So, distance travel is once again permitted, and twitchers are starting to twitch again! All it needed now was a Mega bird in England for twitchers to go to see (you still aren’t officially allowed to travel over the borders if you live in England!). Last week a true Mega was found, a bird that had only been seen in the UK 12 times before, a male Asian Desert Warbler. This one had been found and put out on the information systems late on Monday evening, too late for all but locals to see it. Even more problematical was that it was on Holy Island in Northumberland, a site only accessible when the tide allowed, the causeway being open for part of the day only. So Tuesday was the first ‘twitching day’ for most but, as mega as the bird was, other things in my life contrived to get in the way of me rushing up to see it. However, plans were made to head up on Friday if, and it was a big if, the bird was still around.
News was positive on Thursday with the bird still present at 7pm, although it then went missing earlier than on previous nights; was that significant or not? To travel all the way from Cheshire to Holy Island and the bird not to be there was a big worry, but my plans were to set off early and hope for news when I hadn’t got too far, so that I could divert and go birding elsewhere en route. And so I put that plan into action, getting up around 3.30am, grabbing breakfast and getting my gear in the car. After a fair bit of preparation I was on the road at 4.45am and holding my breath for positive news! On Tuesday news had come out at 4.18am, on Wednesday at 5.27am and on Thursday at 5.35am, but all these passed and nothing. The clock ticked past 6am and then past 6.30am; it wasn’t looking great. Then at 6.35am relief as Rare Bird Alert put out a notification on their website that the bird was still in the same area and showing and singing. So, with that news, I drove on with a more hopeful feeling, the miles just whizzing away as I continued northwards.
An online ‘route-finder’ had forecast a 4 hour journey but with no traffic at all this early in the morning I arrived at the causeway only 3.5hrs after setting off. A mass of cars in the first lay-by just over the causeway had me stopping and asking if the bird was still here and if it was accessible from this lay-by. A positive response to both questions had me grabbing my scope, tripod, bins and camera and heading out across the dunes of an area known as The Snook. After initially heading the wrong way, I soon spied a group of around 10 birders surrounding a lone pine tree, a sign that the bird was, or had been, in there; it was getting close now. On arrival fellow birders, several of whom I knew, informed me that the warbler was deep inside the pine. I could hear a sweet warbling trill which was the bird in question, but still no views of it. Then a movement and finally it popped out onto a branch and I got my bins on it, only to see it disappear back into the depths of the pine, a view, yes, but not very satisfying. But, with patience I soon had excellent binocular views and later had it full frame in my scope as it sang its little heart out, what a stunner! Asian Desert Warbler was well and truly added to my UK Life List, species number 499! Getting photos was another matter, the bird being so mobile and with me digiscoping, it was an extra problem. Several attempts were made with no success, but eventually the bird flew to a bare branch cluster and sunbathed before having a quick preen. Several shots were fired off and my task was complete! A few more birders were now starting to arrive and the bird had become more elusive, so to avoid unnecessary close contact in these times of Covid-19, I decided to head off, very happy with everything I had managed with this superb lifer.
As I travelled across the causeway I noticed several terns just off the road, so I decided to check these out and was glad that I had, as I added a new bird to my 2020 Year List, Arctic Tern. Inspired by this I decided to head to a nearby site just to see if there was anything around. So I made the short journey down to coast to Budle Bay, a site that I had frequently checked when staying nearby several years ago. With the tide being out, the reason that I had been able to drive over to Holy Island anyway, there weren’t many bird species present. Hundreds of Common Shelducks were out on the mudflats but I continued to scan in hope. Finally my patience was rewarded when I found 2 female Pintail in one of the gutters in the bay straight out from me, another year tick, great! A final sweep revealed another species which I had expected on this coast, but had given up on due to the state of the tide, namely Eider, with a female found again in one of the water-filled gutters. This was my final year tick of the day and I decided that with nearly 4 hours drive ahead of me that I’d set off home. As I finally pulled up on my drive at home I checked my tripometer for my mileage and it read 499.6mls! Ah well at least it wasn’t 500!! But it was well worth the trip and the adrenaline from it stopped any feelings of tiredness which could be expected after such a jaunt. This ‘high’ is something that I have felt many times before and is one of the joys of twitching, a much maligned part of our hobby but one that can fit in around everything else we do in birding.