We moved around to view from the top of the hill again and were joined by another birder and his son. From my own personal experience having an impatient child in tow is never going to work out especially when staking out a skulking Wryneck. After half an hour after they had just left I spotted something drop down onto the track. From my bins I could see the head of the Wryneck in amongst the grass. I called it out and SB got onto it though JC couldn't see it. We gesticulated to the departed father and son and they hurried back. A couple of minutes later and it turned up again in the same spot though once again only SB and myself saw it. And that was it for quite a while. SB and the father and son both left and we were joined by another couple of birders whom I didn't know.

Time passed with nothing to show for it. About an hour later with JC at the downhill end of the zone he called out that the Wryneck had just flown up towards me. Indeed I saw a bird flying low across the field but it looked to me like a Yellowhammer! It went into a small Elder about 15 yards in along the field boundary though when we grilled it all we indeed could see was a Yellowhammer. JC was fairly convinced and in the end walked right up to the tree to see what he could flush. All that came out were four Yellowhammers. In the end we went back to watching the original area with myself and JC at the downhill end and the other birder at the other end. Suddenly the other birder called that the Wryneck had just flown from the Elder bush back to the main area! It must have stayed put as JC had walked right up to it. At least JC had been right about it being in flight all along though I'd not seen it, only the accompanying Yellowhammer. Anyway, it's little sortie into the other tree seemed to have shaken things up because suddenly it was right out in the open on the path in all its reptillian glory. JC and I fumbled for our camcorder and camera respectively but it was gone before we could get anything. A few seconds later it's head appeared in one of the side ruts and then it was gone again and that was it.

Another while passed before it was seen by the two at the other end from me to fly up into the back of one of the trees. We all ended up in the field, looking into the sun at the trees along the track when one of us spotted the bird: sitting more or less motionless in a small dead tree against the skyline. At last was a photo opportunity though it was horribly backlit. I cranked the camera up four notches on the exposure and fired off some shots in the vague direction where it was though in the bright sunshine it was hard to see the back of the camera to tell where I was shooting. These were my best efforts:




So nothing that was going to win any prizes but you could tell what it was at least. It stayed put for a couple of minutes and then flew off again. 

That was enough for me. It was getting late and I was hungry for some lunch. Whilst JC stayed on a little longer the rest of us all departed. It had been hard work winkling out some decent views of the Wryneck - as is so often the case with this species. Nevertheless I had enjoyed the effort and was pleased to have seen my second county Wryneck as well as having "participated" in this autumn's Wryneck invasion.

Some video footage taken of the Wryneck when it posed in the dead tree courtesy of Badger

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Rosy Grip-back at Farmoor

I recall a coversation with fellow county birders a while back where I mentioned in passing that an Oxon Roseate Tern was one of those "drop everything" birds that I was waiting for. This species has been impossible to twitch in the county with just the occasional single observer fly-through at Farmoor. Impossible that is until August 2018 where JD found one that stayed all day that everyone who was around was able to connect to. Unfortunately I had been away on holiday that week so there was a gaping hole in my county list and given how rare they are in the county I had little expectation of filling it any time soon. So when JD did it once again with a pair at Farmoor I couldn't believe it! True to my word I did indeed drop everything, got my gear together and sped straight off to Farmoor. A hands-free call to JD en route reassured me that they were sitting contentedly on a buoy albeit being surrounded by a flottilla of miniature remote control sailing yatchs! Reassured I sped on and thanks to light traffic made the journey from door to Farmoor car park in about 15 minutes. I raced up the bank and along the reservoir path towards the small gathering of people (both birders and toy yatchers) by the old yatch club huts. As I got nearer a quick glance through the bins gave me two small tern-sized blobs sitting on the nearest buoy and I could relax.

Apart from four people sailing their remote control yatchs (now merficully away from the Terns) there were only half a dozen birders present, including Badger who, like me had missed them first time around. The birds were sitting very quietly and contentedly and giving superb views. I remarked that these were in fact the best views I'd ever had of a Roseate Tern with my only previous sighting being a distant heat hazy view of one standing on top of a nesting box on an island in the lagoon at Brownsea Island way back in 2009.

Posing nicely on the buoy

The buoy was pretty close in so was just about in reach of my super zoom camera (see above). I also took some digiscoped video of the bird and spent a little while admiring them. As a pair of adult birds they even had a pink flush to their breast and were looking very smart indeed.


