Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Cornwall DIY Binge

Once again a compilation of my latest Pendeen Birding blog posts. I should warn you that not a lot happens on this trip apart from an indecent amount of DIY!

Thursday 19th March : Back Down Again

As I hinted at the end of my last posting, I'm back down in my beloved Cornwall, this time with just my VLW for company. The reason for our return visit was to complete preparations for the start of the holiday letting season, specifically to bring down some puchases for the cottage and to finish off some renovation work. We left Oxford at a rather leisurely mid morning time and our journey down was smooth and uneventful so we arrived in Penzance some four and a half hours later. There we stopped off at a supermarket for some shopping before heading off to the cottage to unpack.

One of the reasons for coming back had been to check out the fruits of the various tasks that we'd commissioned in our absence. Our electrician had installed a movement-activated exterior light which looked very good. Our plumber had serviced the boiler, fixed a leak, fixed a noisy tap and tweaked the hot water so that it wasn't quite so scalding - all done and working well. However, we'd also asked our handy man to do some exterior decorating which needed doing but it turned out that he'd not done any of it - not good! There then follwed a phone call to him where it turned out that another job he'd been on had overrun. Now I don't have a problem with that, after all these things happen, but I do have a problem with him not bothering to tell us so I was not a happy bunny. I sent out some enquiring e-mails to see if anyone could recommend some decorators but apart from that I was too tired to do much else so my VLW and I had a stroll down to the lighthouse to clear our heads. It was a gorgeous spring afternoon with hazy sunshine and hardly any wind - a real treat for normally wind swept Pendeen. Along the roadside I came across some lovely delicate little flowers which turned out to be Danish Scurygrass - easily identifyable because it flowers before any of the others.

Danish Scurvygrass
On the bird front there was precious little to report with three distant circling Buzzards, a Goldcrest singing in our garden and the usual assortment of Goldfinches and Linnets twittering away on the overhead wires. Back at the cottage we made a list of what needed doing first and we even managed to do some of the interior stuff that evening just to kick things off.

I'd brought my moth trap down with me but as it was a clear night I wasn't going to bother putting it out. However when a Red Chestnut turned up at the "moth light" (our outside porch light) I decided to have a go anyway though I wasn't expected a great deal from it.

After some discussion we decided that over the coming few days we'd attempt to do the worst of the exterior work ourselves that should have been done by our handyman. This meant that we were going to have a very intense DIY binge ahead of us with not much free time for birding. Not that there seemed to be much about at present - it had all gone rather quiet on the news front down here anyway. So expect some blog entries mostly about our renovation efforts over the next few days. Still you never know what might turn up.

Red Chestnut
Friday 20th March: Pendeen & Hayle

Today it was all about getting down to some serious DIY. We divvied up the work so I would do the exterior stuff whilst my VLW would crack on with the various interior jobs. Before I knuckled down I did take a quick stroll down to the lighthouse just to see what was about. I'd been hoping for a Wheatear as a few were being reported in the county now but sadly there was no sign of one. In fact the best I could muster was a singing male Stonechat.

One of the perks of working outside at Pendeen is that one can get a good idea of what birds are around. During my travails I managed to see five Ravens (including a great sighting of all of them flying just over my head). Apart from that there was a single Buzzard and the usual commoner stuff.

I had run the moth trap last night and during my coffee break I did the trap; Not that it took very long with a total of 5 Red Chestnuts, one Common Plume and one Depressaria species (to be identified). I also found an Early Grey out in the open on a neighbour's wall.

Early Grey
Of course there was the matter of the Solar Eclipse to be watched as well. As the time drew closer to the 9:25 a.m. peak, an eerie half light fell over the area. Clouds were scurrying over the sky regularly though leaving gaps in between. This was actually rather useful as one could view the sun through cloud of the right thickness and even take some photos. Here's a shot at what was pretty near the maximum coverage. All pretty awesome (in the true sense of the word).

