Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Easington Excellence

Any birder with even the most tenuous connection to the birding grapevine must know of the unprecedented arrival of Siberian Accentors to western Europe. Up until a couple of weeks ago this was a very rare visitor to Europe and indeed had yet to grace our shores at all but with several dozen having been reported across northern Europe it was only a matter of time before a first for Britain was found. Predictably, this did indeed happen with a two day stayer up in Shetland but to all intents and purposes it might as well have been on the moon for the likelihood of my twitching it. However, the obsessive few who successfully twitched the bird had scarcely arrived back home before another was found on Thursday afternoon at Easington, near Spurn in the East Riding of Yorkshire. This was tricky for me - at about four hours it's just a bit too far for me to twitch though I must admit that since doing my Uni runs up to Durham I'm less put off by this distance. I got a call from Badger that afternoon asking me whether I'd like to join a car load of Oxon's finest who were heading up there for first light the next morning. I mulled it over - not having to drive would be a great relief but the middle of the night start was rather off-putting (I'm such a wuss when it comes to twitching). In the end my keenness to see a first for Britain overcame my fondness for sleep and I said yes though when talking it over with my VLW it soon because clear that she was less than happy with my heading off all day once again having already been away at the start of the week in Norfolk. Explaining how it was the October peak season of a near record-breakingly good year didn't seem to cut it and in the end I had to duck out of the trip. I enviously followed events on social media from afar the next day though I must admit that the pictures of the vast hoards there for first light seemed most off-putting - that kind of mass birding really doesn't appeal to me at all. Over the weekend several more were found up in the North East and I had everything crossed that one would be found closer to Oxford that I could have a go for the next week. Come Sunday afternoon and the only reliable one seemed to be the Easington bird and so, despite the distance, I decided to have a go for it on Monday. As it seemed to be pretty predictable I decided to wait and go on news - whilst it would make for a long day, it would remove the need for overnight accommodation and the stress about worrying if the bird was going to depart overnight.

Monday duly arrived and as usual, my excitement at the prospect of my trip meant that I awoke earlier than I would have liked. Still, by 7 a.m. I was up, dressed and breakfasted and waiting on news. Sure enough a tweet on Twitter at shortly after 7:15 gave the green light on the trip and after doing a bit of last minute chores I was in the Gnome mobile and heading off on the familiar trip to the North East. The traffic was reasonable, the sun was shining and with Radio 4 to occupy me, the miles slipped by. I wasn't particularly expecting any more RBA updates en route - the pattern seemed to be only to get a few throughout the day, partly as the phone signal is so poor in the general area but from previous performance it seemed to be that once it had been seen, it would be around all day. In three and a quarter hours I was at Hull and then into the slow back-roads of the hinterland heading eastwards. I'm starting to get familiar with the sequence of villages that you pass through on this route: Keyingham, Ottringham, Patrington, Welwick and Skeffling before finally seeing the large, rather unsightly Easington gas terminal buildings in the distance. Normally at the T-junction it's a right-turn for Spurn but this time it was left for the gas terminal. There were quite a few cars parked up at the side of the road and I carefully parked up, tooled up and hurried towards Vicars Lane. This was the moment of truth: three days of fretting, four hours driving (well 3.75 to be precise) and it all came down to what I would find around the corner. 

The news was bad (-ish)! The bird had been all morning but hadn't been seen for half an hour. Apparently rather than loitering in the old car park of the Old School where it had been giving crippling views down to a few metres, recently it had taken to working its way along under the metal fence of the gas terminal works where it was much more hidden and that's where it had been so far today. However, with its current absence, a few later-comers such as myself were morosely searching around and scoping the large strip of wasteland in front of the fence whilst those who'd already seen it were hanging around chatting or looking through their photos on the back of the camera. Several Chiffchaffs were flitting about as well as a couple or Robins and with every movement there was a flutter of excitement - could this be it? With it only having disappeared for half an hour I was still fairly optimistic and sure enough within about twenty minutes or so a group of birders at the far end of the fence had found it again and I hurried over to see it. Finally there it was,  an exotic looking Dunnock with striking head markings creeping around under the fence and working its way through the weeds, feeding very actively. I won't bother to describe it as I'm sure everyone has seen enough Siberian Accentor porn on the internet now to last a lifetime but it was a very pleasing bird to the eye and actually, somehow it skulking around and giving tantalising views seemed more appropriate for such a rarity rather than it parading itself on the car park in a rather demeaning manner as it had done previously. I started taking snaps through the rather narrow gaps in the fence the best I could.

