Tuesday, 22 July 2014

What a week! Great Knot and more

Summer had been rather quiet bird-wise and weekends taken up with activities other than birds. Last weekend was no exception, first the Tendring Show on Saturday (we, well my ram, got a First), then my daughters swimming club barbecue (in the poouring rain) on Sunday.
On Monday morning I was woken by my mobile phone alarm at 6.50am as usual. I opened the single mobile Tweet I had received and stared at it with bleary but startled eyes. The message from @Yarmouthbirder read "What appears to be a summer-plumaged Great Knot from Breydon South Wall, but distant". My first thought went back to the previous report of Great Knot at Breydon some years ago but as my sleepy brain whirred in to gear it reasoned @Yarmouthbirder is an excellent birder and he wouldn't be putting out a message like that unless he was pretty sure of the ID. Rapidly getting up to full speed my only problem now was that I was supposed to be at work at 8.30 but with the pager mega-alerting the news, I found myself managing to get ready for work, feed the pigs, sheep and chickens in record time and leave the house a good 15 minutes earlier than normal. I drove past work, turned up the A12 and found myself in the ASDA car-park at 8.15. Just a short walk past suited but smiling birders themselves heading for work I found myself looking down Dick Filbys scope at a superb Great Knot feeding in the water with 2 summer plumaged Red Knot, a nice juxtaposition. If I had left there and then I would have got to work at my normal time but a bird of this quality and rarity deserved a little more attention, and I watched it for another half hour as it gave more than acceptable views. The thick black streaks almost coalescing on its breast gave a first impression of a Turnstone, the mantle too was very dark, contrasting with the very bleached scapulars lacking the rufous colouration of a full summer bird. It occasionally flew short distances within the small area it was feeding showing off its pale rump and long wings. Eventually it flew to the hide tide roost and disappeared into the sea lavender. It was time for work!
I returned for a second look in the evening but this time it was a much longer walk along the south shore and the Great Knot was feeding distantly on the mud on the opposite side of the estuary. At least it gave me a chance to appreciate its attenuated structure and the dark breast and mantle were still discernable.
Tuesday arrived and with it, news of a Collared Pratincole at Minsmere. Its been a while since I've seen a pratincole of any sort in the UK so come mid-afternoon I found myself in the East Hide at Minsmere watching a rather coy Collared Pratincole that seemed to spend much of its time tucked away in a hollow on the edge of the long bund that runs away from East Hide. It revealed itself at times, did the occasional fly around to reveal its chestnut underwings and white trailing edge and just a few times sat out in the open. The scrape also had an excellent selection of waders including a Wood Sandpiper, one of my favourite waders, Spotted Redshanks and Greenshanks, and also a flock of Little Gulls including some very smart adults.
Wednesday was a day off birding but come Thursday and with the Black-winged Pratincole still at Stiffkey Fen, I made the journey to the north coast for my second pratincole of the week. As I walked up the path towards the sea wall I was fortunate to find 2 birders watching the Pratincole in flight and picked it out as it flew above a large flock of Lapwings. When it landed out of sight I walked up to the sea wall, where birders were gathered, to find the pratincole had landed and hidden itself amongst tall vegetation. For the next hour it played a game of now you (can just) see me, now you can't before eventually giving itself up and standing out in the open and giving another flying performance.
I thought the week couldn't get any better but it did when news broke of a family of Black-winged Stilts in the south of Suffolk. I've seen lots of Stilts in the UK but this was something special, so this time hit the A11 to Cavenham to enjoy the rare sight of juvenile plumaged Stilts. As an added bonus 4 Stone-curlews were in sight on the heath. The week had been a veritable waderfest!
The final twist was a Quail calling so close to the road you could hear the slight clearing its throat croak it made before giving the classic 'wet-your-lips' call. Sadly like all the other Quail I've heard the bird was invisible in the wheat and steadily made its way to the back of the field. Quail remains off my British list. Maybe one day.......