The eclipse
Late morning I needed to head into PZ to get some more DIY provisions and I managed to blag a very brief detour to the Hayle estuary. I wanted to look for the 2w Caspian Gull that had been loitering there on and off (more off than on by the sound of it) for the past couple of weeks. This would be a much needed Cornish tick for me though having asked M.E. for details, I'd been told that it was very much hit or miss and that lots of time would be required (something I didn't have on this trip) if it was even there at all still: the recent decent weather may well having pushed it off. 

I arrived to find the tide right out and the estuary pretty deserted: being used to seeing it crammed full of birds in the winter it was quite a shock to see it so empty. The gulls were all at the far end, facing away from me into the wind. What's more, in the bright sunshine it was very hazy and the combination of all these things meant that it was a near impossible task to pick them out. Had I had the time I would have gone over to the old jet wash though I could see that it was now being used as a hand car wash centre and so presumably it was not longer possible to park there. I didn't have the time to walk that far so did a couple of quick scans though in the circumstances it was useless even trying. Defeated I quickly gave up and headed back home.

The rest of the afternoon was spent cracking on with the DIY and by the end of the first day great progress had been made both inside and out though we were both exhausted at the end. We retired early and with the local Tawny Owl serenading us briefly, we were quickly asleep..

Saturday 21st March: Hayle & Pendeen

I awoke far too early this morning, especially given how hard we'd been working yesterday. Rather than just lie there in bed until it was time to crack on with the DIY I decided to get up and pay another visit to Hayle to see if I could actually see the gulls properly. It was a lovely sunny and calm morning as I sped over the deserted roads towards PZ and then on to the estuary, arriving shortly after 7 a.m. The tide was right in this time and all the birds were tucked in the corner near the station platform though as I started looking through them the gulls at least started to move out onto the water. There were also a few waders to look through and I managed to turn up 2 Grey Plovers, a Black-tailed Godwit, 4 Greenshank, 2 Dunlin and several dozen Redshank. I searched carefully through the gulls several times from all possible vantage points and can say that I looked at every single bird there but there was nothing of interest. Satisfied that there was nothing I was missing I headed back to the cottage for some breakfast and to crack on with the day's work.

Gulls at Hayle
Today I was working outside again though thankfully the weather was perfect and it was a treat to be outdoors in such a location. The Ravens were still about and the tinkling of Goldfinches and Linnets offered a constant accompaniment to my work. During my coffee break I did the moth trap and was rewarded with a couple of new garden ticks - not that that's hard with my cottage garden list under 100 moths. The two new ones were March Moth and Diurnea Fagella.

Diurnea Fagella
March Moth
To have a break from the work I did have a little wander about the general area to see what spring flowers were about. 

Three-cornered Garlic
There was even some Western Ramping-fumitory flowering in the sheltered spots.
This species is indigenous to the far south west
Navelwort - so called because it looks like a navel
We worked hard all morning. I was just getting to a natural stopping point and thinking about lunch when a text came through on RBA of the 2w American Herring Gull again near St Just that morning. This bird had been found by M.A. at Drift about a week ago but had not been seen since. I went to consult my map and RBA on the computer. It turned out that it had been reported last thing yesterday evening on RBA as having been around for an hour and a half later afternoon as well. Consulting the map it turned out to be literally just five minutes up the road. I decided to go and find out more and hurried off for a look. 

I headed off in the right general directions and then gave P&H a call to find out the exact location - they were able to point me to the correct vantage point by the entrance to Botrea Farm. I arrived to find M.A. by his car. The field in question turned out to be a distant large ploughed field down in the valley near Jericho Farm just by the Pendeen turn-off. Sadly all the gulls had flown off and M.A. suggested that coming back again late afternoon might be the best tactic. I quizzed him for some details and thanked him for his help before heading back to the cottage, resolving to come back late afternoon should the workload allow it.