Digiscoped video

After a while they started to look more restless and took off. It was most interesting to view them in flight. They looked small with shallower rapid wingbeats, altogether different from a Common Tern in flight. I'd half expected their longer tail streamers to stand out in flight but they actually weren't that noticeable. It was most instructive to see them in the air like this, only a shame that there weren't any Commons flying around to compare them with. 

I couldn't linger too long so soon headed back to the car and back home. Still, Farmoor had delivered me a second county Mega grip-back this year after the Purple Sandpiper last month. A great grip-back indeed!

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

White-tailed Lapwing at Blacktoft Sands

Whilst away on holiday in the Highlands, news broke on the 26th of a White-tailed Lapwing that had been found at Blacktoft Sands RSPB nature reserve near Goole in Yorkshire. Now this was a real national Mega with only 6 previous records. I remember the last one which was found at Rainham Marshes in 2010 and which then did a tour of the country visiting all sorts of places, before departing - sadly without my ever having seen it. There was nothing I could do about it trying to see it of course being away up in the Highlands and I assumed that this was going to be another bird that got away. 

I don't have so many opportunities for twitching these days: with my full time job I'm restricted to weekends at the moment and often I am too tired or not feeling up to slogging about the country in search of additions to my life list. So these days I do my twitching vicariously through following the various blogs of fellow Oxon birders who have more time and energy for that sort of thing. Still, I do like the occasional national sortie - if nothing else it makes for a change of scenery especially when working from home as I am still doing. When I do go, I limit my travel time to about 3 hours normally though I will make exceptions if it's something I especially want to see. I am starting to realise that it's becoming less important to me that I rack up additions to my life list than to have a nice day out and see some good stuff. Not that I can pretend that I have no interest in ticking things off any more but perhaps it's starting to loosen it's hold a little. 

I also enjoy the opportunity to see different parts of the country that I wouldn't otherwise go to. One such place is Goole in Yorkshire. To be honest I'm not sure that I'd even heard of it until the White-tailed Lapwing turned up but Blacktoft Sands was situated close to it just under 3 hours away as the Gnome-mobile travels. When the plover decided that it liked where it was and stayed put there started to be a glimmer of hope that I might yet get to see this bird. So some 9 days after it was first found, on the first Saturday morning that I was free I waited on news and then headed off. In the end my departure was a little later than planned due to a rather restless night's sleep but the bird seemed to be pretty reliable so I was fairly confident of seeing it. Now some more intrepid county twitchers had combined this bird with "Bempton Bertie", the long-staying Black browed Albertross at Bempton cliffs but that would add an extra three hours of travel time to what would already be a long day. Another possibility was the Black Stork at Frampton which would add two hours. However, neither of these birds were "tick and run" and would both involve quite some time of staking out (possibly many hours) and to add either to the itinery would violate my new "nice day out" rule and turn it into a massive endurance test. So I elected just to stick with Blacktoft sands and to take my time there. The journey was uneventful and I made good time so it was that shortly before midday I pulled into the busy carpark at Blacktoft Sands and got tooled up.

The two RSPB volunteers on reception directed me the 100m to the Xerox hide which was the now favoured pool for the star migrant and I entered to find it not as jam packed as I'd feared. The bird was currently not properly on show, being tucked up right under the near shoreline under some vegetation but when I popped upstairs to see if there was a better vantage point someone let me have a look through their scope and my shiny new tick was secured. I then went back downstairs where there was more room and soon enough the bird emerged and I was able to admire it in all its beauty. The light was rather gloomy and the bird too distant for my superzoom so I had to resort to digiscoping. The photos were never going to win any prizes but were satisfactory so I papped away contentedly.




Some video footage rather marred by the bouncy floor boards of the hide

As a species the White-tailed Lapwing breeds on inland marshes in southern Russia, Iran and Iraq. Whilst the latter two colonies are more or less resident, the Russian contingent migrates down to India, the Middle East and north east Africa. As a vagrant to Europe they are very rare so proper Mega status. They tend to prefer feeding in deeper water than other Lapwings (hence the long legs) and prefer still or slow moving vegetated water to open mudflats. This certainly tied in with the pool that it had chosen to inhabit at Blacktoft where there was plenty of vegetation and some deeper pools.

