Thursday, 27 November 2014

Seaton Snook - Twitching Isabelline Wheatear

Too much work and too little time had meant no birding for some time. It reached a stage where I decided to just go on a mad one. Just as well that there was an Isabelline Wheatear on a beach at Teesmouth. I decided to have a look at the prices and found I could do it under £20 by train, though it would be another of those dreadful half 4 starts and 4 trains there and the same on the way back, but if the bird stuck it would be worth it. 
I made it to Seaton Carew for 9.00 and wandered through the town to the beach where the bird was for 10.00. Being out of the loop meant I had no idea if the bird was there and the fact that few birders drove past me while I wandered down Zinc Works road made me more nervous. However, the first birder I spoke to informed me that the bird was still there. I headed out to find a solitary birder looking for the bird, and that the bird had moved into the dune.
Shortly after another couple of birders turned up and they soon picked it out. It had been difficult to see as it was stationary on the strand line, blending in so well. It started to come a little closer as it moved, so I grabbed a couple of shots, but then it came and landed on a log less than two meters away. It became apparent that someone had been putting mealworms on the log for the bird to draw it in, but it had worked a treat obviously.
Sadly the light was a little too poor to make the most of this opportunity, and the opportunity itself happened to be all to brief. The bird was flushed by a dog walker who decided to walk right in front of the people with bins and scopes. The bird cleared off over the dunes and as such we were all left wondering what course of action to take next.
-Isabelline Wheatear
Fortunatley it did not take long as the bird was quickly re-found by another birder who had been round the corner looking at the sea having presumably already seen the wheatear. As a result we all trotted quickly round there to get another view of the bird. It was sitting up on a log about 3-4 meters in front of us. It stayed in this vicinity for the vast majority of the remaining time of my stay.
I spent a good 2 hours with the bird here, as the crowd grew and shrank and new birders arrived in order to replace the birders leaving. The bird put on a great show, coming along the strand line towards the crowd until it passed at around a meters distance, though sadly I was not at the front at this point. It then did it again at the top of the crowd and a third time when I was near enough the front to be that close to it. It was a fantastic shower, possibly the most showy bird I have ever twitched since it did not seem bothered by the people watching it. At one point it flew startled and almost flew into the crowd, banking up at the last moment.
It was such a smart bird too, doing quirky little things like jumping a couple of inches every time it was startled. We got to watch the bird complete most of its behaviors, such as preening, feeding etc and just generally put on a great show. I took the liberty of taking a tonne load of photos just to display what a show off the bird was.
-Isabelline Wheatear
Towards the end of my time with the bird it became more distant, though still close but nowhere near as close as it had been. As a result I began checking the harbor for birds. There was a large flock of Teal loitering around, as well as few Common Scoter and a small group of Eider including a really nice male. Also at the back there were 3 Red-Throated Divers and Cormorants flew around the harbor on a regular basis.
The Wheatear was eventually flushed by a jogger who pushed it into the dunes and far away, to much anger, not that he cared. I decided that I might begin to make my way off and headed back to the path. Given the birds feeding pattern though I decided it might be worth having a check on the log where it had been in the morning to see if that's where it had gone.
It was sat right on the log, I could not believe it. I had a little panic attack, I have never been in this position before. I moved off from where I was so I could see the still assembled mass of twitchers looking grumpy. I whistled and waved my arms and fortunately someone saw me and the crowd moved over in my direction. I prayed the bird would stick to the log so I would not be a made a fool of, but at the last possible moment the bird dropped and I lost it, leaving me to explain to the arriving twitchers where the bird was. Somehow it was not picked up for about five minuets and when it was it was sat right next to the log completely motionless.
After another short stop with my re-found bird I headed off along the beach to see if there was anything around. The dunes were pretty barren but there remained a few birds on the sea, though nothing new really. On the breakwater there was a bit more, including Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Curlew. Here though I picked up a real bonus for the day. I had set up the scope for some seawatching and just finished scanning when I spotted a partridge sized bird fly over my head with a long bill in front. I knew what it was immediately; Woodcock, at long last, having missed so many here it was on this day of all days. I stupidly went for the camera to try and grab a year-tick record shot but the bird pulled out and flew over the bay to the far side where I lost it. Either way, I was even more buzzing after that.
The rest of the walk was steady but not many birds. The only other birds of note though, were of great note. I was halfway between the town Seaton Carew and the Breakwater when I flushed a pair of Snow Buntings from the dunes. These were very dark individuals and certainly not as bold as I have had them in the past but still quite showy as the scampered along the dune. I tried to get a decent photo but alas the light was already dropping and it was not even 3.00 yet. My efforts all came out blurry but I managed one that is good enough to put on here as a record to these great birds.
-Snow Bunting
Though my train was not until 19.20, with the light fading and the birds almost all gone I decided to catch the 15.20 train and wait around in Darlington for my reserved seat. I ended up spending four hours in Darlington Station so got very familar with it, while having a kip, a pint and getting some work done, so not all bad. It also gave me a chance to reminisce on what had been one of the best days birding I have ever had. Not bad, not bad at all.

Species List:
Seaton Snook: Cormorant, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Curlew, Starling, Collard Dove, Mallard, Little Grebe, Woodpigeon, Feral Pigeon, Isabelline Wheatear, Carrion Crow, Eider, Oystercatcher, Blackbird, Common Teal, Skylark, Little Egret, Common Scoter, Reed Bunting, Robin, Pied Wagtail, Red-Throated Diver, Great-Crested Grebe, Rook, Greater Black-Backed Gull, Dunlin, Woodcock, Linnet, Snow Bunting, Black-Headed Gull, Sparrowhawk,

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