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Wednesday, 20 May 2009

After 18 Years – A Monster

The following piece was prepared for the Fylde Bird Club Newsletter (you may have seen it already)

It was first job of the day, there was no hot water from the tap in the Knott End kitchen of a family member and it had to be fixed... ever tried getting a plumber? (Any plumbers out there?) I'd changed taps before so off I went to do it , as soon as. It wasn't as bad as I had anticipated as I had spares with me and was done fairly quickly, but then there was the shed...

So it was mid afternoon before I left Knott End and I use lots of different routes to and fro, partly through boredom or at least attempts to prevent it, and I thought I'd call and get some organic vegetables from Bradshaw Lane, it's sort of on the way home. I called in but they had nothing available, however I had a very pleasant conversation with the farmer (sorry, no name) and colleague and we talked for five minutes about birds, particularly the owls, but not before I'd accredited myself by saying I was a new member of the Fylde Bird Club, as indeed I am both. There was talk of a butty bar for all those 'twitchers' who had clogged the lane trying to view the owls! (I feel a change in career coming on).

Needless to say, it was grey, overcast with rolling clouds storming in across the Fylde from the west and raining. Not a day to be standing around outside talking birds... stood there talking, I'm thinking, 'what's that on the wire up there'... no bins, poor light, and poor eyesight... couldn't see.

Back in the car, wet, the car is going to steam up and I can't really open the windows without more rain pouring in. Headlights on (it is that dark and overcast), wipers on and reversing out, I pull up at the exit and, on the spur of the moment, turn right and head off down Bradshaw Lane towards the feeding station, keeping my eyes open as I drive down the lane. In the back of my mind, I'm wondering about that Yellowhammer I'd seen four days earlier half a mile or so away and wondered if he or his mates might be about. I'd had an 'electronic conversation' on 'birdforum' website (thanks to Chris Batty) about finding yellowhammers in the previous days. Before the recent sighting days earlier, when yet again similar awful conditions and wasn't the best view I'd ever had, the last yellowhammer I had seen was quite a few years ago near Bartle Hall, outside Preston.

I haven't been to the feeding station on Bradshaw Lane before and wondered where it is, at least if I recce it now on what has to be a quiet time, I can hopefully come back when there is better light and might see something. Needless to say a large council wagon is on the single track road and as I am in no rush I pull up outside a farm and allow him to hurtle towards me and pass where there is plenty of room. Down past the farm, driving slowly, I see what looks like the entrance to the track on the left. Approaching slowly I pull into what is a lay-by as I had been told, making sure I'm not an obstruction and peer out through the rain-swept passenger window – yep, there's feed on the ground, this must be it.

Clear the windscreen with the wipers as best I can, the car is, and the windows are a little misty, I open the nearside window as the rain is forty-five degrees from the right... only the odd spot falling inside the car. Straight away there are one or two birds on the feed. Bins to the eyes and I can see a couple of female chaffinch. The rain has eased a little, wow a few tree sparrows drop in, a couple of male chaffinches, hmmnn and then yep, a yellowhammer. Excellent. No time at all. I scan the surrounding area, telegraph poles and wires, can't see much to the left because of the perimeter hedge, behind me the road and boundary hedges cut off any view, the field to right is wide, open and flat. The rain begins to ease.

Out in the field there are two male mallards and an oystercatcher. Further back there appears to be three or four pheasants. Four collared doves are sat by the telegraph poles. A moorhen is walking the track. Swallows are covering the hedge line and ditch. Meanwhile a few more birds return to the feed. Tree sparrow, yellowhammer, chaffinch, collared doves join the fray and the pheasant and mallard seem to have overcome my arrival and are heading towards the track across the field. Two dunnock and a male reed bunting land. Birds come and go from the adjoining hedge. Three male blackbirds are in the field and suddenly two pigeons land in the long grass... they pop across and begin feeding, only they are not pigeons!

