Saturday, 12 May 2012

Are You Really On My Patch?

It may be heading for mid-May but we were both still in gloves. The possibility of a warm cup of tea and maybe even a digestive on our return was too much too resist so I slipped off a glove and sent a speculative text message to Stringer, "On your patch looking for Bluethroat" was the tongue firmly in cheek missive.

Rewind a little, Andy and I had decided to head for 'somewhere with a hide' early morning to sit out the worst of the rain and wait patiently for a break in the weather. Hauxley was the choice given us the option of north and south should  a ray of sunshine sneak through. A couple of Common Sandpipers, 7 Turnstones and 3 Lapwing chicks later the rain had stopped and we headed off with a vague plan to head for Newton/Beadnell and exploit the rich seam of under-watched coast. A Lesser Whitethroat briefly sparked up in the bushes as we left around 10:00.

The pool at Beadnell was brimming and disappointingly Temminck's-free. I thought one of three alba wagtails was White but Andy seemed less than convinced. A vantage looking south towards the mouth of the Long Nanny produced distant views of up to 10 Little Terns and c.500 Arctic Terns. We spent some time searching these for anything un-Arctic-like in vain.

By this time my phone had gone and Stringer in best 'land-owner' tradition had responded first up with a phone call and an opening line that inspired the post title and then like all the best birders sharing some quality local knowledge about what he considered to be the best Bluethroat habitat in the area. Football Hole hadn't been in our plans so without the freely offered advice we'd have probably stuck to the tin church and the scrapes. At the very least we have to credit him with a long distance assist!

A few Whimbrels headed north as we approached Newton Point and skirted the NT offices and a single Wheatear on the rocks at the north side as we entered the small bay briefly lifted spirits. Thrashing both bushes (yes there's two of them!) we failed to turn up anything so started heading back towards the scrapes. Eyes on watches as news of a Red-backed Shrike at Hauxley had irked us and we planned to drop in as we returned south.

Rounding the bend in the footpath aside the crop field we noticed a couple of Wheatears further up the recently ploughed strip of earth, then another bright and pale male. Both of us began to scan down the furrows to look for any additional birds and were rather pleasantly surprised to happen upon something a little brighter hunkered down at the crop edge.

Creeping in and out the crop and eyeing us carefully was a throat-pumping, splash of summer-sky blue in the form of a cracking male Red-spotted Bluethroat. After several minutes of unbridled joy I took on the tough task of contacting Stringer with the news. Ensuring I had the number for The Samaritans at hand and keeping the phone several feet from my good ear I delivered the news. Thankfully he later managed to get back and get to grips with the bird otherwise I expect I may have had one less Christmas card this year.

We moved off and after checking a relatively empty scrape at Newton Pool headed south to Hauxley. With what later proved to be dodgy directions we failed in an attempt to get to grips with the Red-backed Shrike. Later in the day a second attempt at the Lanius with better and more precise location details proved more fruitful. Always mobile we managed good views, mostly of the back end as it flew away, and opportunities to get any sort of image were brief and difficult (see below) but worth the effort as spring males are the epitome of smart.

Both birds are still around this morning and will probably show much better today given the improvement in the weather, always assuming that there are no more idiots who think they can trespass at will playing tapes at full volume as apparently occurred at the Bluethroat this morning. It beggars belief that the individual responsible continues to believe his actions 'do no harm'  whilst almost every other birder in the county shares the belief that it is unacceptable and directly responsible for many birders suppressing news in certain circumstances as well as demonstrating a complete lack of regard for the bird and its welfare.

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