There were other birds on show at this pool including half a dozen Ruff, some Redshank and a couple of skulking Water Rail along the reed fringes. Marsh Harriers would quarter over periodically, unsettling the birds on the pool. I must admit that it was a very nice little bit of habitat. After a while it started to get more crowded as various newcomers packed into the hide to try and see the star turn so I decided to head out to the other hides. There are six hides in total at Blacktoft and I visited each in turn, taking in their various sights. Ousefleet, the furthest west, held a couple of Little Stints in amongst a flock of Dunlin and some Bearded Tits that could be seen at the back of the pool. With some Greenshank, Lapwings and lots of Snipe it was interesting to compare what was on view in this more open bare pool with the Xerox hide.

Little Stint

There were also three other hides to the east of the main entrance and I paid a visit to each in turn. Some were very large pools whereas others were small and more intimate. Each held a nice variety of birds and whilst there was nothing special to see, it was nice to pay a visit to each and to sit with a cup of tea from my flask, taking in the birds. I put together a day list of birds that I saw on eBird - it was fun to try to add various common species to it to see if I could hit 50 in total. I managed it in the end though only by looking out for things that I still needed on the way home from the car.

Black-tailed Godwit

Ruff and Snipe

Along the path there were loads of Sow-thistles which were covered in Hoverflies. This one had a couple of Nettletap moths on it as well
 

Having taken in all the hides I next went to look at the feeders by the entrance where there were some Tree Sparrows. They'd been given a giant bucket of seed and had all the food that they wanted.

Tree Sparrows with a whole bucket of seed

Having spent about three hours at Blacktoft already I next thought that I would pay a final visit to the Xerox hide to say goodbye to the White-tailed Lapwing. However, the hide was rather full and the bird was out of sight in a bay behind large patch of reeds. As it could be quite some time before it emerged I decided that it was time I departed. I accordingly wandered back to the car and pointed the Gnome-mobile in the direction of home. The journey back was uneventful and it was just before 6pm when I arrived back at Casa Gnome. It had certainly been a very enjoyable and relaxed visit to this gem of a reserve and I did have another shiny tick under my belt which I had to admit did still give me a warm glow of success. Maybe my twitching days aren't quite over yet!


Monday, 6 September 2021

Highland Interlude

Like many people this year, we decided not to risk a holiday abroad (not that we take these very often anyway). However, we all felt strongly that we didn't want to go to Cornwall yet again. Partly we'd been going there every year and were all wanting a change and partly the issues with the illegal campsite meant that we didn't want to be reminded of that every day of our holiday. So instead we chose to go about as far away from Cornwall as possible, up to the Highlands of Scotland. This is an area that we used to go to quite a lot when the children were younger but it had been many years since we were last there. Back in January we booked a place up by Loch Kishorn (near Applecross) for an eye-watering amount of money thanks to the covid premium on all UK holiday lets this year. After all the turmoil of a second year with this wretched pandemic were were all very much looking forward to getting away. 

We decided to take a couple of days to go up and back again, stopping off overnight in Glasgow each time. On the way up we went via the A9 to Inverness, stopping off at the Abernethy forest at Loch Garten on the way. Some of the members of our party had never been to this area before and we were very taken with this ancient woodland. In passing I managed a brief view of a Crested Tit and by the pond on the approach road there were still some odonata about: lots of Common Emeralds, a few Black Darters and a single Common Hawker. My younger daughter is very much into fungi and we spent a lot of time mushroom spotting - there was loads to see at this time of year.

Abernethy Black Darter

Abernethy Fungus: a Russula species I am told

Our cottage was located right on the shore of Loch Kishorn, a rather sheltered sea loch just south of the Applecross peninsula. The view from the cottage front door across to the Applecross mountain range was spectacular. We went swimming in the loch outside our front door and in the evenings we would often see Otters though they were usually rather distant. At night we would often hear a Tawny Owl calling from behind the cottage.

This was very much a family holiday and not a birding holiday. In fact I was looking forward to being able to relax rather than stressing about trying to see stuff so it was very much going to be birding en passant.  A small river emptied itself into the Loch near where we were and there were always some birds nearby. At low tide quite a lot of mud was exposed and this attracted lots of the usual stuff. Typical birds seen on the estuary were: Oystercatchers, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Goosander, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gulls, Cormorant and Grey Heron whilst along the shoreline were usually a few Hooded Crows. 

