Monday, 17 November 2014

Back in the game.

After a long, university-enforced hiatus from twitching, which led to me missing Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Eastern Crowned Warbler among other things. last Sunday saw me finally get back on the twitching horse starting with a 5am rendezvous with Brucey on Oxford High Street. We quickly headed cross-country arriving at Lowestoft beach in Suffolk just after 9am following a quick stop for a classic twitching breakfast at Maccy's. We took a brisk walk down the seawall and were soon watching the rather disheveled looking male Desert Wheatear down to a few metres as it sat on the wall obviously regretting its decision to ever leave its desert habitat in the first place. After enjoying my first lifer of the day we took the ten minute drive into Norfolk to Gorleston where the female Desert Wheatear was showing equally well on the beach, sheltering in a pipe in the sea wall from which it made occasional feeding forays. As a more active bird than the knackered male at Gorleston it gave a more accurate impression of the characterful nature of this stunning species. Both birds gave nice phonescoping opportunities allowing me to get some decent shots despite not yet having an adapter for my iPhone 5. It was also nice to finally see another species of Wheatear and I look forward to one day catching up with more members of this charismatic family both in Britain and their native ranges.

Male Desert Wheatear, Lowestoft.

Male Desert Wheatear, Lowestoft.

Female Desert Wheatear, Gorleston. 
After enjoying the female Desert Wheatear we headed to Holkham NNR where we spent the rest of the day. Highlights here were the stunning male Surf Scoter showing down to 500m offshore and a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard sat up in a field on the fresh marshes, both of which were long overdue lifers. There was also a nice supporting cast here with Great White Egret, Short-eared Owl, Firecrest and 9 Velvet Scoter offshore rounding off my first visit to this incredible site. Overall a great days birding and a nice 3 tick day after the twitching drought of October.

Looking out over the fresh marsh from the west end of Holkham Pines. 

Yesterday afternoon, my twitching run continued when Adam Hartley offered me a lift from Oxford to see the long-staying Franklin's Gull which has been coming in to roost at Blashford Lakes in Hampshire. After a pleasant drive down we arrived at about 15.15 and joined the assembled masses waiting in the Tern Hide. After scanning for ten minutes and picking out a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls among the assembled large gulls, a small disturbance at the opposite end of the hide alerted me to the Franklin's Gull had dropped in early. After a scramble to get a clear view I managed to get my scope onto the bird. BOOM! Franklin's Gull finally on my list! The bird was showing incredibly well about 200m away from the hide allowing me to get excellent views and even a crappy phone-scoped shot. The bird was a real stunner with the gun-metal grey mantle, large white mirrors on the primaries, diffuse dark mask and chunky, dark bill reminiscent of that of a Med Gull giving it a really distinctive look. The bird was also really compact looking noticeably smaller than the Black Headed Gulls it was associating with. A really nice bird and one of the easiest twitches I've been on in a while. Hopefully autumn has one or two more surprises before we sink into the depths of winter for another year.

Adult winter Franklin's Gull, Blashford Lakes, Hampshire