Yet more Siberian Accentor porn

There were relatively modest numbers today in contrast to the hoards on Friday morning

The bird liked to feed at the back of the weedy area right under the metal fence
As I was papping the Accentor, I overhead a birder nearby talking about a Wheatear. I wondered what he was going on about and so whipped out my RBA app to check on the news. Whilst the signal is very poor in this area fortunately it was just good enough to get the latest news and blow me, there in red was the news "Isabelline Wheatear, Easington"! I hastily asked the nearby birder for details and was told that it was just the other side of the village on the beach down Seaside Road. With the main target already in the bag, I decided to head off immediately to have a look for the Wheatear and then to return for seconds of the Accentor afterwards. I hurried back to the car and drove the couple of minutes through the village where, instead of following the road around to the right towards Kilnsea I turned off left down Seaside Road. With lots of cars on the sides of the road there was the usual gamble about how far down the road you park - do you take the first place that you see or try for one nearer? In the end I got it about right and the road turned out not to be very long anyway. I changed into my walking boots, grabbed some food to eat en route and yomped off down the road. 

I turned right at the end of the road by the beach and could see the twitch line in the distance. A few minutes later I'd joined them and was watching the distant Wheatear in a freshly tilled field. Unfortunately viewing conditions were less than ideal as it was very sunny (which made for rather "contrasty" views) and there was a very blustery wind (which shook the scope a lot). Mentally I went through what I could remember about Isabelline Wheatear and how to tell it apart from Northern. I remembered the upright stance and this certainly had that. There was also the supercilium which on a Northern extends well beyond the eye whereas on Isabelline it's more confined to in front of the eye. On this bird the super was rather poorly defined so it was hard to tell but it certainly wasn't as strong as on a Northern. A neighbouring birder helpfully chimed in that there was the lack of contrast between the colour on the coverts and the back but in the end I resorted to my trusty Collins app where I learnt that the black on the tail is much more extensive than on Northern and this was by far the most obvious feature, with there being noticeably more black on this bird. With a couple of Northern Wheatears also in the same field it was very useful to compare. I busied myself trying to digiscope in the difficult conditions though the harsh lighting made everything blow out despite turning down the exposure. 

A rather overblown Wheatear. You can see the extent of the black on the tail though

Blurry flight shot - again showing the extent of the black on the tail

After a while it flew over our heads and down to a pool on the beach where it proceeded to have a good wash before heading back onto the field to carry on feeding. As more and more people started arriving I decided that I'd had my fill and headed back towards the car and drove back to the first site for seconds of the Accentor. This was still working its way up and down the fence line and was just as hidden as ever. I took a few more shots and then pondered what to do. 

I saw a local nearby and wandered over to ask him what was about on the radio. This turned out to be a couple of Dusky Warblers and an Olive-backed Pipit down on the Point, the Pallas' still at the Kew Villas area, Shorelarks still at the car park by the Bluebell Café and the Bean Geese in the overflow parking field from the weekend's twitch. I asked about Radde's Warblers and he said that none had been reported today though apparently one had been seen by the village pond yesterday evening. I asked for details about where this was (opposite the Driftwood caravan site apparently) before thanking him and heading off.