You know you are in the Highlands when the crows are all Hooded

 
A Curlew at low tide

We would make various excursions out from our cottage each day and I would keep an eye out for birds of interest as we went along. Near Applecross we saw three Black-throated Divers out in the Inner Sound south of Applecross between the mainland and Raasay. They were making their eerie haunting calls before flying off as a small boat approached them. Over on Skye we went all the way up to Neist Lighthouse right in the north west corner of Skye. As well as amazing scenery with Fulmars nesting on the cliffs I was pleased to spot a few Wheatears and also three Twite making their twangy calls on the wires by the path to the lighthouse. En route to Applecross we did stop off at the summit view point and walked up to the radio mast. I'd read that it was possible to see Ptarmigan up there but didn't manage to spot any. Still the view was stunning.

Alpine Lady's Mantle on top of Sgurr a Chaorachain

Unfortunately the Twite flew off before I could photograph them but this rather distant Wheatear chose to pose nicely on top of one of the cairns that people build by Neist Lighthouse

On the insect front the main sightings (away from the Abernethy region) were Common Hawkers (which are actually common in this area), Keeled Skimmers and Common Darters (probably the "Highland" sub-species). In doing my background reading I learnt that the Applecross peninsula was the stronghold for the Azure Hawker though we were too late in the year for them. On the butterfly front Scotch Argus were reasonably common but I didn't come across much else.
 
A very mature Four-spotted Chaser

A Scotch Argus
 
So it was all very low key but that was really the point. In terms of a family holiday it worked really well and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The weather turned out to be absolutely perfect: we lucked into a whole week of 21 degrees with sunshine and not a breath of wind - quite unheard of for Scotland! This has certainly whetted our appetite for coming back to the Highlands. Maybe next year I'll come earlier in the season and try to get some of the Odonata and Orchid specialities that can be found in this beautiful part of the country.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Farmoor Purple Sandpiper

I was in the middle of an evening Zoom call when my mobile rang. It's quite an unusual time for a call - I noted that it was fellow county birder EU calling but somehow didn't twig as to what this could mean. Towards the end of my meeting which normally goes on to 8:30 pm he called again. Once again I declined the call but quickly checked on-line where I soon discovered the reason for his persistence: Purple Sandpiper at Farmoor!! Now this species has only been seen once in the county since I started birding back in 2008 and I was away at the time so this would be a mega grip back county tick for me. Still I was stuck in my meeting for which I really needed 100% concentration. Fortunately it wound up 15 minutes earlier than usual so I got my gear together and hurried off.

En route I gave EU a quick call on the hands-free and he told me not to park in the car park (it was getting rather late now anyway and there would be a danger of being locked in) but instead to go down the side road towards Lower Whitley Farm and make my way in that way. There was thankfully very little traffic and I made good time. As I was passing the main car park EU pulled out and escorted me to the spot I needed to go. Within a few minutes I was parked up and yomping the few yards along the causeway towards a very relaxed looking handful of Oxon's finest. The Sandpiper turned out to be asleep just a few yards away on the bank and didn't seem to mind birders coming quite close to take photos. However the light was so bad that most of my efforts turned out to be rubbish.

The best I could manage in the gloomy conditions

As usually happens in such situations we soon got to chatting about birding instead of looking at the bird - with my county tick under my belt it was all very relaxed and pleasant. Finally, one of us bothered to look at the bird again to discover that it has woken up and was now feeding half heartedly along the shoreline. I can only guess that it was very tired after it's long journey. Anyway, it was a great opportunity to take some close up video.


Video is much more forgiving in poor light conditions and the bird allowed very close approach

Eventually it started to get rather dark so I wandered back to the car and drove the short distance back into Oxford and back to Casa Gnome. It had been nice to go out a county twitch again: my first of this year and a great interruption of my meeting. As a post script, news broke the next morning that the bird was still around so those who hadn't been able to make it the first evening were able to connect. I wonder how long it will linger.



Monday, 26 July 2021

New Forest Frolics: Orchids & Buzzards

This is traditionally a quiet time of year, one that birders often fill by turning to other things to while away the time until autumn migration kicks off. Over the years in the summer months I have dabbled in butterflies, odonata, and flowers, in particular orchids. Whilst I've basically done butterflies and odonata (apart from the Scottish specialities of the latter) I've more or less given up on flowers (though I will take note of flora of interest en passant). However, I am still working my way through all the UK orchids. Not that I am a total "orchid head" like some enthusiasts but nevertheless it's a nice excuse to get out and see things during the summer months. This year I was determined to go and see the Late Spider Orchids in Kent but somehow that never happened. To make amends I've been on a couple of recent trips to mop up two orchid species that it is possible to see in the south of the country, namely Heath Fragrant Orchid and Bog Orchid.

