Sunday, 23 October 2016

A Tail of Two Wheatears

A quick look in at the Settling Beds yesterday revealed the largest congregation of duck I have seen there. Hundreds of wildfowl, mostly Teal with fair numbers of Shoveller, Gadwall and Wigeon dotted across the water.  Lots of Greylags were accompanied by the small Canada Goose which I had seen for the first time in a about a year at Roswell Pits last week.  The highlights were a 1st winter male Scaup, just moulting the odd bit of grey into the mantle, accompanying a flock of 65 Tufted Duck and on the adjacent arable a micro herd of 10 Whooper Swans that later roosted on the pool.

An early start this morning as a quick dash to the Norfolk Coast was planned with a return to the Fen required before noon.  I'd not seen an Isabelline Wheatear in the UK, although well acquainted with them from trip abroad, today gave an opportunity to see one at Burnham Overy and the bird was still rooting in the half light when I first saw it. Half a dozen folk had taken the walk out in the dark and were there at dawn.  The other observers did discuss the birds identity, but the striking T shaped tail pattern with a very thick black sub-terminal band, along with the pallid tones alone convinced me quickly that this was the Izzy.  The reason for the additional scrutiny was whispered talk that a photograph of a Wheatear doing the rounds on the internet, from the previous day appeared to be a Desert.  I love the 2 bird theory and decided to walk the shingle beach a part of my circuit as this would be the very best place for any sensible, or indeed existent, Desert Wheatear to hang out.  I left the "crowd" and hacked over the dunes checking all scrub and foliage and dropped onto the beach.  A large Pipit flew quite low overhead, I needed it to call, expecting it to schreep as a Richard's should, it didn't and seemed to give two indistinct wagtail like calls.  It kept going and I won't lose any sleep over it, perhaps it was a wagtail?  Half a mile around the point and I had virtually 30 meters of shingle left to check when a little bobbing movement drew my eye to the right and there in classic pose amidst shingle and Suaeda was a slightly bedraggled female Desert Wheatear.

The distinctive all black tail and primaries of this species clearly visible, I spent a bit of time getting some footage and stayed with it until I'd got some other birders onto it.  Pootling across the dunes towards Holkham I had a quick look at the beached Fin Whale, now royally carved through autopsy, and was struck by the numbers of Wren and Dunnock across the site.  Cracking little birds, particularly in the morning light not, unfortunately, the Accentor I was looking for.
Siskin, Brambling and numerous Reed Bunting headed over vocally and Redwing seeped across the skies unseen.  At the Holkham end a Firecrest proclaimed itself in agitated fashion and a couple of Chiffchaff went about their business.  I returned for seconds on the Isabelline Wheatear which was in much better light before heading back about 10 for Tea and Medals.

I had a good look for the Scaup in the afternoon but most of the Tuftie had gone.  However the Whooper's had become a herd swelling to a heady 28.  Now we do see hundreds of Wild Swans flocking distantly beyond the pits and out to Prickwillow but thi is the largest gathering around the ponds for some years.  All good stuff.  There is a reservoir, tucked away, not far from my home in Stuntney, that I should really try and get access to because the fluctuating number of wildfowl on the settling beds isn't just the interchange with Roswell Pits and potentially this reservoir is providing a good spot for our local duck.

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