My VLW and I worked solidly for much of the afternoon. A decorator came round to discuss doing some of the work next week that we weren't able to do ourselves and we showed her what needed doing. Late afternoon I'd done all the things that I wanted to do and we needed to go and buy some paint for the decorator's work so I headed back to PZ, deciding to stop in at the gull spot en route to see what the situation was. There I met another birder scoping the field but he lamented that it was so far, the light so bright and there was so much heat haze that it was a near impossible task. I set up my scope and could only agree - it was going to be impossible to pick out the subtle features of an AHG in such conditions. The other bloke soon left to be replaced by P&H - it was nice to see the two of them again. I briefly got excited when I picked out one HG gull that seemed to have a red bill! Excitedly I pointed it out to the other two though when it turned its head the other way the bill was clearly yellow. It just showed how hard it was to read colours in the bright light. P&H decided to give up and I chose to head on into PZ to do my shopping and then return to see if it was any better. At that moment a "reported possible" Purple Heron came on the pager at St Leven by a wet field next to the playing field. Hmm, there were no playing fields at St Leven proper, did they mean Polgigga? It was all very vague. P&H decided to check it out and promised to tell me if they could find it. Meanwhile I headed over to B&Q for my paint and then Sainsbury's for some provisions. P&H reported back "no sign" and I headed back to the gull spot. There I found M.A.'s car parked up but no sign of him. I wondered whether he had a better vantage point that he was using - it was hard to see how he'd managed to ID the gull otherwise. I had a quick scope and whilst the light wasn't quite as harsh as before the conditions were still too difficult. Defeated I headed back to base where I finished off a few tasks and then we had something to eat. That evening we did some touching up of the interior paintwork before collapsing into bed. It had been a long and exhausting day with what seemed to be a recurring theme on this trip of trying to look at gulls that were too far away.

The ubiquitous Red Chestnut
Common Quaker

Sunday 22nd March: Pendeen

Thankfully I managed to sleep a lot better and awoke at the more civilised hour of 7 a.m. I had a quick walk down to the lighthouse to see if I could find my Wheatear but had no luck and after a quick breakfast it was time to crack on with the DIY. I finished off touching up some of the outside work in the lovely sunshine whilst my VLW did the same with the interior. Then it was time to clear up the cottage and to pack up to head off home. The AHG came on the pager as having been back in the field again but there was no chance of me being able to take a look and frankly unless there was a closer vantage point there seemed little point anyway. All the clearing and packing took some time so it wasn't until about 1:30 p.m. that we were finally ready to leave. The only bird sightings of note whilst all this was going on was a single Raven and a Meadow Pipit staking out its territory with its song.

We stopped in PZ for fuel and sandwiches and then headed off on the long slog back home. Fortunately the traffic was light and there were some interesting programmes on Radio 4 to keep us occupied. As we sped northwards I reflected on the stay: it was always going to be about the DIY rather than the birding but it is such a pleasure being outside in such a beautiful part of the country.  The take-homes for me from this trip were: lots of hard DIY work, some frustrating staring at distant gulls, being outside in the bright sunshine (I even got a tan!), the eclipse, singing finches, cronking Ravens, early spring plants and some new moths. My VLW and I discussed the possibility of coming back later in the spring, not to work but just to enjoy being here. That would be quite a novelty for us - people who stay in our cottage just don't realise how much hard work goes into it all.

Pendeen Raven

Monday, 16 March 2015

Up North for the Dregs of Winter

I was due to head up north again to fetch Daughter number 1 back down from University. It's amazing how quickly this has come around already- it seems like only a week or two ago that I was dropping her off. As regular readers will know by now, I like to combine my trips north with a spot of birding in the area and accordingly a couple of weeks before I am due to go I start keeping an eye of what's about up there. Of course, often what I'm keeping note of decides to leave before I head off and I could only watch in frustration as the Northumberland Black Scoter and Ross's Goose both chose to do a bunk in the days leading up to my departure. This left me rather scratching around for things to see and to make matters worse, I'd been feeling a bit under the weather the last few days, fighting off a rather persistent cold that was trying to take hold. I therefore decided to keep the birding light and as untiring as possible so I picked out a few birds of local interest that would involve the least amount of deviation from the basic route north to Durham and which would also involve a minimal amount of slogging around on site. With it being March, back down in Oxon my thoughts were very much turning to spring but it seemed that the only birds on offer in the north east were still winter birds.

