MEGA day to mark 25 years in Birding! (And why leaving a camera out in the rain can be good for you)
The 14th May 2013 marked 25 years to the day that I took up serious birding and twitching, yet this is not what I’ll remember it for, as it turned out in itself to be one of my best birding days ever.
It kicked off late morning at Lakenheath where an adult male red-foot showed like a dream, hawking over the reedbed with hobbies and sometimes approaching within 30 metres or so. The unsettled weather had kept the insects low and as the wind shifted so too did the insects (presumably) to the opposite corner of New Fen, taking with them the falcons. I snapped away at it for perhaps an hour and a half taking literally hundreds of photos most of which were hopeless. Cranes showed on occasion in the distance and I had a couple of sightings of bittern; even a male bearded tit performed well, allowing me to snap him close up.
|Sometimes when you're a fly it just isn't your day!|
It was a good start but the best was yet to come. I returned home via Wicken Fen where a male Monty’s had been seen a few times. A couple of hobbies were hawking the droves and as at Lakenheath, cuckoos were much in evidence. I headed out to Baker’s Fen and scanned a smallish pool on the west side. Two whimbrel in the grass at the back were particularly pleasing. There were 3 small waders that looked like pecs but surely must be dunlin – there were three of them after all. I made a mental note to check them more thoroughly when I got a bit nearer.
Moving down the side of the fen I drew level with the pool and stopped to talk to Andrew Taylor. It was about 3.15pm now and whilst speaking with him I checked the three waders – they were pectoral sandpipers! I noted the clear cut-off streaked pectoral breast band and the slightly shorter bill than dunlin. The legs were largely submerged in water but yes, there were some rather long tibias just coming into view when one of the birds scratched and they were distinctly yellowish in colour
The weather was by now deteriorating with showers rolling in from the south-east. Andrew and I went our separate ways, me taking shelter from the rain in a nearby hide. After a while I checked my person and realised I was without my camera accessories pouch with its contents of spare camera batteries. More worryingly, I was without the camera itself! I checked and double-checked my pockets and the hide shelf before braving the rain to return to where I’d been watching the pecs. With relief I found my stuff, though the camera was soaked as it had been left out without protection from the rain. The sandpipers were still there.
At around 4.40pm, I noticed a couple of waders lift off out across the fen. I couldn’t believe it – one was large, slim and black and white with ridiculously long trailing legs – a black-winged stilt!
|My 1st views of the stilt and that panicky record shot you just have to get!|
This was surreal, it felt almost like a dream. My first BBRC bird of the year and it was self-found, I was soaked through and my head was still reeling from having found something decent in the form of the 3 sandpipers. But this??!!! I grabbed a couple of record shots as the stilt headed off across the fen, landing out of sight on the far side. I moved further down and soon relocated it distantly on the other pool. But again I was beaten back by an oncoming shower and took refuge in a nearby hide (after making a few phone calls!)
I emerged about 20 minutes later to see if anyone had arrived. Andrew was back and he pointed out the stilt – it had returned to the small pool and was just 30 metres or so from the path! I grabbed some shots and soon afterwards noticed another birder arriving. Seconds before she reached us the pec sands – now with a single dunlin – took off over our heads calling (that screechy dry trill that proved useful in self-finding another trio of pecs last autumn in Ireland), but not before I’d managed to grab a picture of them sharing the pool with the stilt. The dunlin was then heard calling and returned to the pool alone some 10 minutes later. The pecs were not seen again and the stilt (a male) later disappeared, only to be refound by Ben Green later that evening on the adjacent Adventurer’s Fen. It was still present the following day but proved rather elusive.
I finished out on the main reedbed with snipe drumming overhead and a male marsh harrier quartering nearby. I reflected on a day I won’t forget in a hurry!
|3 pecs and a stilt!|
|drumming snipe over main reedbed|