Little Bittern Twitch
Back home for the weekend Sat/Sun 18/19 June 2016 to twitch the Little Bittern at Old Moor RSPB. I've seen 3 in the UK so why twitch this one. Old Moor RSPB is part of the legendary 'Wath Area' where I've kept a list since starting birding there with my dad in the late '80s. Can't twitch everything back home and enjoy birding most Saturdays miles away at Rainham RSPB. Decided not to twitch the LB last year and now had a chance of a second bite of the cherry.
Thanks to the RSPB for the 07:30 early opening arranged for the LB's second weekend on site.
Sat 18 June. Arrived at Old Moor for 07:30 remaining on site until 14:00. Not a sight or a 'bark' from a Little Bittern - present daily for the past 2 weeks!!! (In the 6.5 hours could have flown to Madrid drove two hours west to Saucedilla, parked the car by the visitor centre, walk to the channel by the first hide and seen a breeding pair - Spain May 2016 trip report to be posted soonish).
Word got out late am that a Little Bittern was reported from Swillington Ings, 20? miles due north. Hang on a minute, it did this last year vanishing from the best inland site in the UK and did a bunk up to Leeds for a few days before returning to Old Moor. Nice timing!!! All was not lost as the Swillington sighting remained unconfirmed throughout the afternoon. Birdguides then reported Little Bittern at Old Moor flying past the Bittern hide at 7pm. Did the Little Bittern fly overnight Fri/Sat to Swillington and return Sat eve to Old Moor?
Sun 19 June. At Old Moor from 07:30, word got round that it was seen by the warden in a limited access area first thing. Things were looking up.
Repositioned to Bittern Hide at 08:30 ready for a long wait. The theory being it would fly in from the unaccessible reedbeds area past the hide to the ponds and willow trees behind.
At 09:45 when sort of in a standby state, not quite asleep but with one eye open to save energy and the other focused on the reedbed horizon (a sort of in an 'inland' seawatch state of concentration), a birder beside my dad shouted
"Little Bittern flying over Reedbed Hide towards us"
Brilliant directions, soon we locked on to it as it whizzed past into the thicket surrounding the ponds past the Bittern Hide. Didn't see it in the area of the ponds where folk have got brilliant photos of it in the last 2 weeks, but could hear it barking (not very loud).
10 seconds of madness gave a tripple whammy - Wath tick (187), Barnsley tick (226) and Yorkshire tick (330) !!!
Great Knot not Great Dot
Sat 25 June. Awoke just before 05:00, questioned my sanity, got ready, questioned that this is a stupid hobby, got on the train just before 06:00 for the 25 min journey into that there London.
Obligatory McDonalds breakfast purchased at Kings Cross and soon onboard the 06:44 Kings Cross to Kings Lynn. Watched the first episode of the new Top Gear on my tablet - not impressed!
Arrived Kings Lynn 08:20 walked the few minutes to the bus station and caught the coasthopper with another birder present at 08:45. It stopped everywhere such as Dersingham, Snettisham, Heacham,
Got off at Titchwell and walked down to the beach, now 10:00. Walked down to the news that the Great Knot was at Scolt Head Island. Made the mistake of walking along the beach eastwards not realising there was a channel separating Titchwell marsh with Brancaster. Wouldn't be safe to cross even at low tide.
Recognised a birder from UEA days, looking from the dunes, Dave Appleton. Check out Dave's website http://www.gobirding.eu. Had a natter with Dave and others spending a good few hours tide gazing but no flocks of Knot coming this way heading back west. Had fly over Peregrine and Med Gull and and got onto an albino Starling spotted flying inland, it looked liked a giant gravity-defying snowflake.
Repositioned on the beach towards the end of the boardwalk 13:30ish, now loads of birders on site anticipating the Knot flock to fly in when the mussel beds were exposed on the ebbing tide. Also saw Dune Tiger Beetle, they kept birders entertained. I think they're scarce. A flyover Hobby looked stunning and a Spoonbill flew onto the freshmarsh.
Met up with Nick Croft a birder I bump into from time to time at Rainham RSPB who travelled on a later London train/coasthopper combination. He tweeted earlier about twitching the Great Knot so tried to keep Nick updated earlier en route by twitter DM but as soon as I hit the north coast all mobile/internet signal vanished! More on that in a minute.
Hang on a mo, amongst the masses and in front of us were birders I know from back home in Yorkshire (home to the best birding spot IMHO 'The Barnsley Area' - Cape May being a very close 2nd). Despite being Knot-less we had a good laugh for the next hour or so.
Knot from the freshmarsh (not containing GK) did start to come in and onto the shoreline mussel beds. However, we were noticing that the Scolt Head birds that were starting to come our way were going straight through. At 3pm I made a rash/brilliant decision. I said to Nick and the Barnsley gang, I'm going get the bus to Holme and check Gore Point, as it could be doing a repeat of Friday. Nick decided to head that way but on the coastal path via Thornham.
Had/Chose to jog past a stunning Spotted Redshank feet from the path along the side of the freshmarsh to make the 15:32 coasthopper... sacrilegious! Bloomin' twitcher!
Got to the bus stop at 15:31 and a bit. All of a sudden a car pulled out of the entrance road and then pulled over. A birding couple asked if I wanted a lift. I explained my plan and they kindly dropped me off by Holme Golf Course of Rock Thrush fame.
Not knowing exactly where Gore Point was, and no bloomin' internet signal I headed for the beach and in hindsight realised I was doing the long approach going down 2 sides of the triangle as opposed to up the coast path diagonal. Never mind I was at the mussel beds at 16:05 after walking north along this moonscape.
OMG a massive flock of Knot, unsure of how many 1000? but clearly more than Titchwell beach had to offer. No groups of birders around, there were 2 or 3 folk with binoculars but unsure if they were birders or tourists at that stage.
Set up the scope and the line of Knot were grilled. Started from the lhs and within seconds I had the back on view of a 'large' Knot with dark and red/gold-centred wing feathers. Surely not. After what appeared an age it turned side on. Ruddy hell it's here!!!!!
This was about 16:10. The views and plumage of the bird were a million percent better than the Tees-side Great Dot of 20 years ago.
Panic, how to get the news out!
Phone completely useless but as if by magic I turned around and there were birders arriving 'on spec', almost like a horror movie when zombies suddenly appear from out of nowhere. They weren't groaning and didn't appear soul-less, so I i'deed them as birders not zombies. They arrived a little quicker as I indicated in no uncertain terms that it was here.
Fortunately one of the birders had a phone signal so got the news out and kindly let me call one of the Barnsley birders, went to voicemail but message left. Managed to text them as well (don't know how but my phone came to life), so they were on the way. Now, Nick Croft. Didn't have his number so sent a delayed DM tweet and tweet in general about the bird, hoping it would somehow kick into action.
Within 30 mins. Nick arrived having walked all the way around. I explained about the tweet situation. All was well, the bird was still present - many remarking on it looking like a giant Turnstone!
Still no sign of the Barnsley gang as Nick and I left aiming for the 18:00 coasthopper to Kings Lynn. Turns out they had a scenic detour. On walking through Holme village another birding couple driving by asked if we wanted a lift. We explained we were heading for the bus down the road. They would have none of that, said get in we'll drop you off at Kings Lynn railway station and arrived for the 18:32 back to London. After getting on the train my delayed tweets finally made the airwaves!
Two hours later back in London town, absolutely shattered! A brilliant twitch. Cannot grumble over the cost either ca. £25 return Kings Cross to Kings Lynn + £9.50 day ticket on the coasthopper and the lifts from the birding community were very much appreciated.