With my itinerary cobbled together the night before my departure, on Friday morning I hastily put in a booking request on AirB&B and some time after 9 a.m. I set off on the now familiar route north. My first stop very much fulfilled my criteria of minimal deviation from the route being a mere two stops on the M62 off the M1. Thus it was that at around midday I pulled up in the rather unlikely site of an industrial estate near Normanton in West Yorkshire where a drake American Wigeon had been lingering in a pond opposite the police station for a while now. I parked up on a side road and walked for a couple of minutes to get to a vantage point by the side of the road which overlooked a distant small lake about 300 yards away. A quick scan with the scope soon found the bird, in with a couple of dozen Wigeon, a few Tufted Duck and a couple of Oystercatchers. I took a quick bit of video footage in order to get a record shot grab. Job done, one out of one so far and I headed back to the car.

Record shot of the American Wigeon
My next target was another hour up the motorway so I carried on north heading towards Darlington, not a place that I'd ever visited before but four Waxwings had been reported there each morning in the city centre for the last week or so. Now I was going to get there early afternoon and I had no idea whether they'd been there at that time of day. What's more, when I'd done some pre-trip research on Streetview I couldn't for the life of me see any suitable bushes where Waxwings might hang out so I was just hoping that it would all become clear when I got there. It was a bit of a punt and this was the en route target that I had least faith in but as it was a small deviation from my chosen route I thought that I'd give it a go. At the very least I'd be able to tick off Darlington which was a town that I'd not previously visited.

I arrived at the location to find that the local car park was completely full. I drove around for a bit and in the end decided to park briefly in a Disabled spot right next to the location. Keeping a wary eye on the car I wandered around to see if I could find the birds. The RBA instructions had been clear on it being at the junction between two roads which was where I was but there were no berries in sight. Perhaps they were just roosting in the two big trees there I wondered. I kept wandering around in frustration without success until a traffic warden stopped by my car. At that point I hurried back to the car, mumbled my apologies and decided to leave. All in all a bit of a waste of time. I'd hadn't really had much of a chance to look around Darlington but I hadn't got a particularly good vibe from the little that I'd seen. So with the score now at one from two I headed onwards.

Next it was on to an area that I visited last time I was up, namely the strange industrial wasteland that is Teeside. I thought that I'd continue my American duck theme and try for a Green-winged Teal that had been resident at one of the pools there not far from the RSPB Saltholme reserve where I'd seen the Long-eared Owls last time. The Sat Nav took me on some rather tricky navigation until I started to recognise the rather bleak industrial and almost post-apocalyptic landscape from last time. I turned off on a road that lead to a large chemical refinery and started to look for the track that lead off to Dorman's Pool, one of the many pools that dotted the landscape here. Eventually I found it and piloted the Gnome mobile along a bumpy track to what I presumed was the "north car park" mentioned in the RBA reports. There I found another car with a birder in it, sporting a large camera and listening to the cricket on his car radio. I asked about the Teal and he said that it was on the far pool (a good 500 yards away) and there was another car park back near the road. I was sure that the RBA report had said this car park so thanked him and set up my scope anyway. A quick scan in the distance soon found a few Pintail, Gadwall and three Teal, one of which was the Green-winged. Result! I took some record shot video and watched it for a few minutes. The other birder then told me that one could get along the bank of the other pool from the other car park so I thought that I'd go and take a look.

Back at the other car park I parked up and thought about whether I could really be bothered to slog my way over there in order to get better Teal views. Sure it had been nice to see the Teal but I was feeling tired now and I didn't really want to push myself given my delicate state of health. Instead I supped on a cup of tea from my thermos and thumbed my way through the RBA reports for the north east just in case there was anything of note. A report of a Snow Goose at Saltholme RSPB soon caught my eye. From my research I knew that that was fresh in today and was literally no more than 200 yards from where I was parked. What's more they had a café, definitely much better than traipsing around for a few more distant Teal views. I fired up the Gnome mobile and a couple of minutes later I was pulling in at the Saltholme car park. At the reception I was told that the goose was still about and that it could even be seen from the café upstairs. A quick look upstairs and yes indeed I could make out a white goose blob in amongst the brown Canada Goose blobs on the far side of the main pool. I decided to head over to get a better look and in under ten minutes I was looking out over a field where a very fine Snow Goose was feeding away with the Canadas.

