Monday 15 November 2021

A spritely sprint

My last post was a bit of a downbeat reflection on the relatively poor returns for significant investments of time and energy put into the non-motorised year list last weekend. A bit self-pitying it may have been, but it seems someone was listening with a more balanced reward-effort ratio achieved this past couple of days. 

Pallas's Warbler, Durlston
Sitting around waiting for news is rarely a good strategy for seeing new birds but after an intense working week it was all I could manage on Saturday morning. I had no real plans and set about tidying the house which had been so neglected the previous weekend. By about midday I had the downstairs at least looking respectable, and as I sat down to contemplate lunch, news broke of a Pallas's Warbler at Durlston Country Park, scene of my recent successful Snow Bunting twitch.
Note the lemon yellow rump
Lunch was quickly forgotten, panniers were packed and pedals were soon being pushed in the direction of Swanage. I eschewed the usual scenic back route to Corfe Castle and hit the main road, as the A351 between home and there is more direct and has a hard shoulder wide enough to cycle in. After that, the stretch from Corfe to Harman's Cross would normally also be fine but was made less so on this occasion by the occasional idiot passing too close. I deal with my fear on such occasion by hurling curses at the backs of their vehicles, a quite therapeutic if pointless activity, and no doubt slightly disturbing for any innocent resident standing in a roadside garden wondering if the passing cyclist has Tourette's.
This bird had a couple of mis-placed feathers on the right shoulder
I kept up a pacy 14mph average speed as far as the outskirts of Swanage but this dropped to 12mph as I climbed the steep hill out of town south towards Durlston. James Leaver had overtaken me somewhere near Corfe, and as I hit the first speed bump at the entrance to the Country Park, Jol Mitchell did likewise. Both James and Jol have been regular sources of encouragement throughout my year list quest, as have Steve Smith, Rob Johnson and Phil Saunders who were already on site, and it was good to know these 10 sharp eyes would be looking for the bird by the time I arrived. In fact it was just 8 as I overtook Jol fumbling with change for the car parking ticket machine - but a phone call from Steve just before had already confirmed the continued presence of the Pallas's Warbler.

Sometimes known affectionately as the 'seven-striped sprite' - 3 on the head and 4 on the wings
The original finder of the bird had moved on but it had been re-found not long before by Rob. I joined him and the others and as we watched from the bridge just below the Castle, Phil alerted us to its presence a bit further down the slope. We enjoyed exceptional views as the energetic sprite fidgeted constantly around a Sycamore, on occasion being joined by Chiffchaff, Firecrest and Goldcrest. 

My 2nd of this species at Durlston and 5th in Dorset - but the first by bike
It had been a triumphant twitch and there was enough daylight to set a more leisurely pace for the journey home. As I hit the A351 news came through of a Little Auk in Weymouth and while I momentarily considered going for it, I quickly ruled it out having remembered that it was no longer British Summer Time and it would be dark at least an hour before I got there!
The highlight of 27.5 miles cycled on Saturday
I toyed with the idea of an early start on Sunday to make the 18 mile journey to Weymouth for the Auk, but the Swanage sprint must have taken a bit out of me and by the time I rose it was already light. A stroll around Swineham seemed like a better option but produced not much to write home about so I returned to the house to drag children out of bed and force them to honour the two minute silence at 1100. 
Pallas's Warbler, Durlston
After an early lunch, a foray into Rempstone Forest seemed to offer as good a chance as any to try to add Redpoll to the yearlist. As I lingered in a spot where James had seen a small flock recently, I thought I could hear the flight call of a distant Redpoll but before I could tune into it a phone call from Paul Morton brought exciting news of a Red-necked Grebe in the mouth of Poole Harbour at Studland. I was almost half-way there already and with plenty of daylight left there was no question about not going for it. I tore through the forest, pushing even harder than the previous day's sprint to Durlston, and completed the 6 mile journey in less than 30 minutes.
A Firecrest was sharing the same Sycamore as the Pallas's Warbler 
I was travelling light without a scope but fortunately Steve came to the rescue again and his was trained on the Grebe as I arrived at South Haven and we enjoyed decent views, later catching up with James. Being well placed in Rempstone I had got there before most of the locals and before Jol had even managed to relay the news! Just before starting the 11 mile journey home Steve alerted me to the fact that the Little Auk had been relocated in Weymouth, but again it was too late to contemplate an attempt at this highly desirable species. I didn't mind though, it had been an excellent weekend in good company with 53 miles cycled, 2 high quality additions to the year list and, best of all, zero punctures.
Red-necked Grebe, Studland, 14th November - 212 on the non-motorised year list

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