Thursday, 6 October 2016

Birding is good for the soul

The Safari is going through the stress-mill at the moment but a visit to one of our early birding haunts at dawn on Sunday morning helped clear the head a little. A couple of hours communing with nature watching the sunrise lighting the gently lapping waves  of a calm sea was what we needed. As we drove down past the fields at first light the tips of the grass and stubbles had been brushed with a rime of frost, in the dips a thick low mist oozed out of the fields and over the roadside hedgerows.
We were only 8 miles from the city centre but could have been on another planet!
This is a page from our notebook c1974/5 - we walked the path through 8 and just into 9
There was no human made sounds to be heard. From across the mudflats we heard the conversations of the multitude of roosting Pink Footed Geese only recently returned from Iceland, the bubbling of the Curlews and the mournful wails of Grey Plovers. Occasionally the more strident and urgent calls of a Redshank would cut through the still morning air.
The tide was well out but the closest bird to us right at the top of the beach was our first British Bar Tailed Godwit of the year, hot on the heals of the one we saw in Sardinia. Flights of Pink Footed Geese left to feed in the fields passing overhead beautifully illuminated from beneath by the low sun.
The scratty dunes came alive with Linnets, Reed Buntings and Greenfinches taking advantage of the bright red hips of the Japanese Rose thickets. Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Pied Wagtails called as they flew over southwards.
Scanning the mudflats we watched the waders feeding away with Shelducks beyond the mouth of the little river. Beyond them a mass of circling gulls circled over a shoal of fish out in the main river channel, unfortunately it was too far and too hazy to be able to see if there were any mammals out there with them. Much closer, on the rubble below our tripod legs, a movement and flash of white caught our eye, a Wheatear popped up out from behind a rock and continued its way down the beach.
All of a sudden there was a strange drumming and rumbling sound coming from the north. It was the beating wings of a thousand or more Pink Footed Geese as the last of the roosting flock took to the air en masse the best part of a mile away from us. We were a little surprised we could hear that before we heard their 'wink wink' calls.
A small proportion of the flock
As the clock moved closer to 08.00 the track became busier with dog walkers, joggers and cyclists - it was never this busy in the 1970s you could spend all day here and not see another living soul! Well there were 10 million fewer people in the country then (and about 40% fewer world-wide!). Fortunately no-one was out on the beach disturbing the waders, although with the tide still very low there would have been plenty of undisturbed mud available had people and their mutts started to wander out. The area north of the little river is a part of military firing range and so is almost totally undisturbed and therefore acts as a very important refuge.
Having another look around the dunes and scattered scrub we came across a young Stonechat, wonder if they still breed here - all the big rough piles of rubble have been cleared away or smoothed out so they may have lost many of their potential nest sites. It was almost as unapproachable at the pair in Sardinia but eventually we were able to get a bit of a pic of it at the very limits of the lens's range so it's a heavy crop, not helped by the twig it's on wafting about in the breeze which had picked up after sunrise either.
Walking back to the car to return 'home' a Kestrel flew in from the nearby golf course and sat on a track-side signpost. It was a in the distance and on the 'wrong side' of the light. We waked cautiously towards it putting the scope down and taking a few pics before moving a few yards closer and doing the same. We did this several times hoping it would get used to us and allow us to pass so as we could get a pic of it on the 'right side' of the light. A dog walker was coming the other way, the race was now on - would she beat us to our required point and flush the bird? She did quite easily and then apologised saying she never got any pics of the beautiful birds she saw while out with her dogs...hardly surprising with a resounding 0/10 for fieldcraft even when noticing someone else exhibiting a bit of said fieldcraft and realising what the target was - flamin dog walkers!
BTW we will be among their number again soon as Monty the Labradoodle puppy is about to descend on Base Camp in 10 days time.
It'll be at least a month before he's allowed to venture in to the big wide world and start his own birding list though - will he be able to beat Frank's best find, the Iberian Chiffhcaff on Patch 1, which will be back in play before the year is out. We even had a look in there this morning after one of the huge numbers of Yellow Browed Warblers that have arrived in the country from Siberia this last week.
Anyway back to the tale in the end of our walk out on the beach a huge swirl of birds swarmed over the beach, a mass of Knot wheeling round the world famous Antony Gormley installation 'Another Place'. We watched them for ages until they settled back down on the beach.
Utterly bewitching and magical
A cracking couple of hours to take the stress away, you can't beat it and if you haven't tried it you really should...birding is the best therapy! Unfortunately we might well have to do it again this coming weekend.
In other news Patch 2 has provided us with some superb views of Red Throated Divers so close up that we could see their red throat - that doesn't happen often!!!
We've also seen a flock of Carrion Crows with two Rooks (P2 #74) come in off the sea and a Razorbill (182, P2 #75). There's been some other auks, some might well have been Guillemots which we still need for our Patch 2 list.
As noted earlier we've been on the hunt for a Yellow Browed Warbler preferably a self-found one on one of our Patchwork Challenge patches. We've been put on to a couple but not been able to get straight out to look for them, we tried a couple of sites before work this morning again with no joy. Then just as we were finished up after our school group we got news from Not so Young Un anymore AB that there was one in the park we drive past on the way back to Base Camp every evening. We just had to stop. After an hour and a half and some help from other birders that had come for a look-see we got a flit and then a one and a half second good view of it in the tree top. At long last a Lancashire Yellow Browed Warbler (183) after having seen a fair few on the 'easy' side of the Pennines.
Happy days! Now to self-find one...or a Red Breasted Flycatcher or better...
Where to next? A prowl round some local hot or grot spots could be on the cards.
In the meantime let us know who's winged in from Siberia in your outback.

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