Raising the bins, they really aren't good enough, my eyes need testing and I have to squint to view through one eye. Focus isn't great and the rain and moisture haven't helped. I can see now, they are not pigeons, but stock doves, yes definitely stock doves... a confirmed lifer for me, can't be bad. A woodpigeon has alighted... but what's that behind, a smallish critter is it a young chaffinch? The males are losing their breeding brightness and this bird's colours look muted. Can't be a young male chaffinch. It has some colour in it's chest, pale orangeish. It's head is a 'bit grey', which leads me to chaffinch, but no it has a bunting type beak... and it's pink! Pink beak? Hmmnnn... It also appears to have a yellow 'striped moustache' below the eye and around the beak.. young yellowhammer? Nah can't be. Odd. Young stonechat? I start to rack my brains (doesn't take long). Nah, this is a bunting. I need a better look. Focusing the bins as best I can, this bird doesn't seem as active as the chaffinches or sparrows and seems 'subdued' but happy enough. It's back is brown and barred and not unlike a reed bunting, hang on there are different species everywhere, at least 8 so far. The pheasants from the field join the fray. The stock doves et al.

Distracted I return to this oddball. I have a feeling this bunting is not from 'there 'ere parts'. Nah, I can't be THAT lucky. Clocked my yellowhammer with some good views and the stock doves are a confirmed first. Not bad. I've rattled off a number of shots with the digital camera, but I'm having trouble with the settings and the moisture. Focus isn't great and I try different focus and zoom settings, even the 'viewfinder' isn't great and 'camera-shake' is evident. (Mental note, put small tripod in the car in future...I could do with a cable shutter release too really). I'll have to see just what I have taken when I get back home... not promising.

Downloading always far far to long when you want to see just what it is you have. They are not great. I still have to sort many of them while I am writing this... usually takes me a week or two to really be objective and bin the rubbish. I need to confirm my stock doves as a lifer so up it goes onto 'birdforum' (as advised and thanks to Chris Batty, again). Best throw up that mystery bird... a reply is almost immediate... oh my word... oh my word. I need confirmation of this... no telephone numbers, could take ages, can't rely on email. Fylde Bird Club Report...telephone numbers for Paul Ellis and Paul Slade. It's only the latter I get through to. I explain. The excitement for both of us is contained. Paul gives me Chris Batty's numbers and I try calling him, while sending out emails to Fylde Bird Club Members. I can't get hold of Chris, I leave messages. I check the web again and the confirmation and congratulations are coming in. Gosh the whole world and his mother want to know where and when. I need confirmation before looking a complete idiot! It arrives. Half the Fylde lads have gone out to check it out. Confirmations keep on coming, Yes it is an Orlotan Bunting. YEP that's what I said an Orlotan Bunting.

Wow. I guess this is the reward for 'keeping my eyes open' all those years, seeing any movement, wherever I am, looking short, looking long, looking up and looking down... keeping my eyes open. An Orlotan Bunting a real rarity in the UK and Lancashire... I am just so pleased as a Fylde Bird Club member I was able to share it with other members, I now feel part of a club.

Just for the record there was at least, apart from this excellent Orlotan Bunting (male), 6+ Swallow, 4 Collared doves, 2 Dunnock, 6 Chaffinch (3 male, 3 female), Moorhen, 4 Tree sparrow, Yellowhammmer, Oystercatcher, 2 Mallard (male), Reed Bunting (male), 2 Corn Bunting, 4 Pheasant (1 male, 2 female, 1 juvenile male), 2 Stock Dove, 4 Blackbird (3 male 1 female), Greenfinch (and a partridge in  a pear-tree – that's just a joke!).

The last previous sighting on the Fylde, one of only four, was in 1991.


Brian Rafferty said...

Geoff. This really was a mega !!! A great reward for all the time and effort you devote to birdwatching and even better, recorded on camera under difficult conditions... Very well done

trapper 63 said...

Just luck!
Weather was awful and I couldn't believe my eyes. Took me a while to confirm and get out on Bird Alert but a number of folk manage to see it the same and next day.

Only problem is it has made me nervous about anything I see now I'm not sure about... and that is almost daily! You know how it is, you never get a perfect view, the light is odd, strange shadow cast etc.