Friday 2 December 2011


A Greater Yellowlegs in Northumberland had been goading me to twitch it for several weeks. The sheer distance was a major deterrent, but the deciding factor until now had been a host of work and family commitments which had prevented any attempt to even think about going. Yesterday I cracked. A window opened in the diary, I took a day off and after an early night left Dorset just after 0100 for what I estimated would be a six-and-a-half hour drive. This was about right, and there was even time for a bacon sandwich just north of the Tyne Tunnel before arriving at Hauxley at first light.

Two barn owls greeted me on the entrance track, and I parked next to two other birders who had also just arrived. As Greater Yellowlegs twitchers will know, Hauxley is a large waterbody containing a few islands. A path runs most but not all of the way around the perimeter. We agreed to split up and cover all the angles, me heading to the north to the Tern Hide where the bird was seen the previous day, the others south to the Wader Hide and Eric's Hide where it had been reported on many other occasions. After an hour we had seen nothing but a marauding Peregrine disturbing the Knot, Turnstone, Redshanks and Dunlin which were present in small numbers. We each retraced our steps and met near the car park, then I headed south from where the others had come to try my luck.

In the short window between them leaving and me arriving at the Wader Hide a local birder had turned up. I aksed if there was anything about more in hope than expectation, and hope was indeed renewed when he said he had seen the Yellowlegs about 30 minutes earlier, heading towards Eric's hide. I think he was so used to seeing it by now he hadn't broadcast the news - understandable but disappointing for us at least. There was no further sign by 12:00, and we concluded that somehow, between 09:00 and 10:00, with the bird surrounded and us scouring the visible parts of reserve, the Yellowlegs had evaded us and flown. To rub salt in, on returning to our cars the warden rollocked us for parking at 90 degrees to his office rather than parallel to it - a bit harsh as, when we arrived in the dark, we simply pulled up next to each other and parked tidily. I got the impression that welcoming twitchers to his reserve had not been the highlight of his year...

Never mind, we concluded, the other haunts of the Yellowlegs were well known, and after a bit of therapy appreciating the healthy resident population of Tree Sparrows, between us we leap-frogged between Druridge Bay Country Park, East Chevington, Druridge Pools and Cresswell Ponds. It was to no avail, and an optimistic return to Hauxley for the last hours of daylight proved equally fruitless.

The long drive home was a surprisingly therapeutic opportunity to recover from the disappointment of a major dip, and after a good night's sleep the psychological wounds had all but healed. Then the pager reported the bird present at Hauxley again this morning. Then at East Chevington. Then at Druridge, 'down to 5 metres'. Ouch.

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