Friday, 2 January 2015

Don't let the bustard get you down

That's what I had to tell myself this morning when it became clear that the chance of adding Little Bustard to my British list had slipped away, or become fox-food, overnight. While the rest of twitch-kind spent New Year's Day hot-footing it to East Yorkshire, I was stuck at home in Dorset, 'on call' for emergencies, one of the additional privileges of rank which I now get to enjoy.
Blyth's Pipit, Calder Park - quite a leggy bird with neat mantle stripes
Showing shortish hindclaw (shorter than Richard's)
Plenty of artillery still lined up for the Pipit
It was the first time I'd been on call, and as it was only for 2 days over the turn of the year I figured that would be as safe a time as any to be out of circulation. Unfortunately, both days were the only ones on which the Bustard chose to be twitchable. As well as not being able to leave the county, I was unable to drink, so drowning my sorrows was not an option. Plus I had to be within an hour of HQ, so I couldn't even join other Dorset birders on a New Year birdboat around Poole Harbour. So much for that well meaning New Year resolution in my last post to be more positive about life. Well let me tell you, people, positive sucks!
Blue Tit, Pugneys CP
Goldcrest, Pugneys CP
I guess this must be a 3rd winter Yellow-legged Gull - unless anyone can put me straight? Quite striking in the field/lake/whatever.
I must say being unable to leave Dorset felt like a new and particularly cruel kind of torture in the circumstances - a real twitcher's nightmare. And I'm not sure whether it's worse or better that there were no emergencies after all either. Had armed rebels seized the Corn Exchange in Dorchester and I been called in to negotiate, or at least organise pizza, then missing out on a Little Bustard might have felt worthwhile. I certainly had an incentive to bring an early end to a siege. But as it was, the emergency hotline never rang, other than with offers of lifts to see the Bustard, which of course I had to turn down.
Black-headed Gull, Pugneys CP

Coot, Calder Park
Moorhen, Calder Park
As you may have gathered from the photos, I headed north this morning anyway as soon as the end of my stint on duty would allow, and was over half way to Yorkshire when news came through that there was no sign of the Bustard. But I was sufficiently far up the M1, and sufficiently had the hump, to press on and look for the long-staying Blyth's Pipit near Wakefield anyway to salvage something from the day, and also to keep myself within striking distance in case the Bustard should be relocated later.
Redwing - not many of these around home at the moment
Treecreeper, Pugneys CP
Jay, Pugneys CP
The Pipit, so elusive early in its stay that many went away with only flight views, certainly rescued the day from disaster. I parked the car, walked 100 yards and papped it less than 10 seconds after picking my spot at the end of a line of admirers. Many of these had also been heading for the Bustard which made me feel a bit better - a problem shared etc.
Drake Goldeneye, Pugneys CP
Female Goldeneye, Pugneys CP
Male Kestrel, Pugneys CP
The Pipit then flew to a patch of waste ground next to a KFC to where the twitch relocated. A young attendant came out of the restaurant, I presumed to shoo away the smelly birders who were parking but not purchasing, but no: he offered anyone carrying a tripod a 10% discount! I would have taken him up on the offer had I not thrown mine in a skip with the telescope at Leicester Forest East services.

Female Bullfinch, Pugneys CP
And a pair
After a bit of aimless watching the long grass, I figured I could spend the rest of the day there and not do any better than my initial views, so decided to check out nearby Pugneys Country Park, where I saw my first Bufflehead many years ago, returning from a Scottish trip with Matt Jones. Local gen suggested that this site might produce a Willow Tit - I managed to hear one in a fast moving tit flock but could not clap eyes on it.
The habitats of Pugneys: plastic...
...plastic AND footballs
After a couple of hours just birding the angst of twitching had substantially receded, and I was ready for the long journey home, but still sufficiently distressed to need the soothing influence of Classic FM all the way. Sibelius and Schubert I didn't much care for, but Liszt hit the spot as I approached Wareham with the perfect composition to sum up my day: 'Consolation No 3' (this was my 3rd Blyth's Pipit after all). I took it as a sign, and spent the rest of the evening with him and his mate Brahms.
An unfamiliar call like a manic Fieldfare was eventually explained by this character, sat in a hedgerow at Pugneys.
Sick as a Parrot? I know how you feel. Apparently it's a Port Lincoln Parrot, native to Australia. A celebrity in local news - and top marks to the Wakefield Express for eschewing 'Twitcher's flocked...' bylines in favour of 'Pugney's Parrot has beautiful plumage'. FACT.
Kestrel. Pic of the day.

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