Returning to the Gnome mobile, I first headed just to the other side of the village where the overflow car park was (now shut as it had got waterlogged). There I met another birder who told me that unfortunately the geese had flown off. No point in wasting time here then so I headed down the road towards Kilnsea scouring the fields on both sides for geese. I could see the Wheatear twitch on the far side of the fields on one side but there were few birds in the fields apart from pigeons and gulls. I arrived at the Driftwood caravan site, parked up and decided to give the pond a good grilling. It looked like a perfect spot, being reasonably sheltered from the strong wind with lots of cover for a Radde's to creep around in. I gave it a good twenty minutes but all I saw was a Goldcrest, a Blackcap and several thrushes. 

The village pond
I next headed the short distance up to the Crown and Anchor where I parked in the layby opposite the pub and contemplated my next move whilst I ate the remains of my lunch. Out on the estuary there was a flock of five nearby Brent Geese and the usual smattering of waders. It's such a lovely peaceful place here, it really gets under your skin.

Brent Goose

I wandered around the corner and found a small twitch staring up into the trees opposite the front of Cliff Farm. A Yellow-browed Warbler and a Pallas' Warbler turned out to the object of their interest. I decided to have a little wander around and had a quick look around the churchyard and Church Field but there was nothing of note. In the end I decided to wander along the Canal Scrape where another Radde's Warbler had been reported all day yesterday to see what I could turn up. It was very exposed along the ridge but just as I was approaching the start of the Canal proper another birder popped up out of the ditch. He'd apparently spent the last half an hour looking for the Radde's but had no luck. As he headed off I went to take a look where he'd been standing and found a nice sheltered spot which had clearly been well trampled so was obviously the Radde's spot. Down in this hollow one could view the reeds and the sheltered side of the hedge so I decided to stake out this spot. I gave it a good half an hour if not more but apart from a couple of Goldcrests, a Blackbird and a Reed Bunting there was nothing of note. So I gave up and headed back towards the road. 

A Reed Bunting in deep shade
The twitch group there had got larger and the Pallas' was on show, enabling me to year-tick this species on a brief view. As time was marching on I decided to head on down to the Bluebell Café car park to check out the Shore Larks whilst I was in the area. Here a small group were watching the two larks which were hunkered down on a small ridge at the end of the area behind the parking area. One boso photographer had decided that it would be a good idea to get really close and whilst he was tucked well down and not disturbing the birds when he moved to get up the birds flushed and flew a short distance away onto the beach. I really can't understand this sort of behaviour by photographers - so selfish! Anyway, the birds flying off was my cue to leave.

Half-hidden Shore Lark

Back at the car I pondered my next move. Time was marching on and I was now thinking of heading for home. Still on the cards were these elusive Bean Geese which had now been reported in a field near Easington gas terminal and a Siberian Stonechat up along the north coast though when I checked on the Sat Nav it told me that it would take a whole hour to get there so I quickly dropped that idea. Instead I decided to head off for home, keeping an eye out for the Geese as I went. Predictably there was no sign of them though I later found out that actually they were to the north of Easington so I'd gone the wrong way to see them. No matter. I headed contentedly back through the villages, admiring the combination of stormy clouds and late afternoon sun that made for a most interesting landscape. I hit the Hull rush hour which was rather tedious but eventually I was through it and back on the nice and empty M62 that was bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun. With the radio for company I made steady progress and I decided not to be put off by the "45 minute delay" signs for further ahead on the M1 south. I stopped at my "usual" M&S for my gluten free sandwich on the way down and by the time I was back on the road again the delay signs had gone. The rest of the journey was uneventful and I arrived back at Casa Gnome at around half past eight, tired but very contented after what had been a most successful day. Not only had I seen a first for Britain I'd also lucked in on another Mega in the form of an Isabelline Wheatear which was a new bird for me. I sipped my celebratory tea and caught up on the day's news with my VLW. It had been a grand day out indeed!

My obligatory estuary shot


JRandSue said...

A very big well done Adam,this Maga tick will stay in your memories,for ever.
Great pics.

Adam Hartley (Gnome) said...

Thanks very much John, it was indeed a most memorable day