SO... first day of the new month and the proverbial lemony snicket is marching ever on towards the arrival next month's of the first migrants. Time to crack on if I'm to get the pre -migrant ton! With this in mind and the birders motto (well, one at least) 'Tenacitate est virtus' ringing in my aures... I formulated a plan. Now, those mad fools among you who read the other day's Quate the wrowng berds post, will know I'm currently after two particular patch birds: Bittern and Brent Goose. I just needed to decide on an appropriate stone with which to slay the little buggers. My solution? To book-end the day. Before work, hit Halfway House for Brent Goose. After work, hit the Eastern Reedbed in another attempt to get Bittern. Today I was fully prepared. I'd packed coffee (care of the geo-environmental engineer's flask...), fags (I've still yet to quit...), a notepad (of course...), a camping chair (as the others had been nicked...), a borrowed scope (yessss! thank you god...) and one of these... HEALTHY munchies. Mmmmm.
Halfway House by 08:15... Splendid!
Although I always keep my ears peeled, I rarely stop to look or check places en route to the river. Not sure why... guess it's maybe partly because I'm often pushed for time but to be honest I think it's really that I get terribly excited about Halfway House and can't wait to see what greets my eyes when I hang that little right turn near the sluices and catch my first glimpse of the river. Today I'd not even checked the tides, so had no idea if there'd be any mud exposed... an absolute necessity here if you're to stand a chance of seeing anything. For me, this little bend in the river is the absolute jewel in the patch crown. I love it here. Today, I was in luck. It was still, bright, quiet, MUDDY and full of birds!
My usual approach at Halfway House is as follows. I quickly gauge how much is about with the naked eye, as I walk up and set up my gear on the rise, carefully trying not to disturb anything out on the flats. I then have a brew and a fag whilst I scan the various flocks with my bins, to get an idea about what's there and if there's anything obvious to take a closer look. Then I systematically count the stuff on the mud, slowly scope all the margins of the river and then whack onto high mag to check the distant mud by Wigg Island. Thereafter, it's just a case of keeping eyes and ears peeled in between bouts of coffee and scans with the scope really.
Today there was clearly a lot about... not necessarily in terms of species at first glance, but certainly in terms of numbers. There were at least five big mixed flocks of stuff I'd need to work through. That done, the tally was as follows: 452 Lapwing (disappointingly though, not a single Golden Plover among them), 83 Canada Geese, 2 Feral Geese, 23 Mallard, 6 Teal, 18 Wigeon, 50 Shelduck, 3 Cormorants, 281 Black-headed Gull, 26 Herring Gulls, 6 Great Black-backed Gulls, 3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 2 Common Gulls. I was just about to write in my notebook, 'No sign of the Brent Goose', when what should come flying off Norton Marsh, but the very bird! It flew out towards the Canadas on the edge of the mud to my right before looping straight back to the marsh and landing in the tall grass in front of the reeds at the end nearest me. I could see its head an neck briefly before it ducked down in the long grass again out of sight, all of which took about 7 seconds. Had I'd not been looking that way, I'd have missed it entirely! One to the stone and bloody marvellous! A patch first for me and a species many of the regulars had ticked already. If I am to beat Mully's year total in 2013... this was a bird I needed... especially as the patch veteran has the bit between his teeth this year I've heard- ha, ha! So, I scanned and binned and drink coffee and smoked cigarettes until... low and behold... the Brent Goose decided to come out to play. Cracking views of it on the water's edge with the gulls and Canada Geese... good enough to have a crack at the near impossible and try to get a record shot of it with a Canada Goose...through my scope... using my phone (you ever tried that? Jeez...). Anyway, it was a smashing dark-bellied bird, though that may not be too obvious from the pic - lol.
SO... great start to the day... quickly added Dunlin (single bird among the Lapwing), 3 Redshank and an Oystercatcher before a female Sparrowhawk put everything up just as my pre-work hour was up. Excellent timing! One down...one to go...