Monday, 16 September 2013

September livening up!

Last week was a busy one. A pretty awesome weather forecast for a Norfolk seawatch on Tuesday failed to deliver the goods, though I did manage 2 or 3 sooties, a black tern and a puffin from a 2.5 hr seawatch off Sheringham. I also paid my respects to the dodgy sparrow at Northrepps - put out as a possible Italian, but notably lacking any white around the eye and perhaps more likely to be an erythristic house sparrow or a hybrid.

On Thursday it was an early finish at work to bomb down to Oare Marshes for a spotted crake. This bird showed like a dream, giving great views down to 7 metres or so. The scrape offered excellent views of a wonderful array of waders which included at least 7 juv curlew sands and 4 little stints. An impressive flock of 1,000+ redshank was also present.

Torrential rain on Friday night failed to dampen my enthusiasm for some local mammal trapping at Fowlmere and it certainly didn't keep the rodents away either. A total of 15 wood mice were trapped, with 2 bank voles, 2 common shrews and 3 yellow-necked mice. One wood mouse escaped in Doug's hut and another ran all over Mark before ending up on his head where it launched itself high into the air and made good its escape!

I've only seen one great snipe, on my London local patch at the age of 14. Views were poor with just the head visible above grass in the fading light of dusk. It's always been the one and only bird on my list with less than spotless credentials. I knew I needed to see another and on Sunday I got the chance. One had turned up at Kilnsea, Spurn, the previous day, and to my surprise was still around the following morning. It was time to Fire up the Quattro though in the event I left the Type-R behind and borrowed Liz's slower but more economical Skoda! I collected Robert Smith at Stamford and continued north to Kilnsea, arriving at around midday.

The bird was showing on arrival and wow, was it showing!! I hadn't realised just quite how close people had been getting to this one. A small crowd on the verge were staring into a roadside ditch and there, just metres away, was a very unconcerned great snipe! Just occasionally rarities turn up which have little or no fear of people and those twitches can fast become all-time classics. Last winter I got within 2 metres of the 'pet' buff-bellied pipit at QMR and within a metre of the Suffolk Hornemann's arctic redpoll; pine grosbeak, lancey, isabelline wheatear and yellow-rumped warbler have all allowed me to grill them to a few feet in the past.

Now the irony of this twitch is that I'd left my camera at home! It was a deliberate but stupid move as I thought on this occasion digiscoping would suffice. Digiscoping turned out to be extremely difficult and I ended up inserting my memory card into Robert's bridge camera to get some shots. At one stage the snipe got spooked by something in the ditch and flew out of it towards the crowd, landing just 2 metres in front of me - amazing! It scuttled off and re-entered the ditch a few metres further down, where it started to poke around a discarded can of Strongbow.

A barred warbler residing 100 yards along the road was a handy bonus bird but I had to return to the mesmerising snipe which by now was snoozing in the grass in the corner of the field the other side of the hedge. After a while it had a brief preen and ran back to the ditch and eventually we managed to tear ourselves away.

There are more records of great snipe than any other BB rarity but it remains a tough one to see, with most of the 2 or 3 annual records coming from Shetland. Many are only seen in flight after flushing so to get one like this is all the more remarkable. Long live the Kilnsea great snipe, a true birder's bird!

STOP PRESS - The snipe was found dead on the morning of 17th, thought to have been killed by a cat. A sad end to a wonderful bird and an unfortunate sentence to finish with (above). RIP.

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