The Snow Goose
Of course there was the usual question as to whether it was wild or not. It wasn't ringed and the feathers looked in perfect condition but who knows. If it leaves fairly soon then that will certainly help its case. Anyway, it was nice to see and made up for the Northumbrian Ross's Goose that had departed last week. I headed back to the visitor centre where I managed to score a cup of tea and a flapjack just before the café shut. I sat sipping my tea and looking out over the pool feeling content though rather tired. I'd scored two out of three targets with a bonus goose to make up for my Waxwing miss. 

I had one more bird lined up but it was getting late now and frankly I was too tired. What's more I wanted something to do tomorrow morning before the long drive home and my daughter wouldn't be ready until mid morning anyway so I decided instead to head over to the B&B. Some twenty minutes later I pulled up in a rather run-down small village in the middle of no where but only about twenty minutes from Durham city centre. These old colliery villages are symptomatic of a sad decline in the prosperity of many parts of the north east and have a decidedly impoverished air about them. There I got settled into my comfortable room and rested for a while reading on my Kindle. Then I gave my daughter a call and arranged to meet up for dinner in Durham. A quick twenty minute drive later and  we were enjoying a nice pizza and a catch-up on her news before she went off to pack and I headed back to the B&B feeling very tired by now. By 10:30 I was fast asleep, exhausted from a long day of driving and birding.

I slept well and the next morning over breakfast I had a chat with my hostess who turned out to be the number one world authority on the Polemonium plant group (common name "Jacob's Ladder" I think I'm right in saying). She'd done her thesis on it and had since travelled the world collecting samples which she now grew here in her cottage. It's a shame that at this time of year I couldn't have seen the flowers as with my new found flower interest I'd have been keen to take a look - another time perhaps. With a rendezvous with my daughter planned for mid morning I decided to head off for my last bird which was over in Hartlepool some half an hour away. The journey was uneventful and I found myself pulling up at the end of another weird post apocalyptic landscape that's seems so prevalent in this part of the country. I was at the Old Cemetery on the coast just north of Hartlepool Headland where a Shorelark had been reported though there'd been no news for the last couple of days so it was a bit of a punt. Still, it very much fitted in with my vague theme this winter of wanting to catch up with some winter coastal passerines that I wasn't going to see in Oxon. I'd managed Twite, Lapland Bunting and Snow Bunting (thought that had been on the other coast when I'd seen the Laughing Gull) so Shorelark would complete the set. 

The reports had said the wasteland just beyond the end of the cemetery so I duly started to take a look around but it seemed a very improbable location. It was truly a wasteland, looking like a spot where some old buildings had been demolished with piles of rubble and lots of pebbles as well as plenty of fly tipping. I wandered over to the edge of the sandy cliffs and looked down to some dunes and the sandy beach with the pier beyond that. If anything that looked a more likely area so I carefully headed down the cliff and started to look about. There'd been a fire recently so a large part of the grass area had been burnt and there was rubbish strew along here as well but it did seem a better location. I had a good tramp around but it seemed hopeless - there was no bird life at all apart from a couple of Redshank on the beach and the odd Cormorant flying by on the sea. 

The derelict pier - continuing the post apocalyptic theme

I headed back up the cliff defeated. At the top I spotted a car now on the wasteland area with a large lens poking out of it. That looked promising so I headed over to ask for news. It turned out that the lark was indeed about on the waste area after all and I was soon watching it as it worked its way along the top of the cliff just in view. Relieved I busied myself with some digiscoping.

Wasteland Shorelark
It was nice to see this species again which I'd only seen once before down in Norfolk (though I'd also seen them in America). Having got my fill and with time marching on I headed back to the car, pointing out the lark location to a couple of new arrivals who were looking for it. Then it was back on the road towards Durham.

