Sunday, 26 September 2010

Okay, so what exactly was the 'Blakeney' Point?

With the proposed identification of the Empidonax flycatcher on Blakeney Point seemingly gone full circle, through nearly every possibility, back to probable Alder (or Willow) Flycatcher - a pairing that is seemingly often not identifiable in the hand, let alone in the field - one might ask the question: was it worth it?
The simple answer is, 'Yes!'

I was still at home in Dereham when the news broke, having wimped out of going sea-watching - leaving at 4.30 am. I read the pager message with incredulity, yet couldn’t help myself, but jump up, get dressed (yes, it was 1.07 on a Saturday afternoon!), tell Louise I was off to Blakeney Point to try and see a bird that might be unidentifiable (!) and get in the car. I made a couple of calls to check friends had got the news and received one from someone I had recently been called their sycophant - the irony! After a rather hairy drive up to the coast, I was surprised not to find the NWT there charging for parking! The grass area had been opened up and I parked close to the west bank. Even as I stepped out of the car the first squall hit and I got soaked putting on my waterproofs!

The NWerlies were much stronger than I expected, based on the winds at home, and with rain showers and the occasional hail. The walk down to the plantation is difficult in the best conditions - heavy shingle nearly all the way, interspersed with avoiding suada and other obstacles, and zigzagging to find the occasional relief of firmer ground, but with this combined with the atrocious weather there were times that I thought I wasn't going to make it! I kept on expecting waves of people to be overtaking me and disappearing off into the distance but the only waves were those crashing over the beach creating horizontal spray that hit like a wall (I was glad I was wearing my sunglasses(!) as they protected my eyes from the onslaught!). With the misnamed Halfway House dawned false hope that progress was being made, yet it took forever to reach and longer to leave behind! The slog took me nearly an hour and a half, with the relief of firmer ground for the last part, combined with the news that the bird was possibly a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher not recorded in the Western Palearctic before) I spurred on through the pain barrier to the plantation.

On arrival, and to immense relief, the bird was on show. I made my way toward the scopes and quickly managed to 'borrow' one set up on the bird (thanks Mark)- absolutely cracking views immediately obtained, in excellent light, of the bird back on, where the prominent wing bars and feather fringes were striking - primarily whitish, but with tinged yellow-buff on olive-brown upperparts. Large-headed in appearance, with a full complete eye-ring that was not as thick as expected. The bird then turned and showed (to me) a yellow wash on the underparts that seemed deeper in colour on the throat. Also noted was the seemingly short(ish) primary projection and neat rounded off tail.

Having seen the bird well, and still ever changing weather, with squalls then sunlight, I then turned to enjoy the other aspect of twitching, which is the social side of meeting up with likeminded (!) souls, who were as mad as myself and made the same mind-boggling journey down the shingle. It was great to see Norfolk birders that I hadn't seen for a while and chat and reminisce, after the celebratory handshakes (yes, I celebrated seeing someone else's find, as did many others, it was like a being at a party - it wasn't mine, but I can still celebrate! It would have been good to celebrate with the finder and pass on thanks and congratulations, but James (McCullum) was no-where to be seen! So my thanks and gratitude are given here!) To hear the latest gossip (Little Bustard photographed near Feltwell last summer !!!) and share the latest updates and comments (I see an East Coaster has made his views about laziness known, but I hear he is beginning to learn the frustrations that family commitments bring to birding - that's life). To see Josh arrive at a twitch, which itself was enough, but dressed in shorts, Bermuda short-sleeved shirt and sandals was just a sight to behold. And hats off to the commitment of the man who walked the point in his shirt and tie (I believe he didn't see it, but would love to be wrong)!

In between chats I returned to the bird, at one point managing to get the pleasing (to me) images of the bird as it continued to show well at times. I still don't think any pictures I have seen do the colours of the bird justice. Did I (and others) imagine the amount of, and positioning of, yellow combined with the olive-brown upperparts? Well it seems so! But hopefully the identification will be confirmed somehow. However, would it really matter? No! The experience of the twitch, well for me anyway, completely outweighs the addition of a number on a list. Whatever, it was an American flycatcher that had somehow made it across the Atlantic and down the North Sea, surviving all the perils of the journey - whether partly ship-assisted or having made landfall after the recent 'hurricanes' up north and then blown south in the strong northerly movement as it tried to continue its journey! It doesn't matter! It was a great find, wonderfully shared and an exhilarating twitch, which combined all aspects that makes this such a 'rewarding' hobby!!

Thanks again, James (and Paul?), and Dave, Julian and everyone else whose company made the experience even more special! Was it worth it? Is twitching worth it? Do we twitchers deserve the ridicule? Well, the obvious answer to all of these questions is a resounding, 'YES!'

PS Am I being lazy as I am still at home writing this on a Sunday morning, when birds are being found all over the Norfolk coast? Yes and recovering (maybe this will make me get fit!) But then again, as someone has implied this past week, I am not a 'proper' birder anyway (but at least they know me!:)

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  1. Hi Dave, to quote Lou Reed: don't believe most of what you see and none of what you hear - the exact opposite is true.

    The 'laziness' comment is obviously spot-on though.


  2. Tim,
    Really appreciate the comment!
    Hope the family gods are treating you well and to a lesser extent the birding ones, too! (Got to get the priorities right!)

    Definitely true with the latter comment as well, but then again, I am not year listing!!!

  3. For the record the Paul (?) who spotted the bird with James McCallum is Paul Nichols, assistant warden at the Point: my brother.