The first trip was a few weeks ago. With the rest of my family all off doing things of their own, I decided on a day out myself and settled on Boundway Hill in the southern part of the New Forest just west of Sway where I'd been told I could find Heath Fragrant Orchids. The two hour journey was uneventful and despite my concerns, the orchids turned out to be very easy to find as there was an obvious boggy area down the hill within a hundred yards of the car park. The vast majority were Heath Spotted Orchids with perhaps a couple of dozen Heath Fragrants dotted in amongst them.



Heath Fragrant Orchids

One of many Heath Spotted Orchids

There were also lots of interesting bog plants including Bog Pimpernel, Bog Asphodel and two species of Sundew.

Bog Asphodel

Bog Pimpernel

Great Sundew

Round-leaved Sundew

In one small copse were some rather unusual orchids which to my inexpert eye looked like hybrid HF x HSO.

 

Heath Fragrant x Heath Spotted Orchid

I'd met IE and his son at the car park just as they were leaving and they'd reported lots of other orchid species but all I could find was a single candidate Common Spotted Orchid. I whiled away a pleasant hour and a half browsing all the orchids in the warm sunshine. Then it was back to the Gnome-mobile and back home.

The second trip was last week to catch up with one of the hardest orchids to see: the diminutive Bog Orchid. These tiny plants are notoriously difficult to find even when you know that you are in the right bog so when IE told me that he has a really good site for them I jumped at the chance. The extremely hot weather was going to be back to more reasonable levels on Friday and with rain forecast for the weekend I decided to take that day off work and to head down to the New Forest once again. Despite it being the first day of the school holidays there was little traffic on the A34 and I had a good run down. I duly arrived at the bog in question and after a few minutes I'd found my first Bog Orchid. 

My first Bog Orchid!

A bit of further searching soon turned up a few more


Just so you get a sense of how small they are!

As I had something else lined up after the Bog Orchids I decided that three was plenty to have seen so rather than searching for more (IE had had 15 of them in total) I headed to my second destination which was a good Honey Buzzard site that I'd been told about (please don't ask me as I'm sworn to secrecy!).

I arrived to find a chap called GD already at the viewing point. This was most fortuitous as he was a veteran HB watcher and was able to distinguish my target from their commoner cousins at a great distance. He'd told me that things had been very quiet that morning. By the time I arrived at 11:45 am he'd only had one sighting at 9am with just a smattering of Commons since then. My arrival seemed to perk things up because after that we had lots of sightings, mostly Commons but with several very good flight views of Honeys along with a couple of bonus Goshawk views and a single Red Kite (more rare there than back home at Oxford). With a Restart and a Woodlark as additional bonus sightings it ended up being a most enjoyable session and it was in a contented frame of mind that I headed back home to Oxford.



Thursday, 10 June 2021

Cornwall In June

Over half term we had a family trip down to Cornwall again. Regular readers will be aware that we are trying to sell our cottage there but, despite a rampant property market down there, because of the pop-up campsite we have had no takers. So we decided to let it out over the summer again as usual which necessitated a trip down there to get things ready for the season. With two out of three children in tow we headed off on Tuesday for the rest of the week.

The birding down there seemed to have peaked on the Sunday before we arrived with loads of goodies (Golden Oriel, Woodchat Shrike, Red-backed Shrike and Black Stork) all being seen on the same day. However, since then it was more like a typical June with not much at all on offer. The first couple of days I spent some time failing to track down the lingering but elusive Black Stork that was being seen occasionally at Rosewall Hill (Buttermilk Hill as the locals know it). Despite putting in a quite a few hours in the end, I never got to see it.

A distant Cuckoo on Rosewall Hill was scant compensation for not seeing the Black Stork

 
Hill top Painted Lady

This Grey Gorse Piercer (Cydia ulicetana) was actually a moth lifer. It was plentiful on the gorse flowers on the summit.

Our stay at Pendeen followed the usual pattern of DIY in the morning and then doing something in the afternoon. We had a family trip to Trewidden gardens and a walk down Kenidjack, around Cape Cornwall and back via Carn Gloose which was nice but offered nothing out of the ordinary in terms of sightings. Still, May and early June are beautiful times of the year down in Cornwall and it was enough just to enjoy the wonderful scenery and what had turned out to be a great week of weather.