The rest of the day passed smoothly: I rendezvous'd with my daughter and a friend who also lived in Oxford and who wanted a lift and we soon had the car packed, some lunch sandwiches bought and were on the road south. The traffic was light and the rest of the journey was uneventful though what with my semi-illness and the long day yesterday I did feel very tired indeed by the time we'd got back to Oxford. Still, it had been a successful if rather low key birding trip north and I'd managed to see some nice winter birds with a target score of three out of four and a bonus Goose to boot. To be honest though, I'm really looking forward to spring - I think that I'm done with winter birding for now.

Monday, 9 March 2015


Readers may recall that on my last outing to see the Laughing Gull, I was torn between that bird and the pair of Serins at Shoeburyness though in the end the Gull won out easily enough. Amazingly though the Serins had continued to stick around so when I found myself with a free Monday (which is generally the worst day for the forex markets so the day I prefer to take off) I thought that it would be rude not to go and take a look, after all they were within my two hour guide line travel time. Thus it was that at about 8am I set off from Oxford into the maelstrom of commuter traffic and threaded my way around the northern half of the M25 before heading down the A127 towards deepest darkest Essex. I was relying on my "trusty" Sat Nav app which stupidly decided that rather than go on the by-pass I needed to see the centre of Southend and Leigh so I arrived some fifteen minutes later than I should have done at about 10:15 a.m.. Still  the "still present" text had come through on RBA and so it was in a confident frame of mind that I parked up at Gunner's Park at Shoeburyness, tooled up and hurried over to the pond area where they were know to hang out.

The Gunner's Park Pond - where the Serins like to hang out
There I met four other birders all loitering in the same area: two ladies and two gents. The ladies informed me that they'd met the person who'd put out the message and that the birds had last been seen about 9 a.m. some thirty minutes before they'd arrived and that neither they nor the other birders had themselves seen them yet. I therefore settled down to wait. Given that it was blowing a gale, we all elected to stand in the relative shelter of the lee of the clump of trees and bushes next to the pond by the car park that was mentioned in just about every RBA text that reported the birds. We figured that the birds too would want to shelter on that side of the trees and that indeed had been where the initial observer had seen them. I must admit that I really don't like birding in the wind, especially for small passerines - it's just such hard work that I generally feel that it's not worth it. Indeed I wouldn't have come this morning with such a forecast except that it had been nearly as windy the previous day and yet the birds had been reported regularly throughout the day. So fingers crossed and I knew that the birds were still about so I should be OK.

Little Egret
There were plenty of small birds to check through with modest numbers of Goldfinches and Greenfinches, Dunnocks, Robins and Tits. There was also a very confiding Stonechat (which I tried to photograph but the autofocus managed to miss it completely) as well as a Little Egret and a Redshank along the pond margins to keep us entertained whilst we waited. Initially we were all keen and stayed faithful to the pond area but as time passed we all started to get restless and to wander off looking in other areas. I'd read that the birds were sometimes seen over the other side of the park by the estuary so I periodically wandered over there to take a look. When the tide was out the mud was covered with a hundreds of waders, mostly Oystercatchers and Redshank, with a few Sanderling, Turnstones and Curlew. There was plenty of nice looking scrubby habitat in the area and a small copse of pines but in the wind any hunkered down Serin would sadly go unnoticed. I returned at regular intervals to check on updates from the pond area but no one saw anything.

Stock Dove
Gradually the other birders gave up and left until eventually it was just me left on my own. I decided to go for a final wander over to the other side where I found a great bit of sheltered habitat right along the estuary shoreline on the side of the cliff. There was no wind there and plenty of suitable looking weeds. Indeed I flushed a couple of birds there almost immediately though they were just Goldfinches. I searched as much as I could though time had run out for me now. I'd originally planned to be back home mid afternoon at it was after 3pm already.

The Thames estuary
Finally I had to admit defeat and trudged dejectedly back to the car and headed for home. To add insult to injury there was a huge jam on the M40 just at the Oxford turn-off and it took over an hour to get from the motorway into the city itself so in the end I was back too late to take our younger daughter to her Tae Kwan Do class about which I felt rather guilty.

