Tuesday 9 November 2021

The hard yards

Lest recent scribblings in this space give the impression that life for me is a constant succession of perfectly planned, smoothly executed bike rides which end happily with me connecting with my target species, allow me to shatter the illusion. This weekend - a long one, as I had a day off on Friday - was earmarked for sweeping up a fistful of late autumn migrants and early winter arrivals. 

Water Pipit at Lytchett Fields (pic from 2016)
Friday dawned bright and clear but after working late the night before - the inevitable consequence of trying to take a day off - I didn't get out as early as hoped. With nothing in particular to chase, I thought I would start with a leisurely twirl around Swineham. No sooner had I left the door than news broke of a Ring Ouzel at Middelbere, 5 miles away, so, this being one of my top remaining targets for the 2021 yearlist, I turned tail, saddled up and headed straight there. The finder Garry Hayman was still on site when I arrived but the Ouzel, which had been with a fresh-in flock of Fieldfare, had done one. 

I spent the rest of the morning checking out every available Rowan tree in the vicinity, but despite coming across several flocks of winter thrushes, I couldn't relocate the Ouzel. It or another had been seen just over the channel at Arne the previous day, so I headed there to check out yet more Rowans on the Raptor Trail. Again, Fieldfare, Redwing, Blackbird, Mistle and Song Thrush were all gorging on berries - but no Ouzel. Consolation was sought in a double egg bap at the Arne cafe, before I headed back to Middlebere for another extensive but ultimately unsuccessful search. 

By the time dusk fell, over 20 miles had been cycled, and a few more walked - but no Ouzels had been seen. So a frustrating day off, with an untimely puncture at the end of it. I had at least resisted the temptation of more distant rarities and, even with the extra calories from the double egg bap, I had shed a few pounds, or at least achieved 'net zero' weight gain, to coin the phrase of the moment.

Frustrated with a day of berry bashing, I needed a safer bet on Saturday morning. Helpful updates from Shaun Robson and Ian Ballam suggested that wintering Water Pipits were now back in reasonable numbers at Lytchett Bay so, having made a couple of failed attempts to see this species earlier this year, I decided to give that another go. Garry had the same thought and, having met on site shortly around 0800, after not too many minutes we picked out one of the Stour Ringing Group's yellow colour-ringed Water Pipits. This somewhat short-circuited the usual identification challenges associated with distant pipit identification. 

As we watched the Water Pipits - at least two, possibly three, were present - we noticed that they seemed to spend more time standing sentry-like on little tumps looking around compared to the Meadow and Rock Pipits which were constantly fidgeting and feeding. A quick call to Shaun confirmed that this was indeed 'a thing' - so a good identification learning point as well as a welcome addition to the year list - bringing it to 210, and possibly the last round '10' I would reach in 2021. 

Buoyed with success I returned home for lunch, then back to Arne (via the cafe's chocolate cake counter) and on to Middlebere to see if the black-and-white berry eater had returned. Needless to say it hadn't. I ended the day with an equally unsuccessful search for a male Hen Harrier which has been seen several times in the area - and another puncture. 

On Sunday I was faced with the choice of confronting all the domestic chores I had neglected on Friday and Saturday, socialising with family or friends who had been neglected over the same period, or go in search of Redpoll, possibly the commonest species not yet on my yearlist. I say 'choice' but I think you can work out where this is going. I had heard a Redpoll giving a distant 'jit-jit-jit' flight call at Arne on Friday, but decided not to 'tick' it on the basis that I ought to be able to secure stronger evidence of another one as the winter progresses.

I yomped around Wareham Common and cycled to Bog Lane which has acres of suitable habitat but of Redpoll there was no sign. A movement in a Yew had me dreaming of Hawfinch - which would have battered Redpoll in a game of Bird Top Trumps - but it turned out to be nothing more exciting than a Nuthatch. After a pleasant but brief lunch back home with the family I was still restless, and was somehow drawn back to Middlebere for a beguiling couple of hours in the hide watching the comings and goings of waders and Harriers (three Marsh, one Hen) - but still no Redpoll or Ouzel.

Another puncture was somehow a fitting finale to the weekend, totals for which were: 63 miles cycled, 10 miles walked, three punctures in as many days and just the one addition to the non-motorised year list. So it's not all plain sailing this green listing lark - but with the dark nights drawing in and not many weekends left to add to it, I don't intend to give up yet. 


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