 

Pendeen Whitethroat

Garden Goldfinch

Beautiful Demoiselle at Kenidjack

Towards the end of the week it turned very foggy at Pendeen and putting the outside porch ("moth light") on brought in quite a few species.

Cream Spot Tiger

Fox Moth

Spectacle

On Saturday some of the family wanted to head into Mousehole for a while to explore the shops and have some tea. After dropping them off I elected instead first to head to Newlyn to see if the long-staying American Herring Gull was around. However despite searching all the usual spots I could not find it at all. At this point I got confirmation from P&H that a Rose-coloured Starling was still present at St Buryan after having first been reported the previous night so I cut short my gull search and sped over there instead. It was very misty at St Buryan when I arrived and parked up in the side road where it had been seen. Still after less than ten minutes of wandering around it turned up, stting first on a telegraph pole and then on a roof-top - classic views! Despite the mist I managed some photos.


Rose-coloured Starling at St Buryan
 

That afternoon we were due to visit my VLW's niece up county a bit but the weather turned rather bad and I started to feel unwell (I was fighting off a nasty cold that our son has had all week) so we headed back to the cottage to start packing up instead.

On Sunday we decided to head back home via Glastonbury (which we'd been meaning to visit for many years) which just happened to be close to Ham Wall RSPB where a certain River Warbler was by coincidence currently on territory. The traffic was heavy all the way up on the A30 and also on the M5 up to our turn off. With a sign warning of hour long delays up ahead we were grateful finally to turn off and head for Glastonbury. I dropped the others off in the city centre and then hurried back to Ham Wall. I was very much aware that I had limited amount of time and as it was now afternoon and getting rather hot, it was possible that the bird (which is known to sing in the night) might well take a siesta. So I hurried along the familiar track towards the twitch spot. 

Ham Wall is one of my favourite reserves. This was my fifth visit but each previous time it had delivered in the form of a new personal UK tick. I had this site to thank for Pied-billed Grebe, Hudsonian Godwit, Little Bittern and Collard Pratincole - could I add River Warbler to this list? After a brisk 10 minute walk I crossed the first footbridge over the drain and hurried to join about a dozen or so other birders. The twitch arena turned out to be a length of about 30 yards long, facing towards a reedbed across an area of srub and reeds. I asked about when it was last seen and was told about half an hour ago. I set up my gear and settled down to wait.

Fellow Twitchers waiting for the bird to show

 
The reedbed in which the River Warbler was hiding

There was plenty of other birds to see and hear. With several Cetti's Warblers singing within earshot, a hawking Hobby and regular sightings of Marsh Harriers and Great White Egrets it was a lovely place to be waiting. The only issue was that I knew I was on a tight schedule. After three quarters of waiting with no sighting I was starting to get worried. I knew that the patience of the rest of the family was distinctly finite and I started to contemplate the nightmare scenario of getting "that phone call" from them saying they were fed up and wanted to be picked up, before I'd seen the bird. I had just started to think about when I could come back again when the shout went up that it was flying low down in front of us. I managed to see a large dark brown blob fly towards a clump of reeds with some bare twigs in and a short time later it popped up briefly and started to sing it's weird pulsating whirring song. Just at that moment I got the phone call enquiring how I was getting on. I explained that the bird had just started to show and I would be another three quarters of an hour if that was OK. They agreed and I set about trying to get some photos. The bird was more or less on show constantly at this point, preening in a Hawthorn bush for a while before having another burst of song. The trouble was my auto-focus was really struggling to pick it out in amonst all the reeds and I got shot after shot of blurriness. After a while it moved even closer and sat on an exposed stem, in fact so close the autofocus was registering the reeds behind it. Eventually I zoomed all the way in and managed to fluke a couple of shots that turned out OK.


Showing well at last

When it disappeared again I decided to head off back to the family. Having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat it was in an elated mood that I retraced my steps back to the car and then drove back for the rendezvous. The others had very much felt that they'd "done" Glastonbury which turned out to be very alternative with all the shops being New Agey of some description. All very well as far as it goes but after wandering around for a bit the others felt that it was rather samey.

With a couple of hours on the road still ahead of us, we chose a scenic route back home that avoided the rest of the M5 and the rest of the journey passed uneventfully. It has been a nice change of scenery down in Cornwall and whilst the birding had been quiet I'd managed to get a nice bird on the way back home which more than made up for it.