So all in all a depressing failure. Sure I'd seen some nice scenery and had managed to year tick Brent Goose on the estuary itself but, being a family man with commitments, my time that I could go off on one of my birding jaunts was relatively scarce and therefore rather precious and so it really felt like a wasted opportunity to dip. Still that is part of birding of course and I tried to philosophical about it all though the truth was that the cold fog of dippage hung like a cloud over me for days.

Naturally enough the birds were still about and the rest of the week I had to endure the daily reports on RBA of the two Serins in the same location. I had no intention of contemplating a second attempt at these birds. For starters I couldn't really afford to take another whole day off especially as I was due to head up north once more to fetch Daughter 1 back down from Durham at the end of the week. However, I noticed that first thing in the morning seemed to be the most consistent time that the Serins were reported. This got me thinking and eventually I came up with a plan to head back to Essex on Sunday evening for a dawn raid on Gunner's Park which would mean that I would be back at my desk late morning and able to get some work done. So this is what I did.

Sunday afternoon I booked a room on Air B&B in Southend, about 5 minutes away from Gunner's Park and at 8pm after our son L had been put to bed I said goodbye to my VLW and set off in the Gnome mobile into the evening traffic. Whilst the M40 was a bit busy the M25 and A127 were fine and I arrived as expected two hours later at a pleasant enough B&B in a quiet residential area in Southend. There I had a cup of tea and a chat with my hosts before heading to bed, setting the alarm for about 6:15 a.m. the next morning. In actuality I awoke earlier than this so passed the time reading on my Kindle until it was time to get up, shower and then set off. All the birds were already singing as I left the house on what turned out to be a clear but rather crisp morning though mercifully almost completely windless. In fact I'd checked the weather carefully before hatching this plan - had it been a windy forecast again I wouldn't have bothered coming at all. Some five minutes later I arrived at the Park only to find that that car park was still locked (it turned out that it didn't open until 8 a.m.) so I parked up on the main road, tooled up and headed back to the familiar area of the vicinity of the car park pond.

The sun was just rising over the new estate buildings as I arrived and there was plenty of bird activity though it was the usual species that I remembered from last time. I was lucky enough to spot a Water Rail skulking around by the pond though of course it scurried back to the reeds in the centre of the pond when it saw me. There was no sign of any Serins to start with and to keep warm until the sun came up I kept on the move looking in all the bushes and scrub near the pond. A Song Thrush was singing loudly from the tree tops by the pond and there were a few Goldfinches and Greenfinches as before though no sign of the Stonechat. I kept up my efforts for about three quarters of an hour and was just starting to flag and even to start contemplating the prospect of a horrendous double-dip when I spotted something promising in one of the trees next to the pond. Bingo! There was a Serin in all its loveliness. Unfortunately it didn't stay in position for very long but soon flew off. Still, mission accomplished and I could relax. The sun was out now, there was hardly a breath of wind and it was lovely and warm as I went to get the car from the main road and park it in the now-open car park and then returned to the pond.

Shortly afterwards the Serin came back and I managed a bit of video footage of it though its face was in shadow so it wasn't great. After that the views were fairly regular: it seemed to follow a pattern of sitting in the tree for a bit and then flying down into the scrub behind where I was standing where it would miraculously disappear, blending in with the background so only its small mouse-like movements betrayed its presence. When disturbed it would end up back in the trees again. Eventually I was able to get some decent photos and video of the bird in the trees in full sunshine. It was such a relief to have great and prolonged views of this bird that had been so elusive last time round.

Serin's have a curious punched-in-the-face look to them!

At just before 9 a.m. I decided that I'd had my fill and wandered back to the Gnome mobile and headed for home. Fortunately there was some interesting programmes on Radio 4 to keep me occupied and the journey back was uneventful. It was a bit of a shock to the system when I got out of the car in Oxford: the lovely warm sunshine that I'd enjoyed in Essex had been replaced by low grey cloud and a chilly wind. Still I didn't mind, I was able to bask in the warm glow of a revenge tick and finally able to lay to rest the ghost of the dip of this species at Rainham all the way back in January 2010.