Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.


Sunday, 1 September 2013

A Wrynecks tale.

The last day of August is quite a significant date in the birding calendar. It closes that rather slow moving book of summer and opens a thriller of a novel entitled Autumn.

The first chapter opens on a scene at Old Hall Marshes in Essex. It’s early and the narrow track that leads to a small car park is travelled by three vehicles, in convoy but not together. I’m at the back of this  caravan and close the big iron gate as the two vehicles in front rumble slowing to park up.

There are three of us. We all look to each other, acknowledge our presence and lock and load our various weapons of choice; binoculars, scopes, cameras and thermos flasks. The older man, from under a huge bush hat speaks first. "You both here for the 'Neck?" We both nodded stupidly and he smiled, looked to the sky and muttered something about the wrong wind or something. His mane was Steve and this was his third attempt at the Wryneck. He had good info that the best way to track the bird was to travel low and swiftly below the seawall all the way to the conservation field, climb back up to the seawall and double back along the seawall, taking the 'Neck' by surprise.

The third amigo was Graham. He was new to this but hadn’t wasted time with basic equipment. Oh no, he was carrying the latest Swarovski scope and a confidence in his eyes of someone who has never dipped anything before. Steve and I just caught each other thinking this at the same time. As we set off, Steve spoke again. " What we don’t need is any dog walkers fucking this up." Just then two women and a poodle? were seen walking along the seawall clearly intent on 'fucking it up' for us.

I think if Steve had had a rifle in his rucksack, he would have shot them. Luckily he didn’t so instead, he just started marching at a speed I wouldn’t have thought possible for an older gentleman. Graham and I tried to keep up but I kept slowing down to look at butterflies. I think Steve thought I was a pansy. I had to run to catch up. Eventually we got to the point on the seawall at least 5 minutes before the women so we were okay. We slowly walked back along the seawall with only my wheezing lungs making any sound. Nothing. No Wryneck. The women came past, we all exchanged pleasantries even though Steve was probably thinking something different.

We split up (three sets of eyes you know) and spread out along sections of the wall. I have no idea how long we looked for but Steve and Graham had almost disappeared from site and I had the need for a quiet moment with nature. Thank God for the corners of my eyes. Because, out of the corner of my left eye, a small brown bird flew from the seaward side of the wall straight into some hawthorn close to me. It was the Wryneck. I had to let the guys know. I hollered, whistled waved and jumped up and down but they were both watching something through Graham’s scope and the brisk NW wing was carrying my alert out across the saltmarsh. The wryneck had of course heard me and seen this mentalist leaping up and down and had decided to retreat into the bowels of the briar.

I identified markers, fenceposts, bushes and distinguishing marks of the bush the bird had sought shelter in and heading away back to the other two guys. They had been watching a Hobby and hadn’t heard or seen my 'fit'. We headed back to the spot I had seen the Wryneck with me thinking that it could now be anywhere. We watched and waited. There! It flew again from the seawall into a briar and we all watched it weave it’s way through the thick twines of branch and leaf until it appeared at the top. It stayed here long enough for us all to photograph it and admire the amazing plumage of this exciting migrant.

Wryneck


Wryneck
The three amigos were indeed happy. My thoughts went back to butterflies, all probably trampled underfoot as we had abandoned our regard for all other forms of nature in our quest for the Wryneck. I bade my new friends farewell and headed back to the car park area. Anything now would be a bonus.
There were loads of dragonflies along the path. They always look like radio-controlled aircraft with no particular direction in mind. Some were so close to me I could hear the mechanical sound of their wing beats. I thought they were as interested in me as I with them.


Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker
Small Copper

Small Heath
I guess there’s little time left for the butterflies and dragonflies now. Autumn is a key birding period and especially for me as I try to reach that distant target of 200. I had 153 before today and only 90 days to get that difficult last 50. But it’s all about attitude. Speaking of attitude I may as well tell you about the final character in this tale.

i saw him coming along the path to the car park on his push bike. A well-built man in his late 50’s puffing with exhaustion whilst carefully balancing his scope and tripod as he peddled. He asked me if it was safe to lock his bike here...I shrugged my shoulders but said I couldn’t imagine anyone coming here especially to steal bike.  I didn’t tell him no-one would steal that bike, that wouldn’t have been nice. I gave directions to the Wryneck and went on my way. As I walked towards the reserve, I watched a Green Woodpecker on the path. It didn’t hang around and I was unable to get a shot off. Instead, a bird caught my attention as it flitted from post to post. It was a Wheatear.

Northern Wheatear
I walked up along by the creek to view waders. I needed a Spotted Redshank and guessed this was as good a spot as any. There were Curlews, Common Redshank, Grey Plovers and Little Egrets among the Black-headed Gulls and solitary Lapwing. I sat to have my lunch here watching the redshank and grey plovers when another wader joined the redshank. This was clearly a Spotted Redshank. It was taller and more elegant than the commoners and it had that distinctive white stripe above the eye.

Spotted Redshank. Albeit a long way off!
I watched a couple of Green Sandpipers pipe overheard as I carried on. I headed back up onto the seawall and saw Dave coming my way. He hadn’t seen the 'neck' but didn’t seem too bothered. he told me he was sleeping rough and told me tales of being thrown off farmers land and the amount of mileage he does when he goes birding. I felt for him and asked him perhaps rudely if he owned a home? "Of course I do!" was his response. "I just don’t own a car". So you see with Dave, he too was trying to get to 200 species for the year and without his own car, and the fact he doesn’t work, he just  gets on his bike and travels around Essex with a sleeping bag stopping at all the good bird spots. A true Travelling Man. We spent about half an hour chatting, interrupted only by a hawking Hobby. I now have good places to visit for some of the difficult species I need thanks to Dave. He is a few species ahead of me but all of his are seen in Essex. This is to be admired. He said with a grin that he was off to Abberton now and wished me luck. He was a top bloke and I could have spent the rest of the day with him. I watched him as he rode off into the sunset and I headed back to my car which, naturally, I take for granted but not any more.

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