Friday, 13 April 2012

Smash'n'Grab Waterthrush

Thursday 12th April 2012

I travelled 370 miles to capture this sunrise!

Chris came round to the farm at about 6 on Wednesday evening. The Short-eared Owls put on a real show for the visiting birdwatcher, with one flying along the dyke, then another two giving excellent views in stunning light as they hunted over the bottom of the garden.
Our planned venture was risky and we would need this luck to stay with us if it was to be successful.

With a clear run, we covered the 370 miles from Lincolnshire to Penzance in under six hours. We parked ourselves up on the waterfront and settled down for a comfy night's sleep in the car, which got decidedly chilly about 4 a.m. Chris is retired now, and I think it's a few years since he has roughed it like this.

At least, being so far west, we had an extra half hour before the alarm went for sunrise. I drove round to Newlyn, where the rising sun would light the harbour, with St Michael's Mount and the bay in the background, and waited for the sun to peep its head above the horizon. We were not disappointed.

Back to Sullivans in Penzance for a morning coffee. Chris had some toast with his butter!
Then down to the booking office where we ambitiously booked a day return to St Mary's on the Scillonian III. This would give us just over three hours to find the bird, or 27 if we needed to stay over!
I used the 3 hour crossing as a chance to sleep, just in case we actually did need to drive back to Lincolnshire in the evening. It's amazing how the Scillonian can make a dead calm sea still seem rough and choppy. But this little boat has taken me to see many a rare and special bird, so it can be forgiven.

The weather was most definitely on our side as we approached the Isles of Scilly.

By just before 1 we had made our way through the 'secret' path into the back of Lower Moors. Thankfully we had a local to follow in there. As we ducked into the wet wood, a visiting birder informed us that our quarry had been seen earlier in the day. That was good news, but when I set eyes on the Waterthrush's favourite pool, my heart sank in dismay. A tiny patch of mud surrounded by dense foliage, with a vast expanse of similar habitat for it to lurk undetected. Anyway, birds are creatures of habit, so we clung onto hope.

We faced the prospect of staring at this muddy spot
for seven hours today and another eight tomorrow
... unless we got lucky.

Chris and Cliff, who we met on the boat, chose to quickly run off and see a WILSON'S SNIPE which was sleeping on the scrape in front of the ISBG hide alongside a Common Snipe, its European cousin. It was a lifer for both of them, so it made sense to tick it off quickly and come back to try for the Waterthrush, which we were fully prepared to spend two days trying to see if we had to.

As there were three of us left at the muddy pool, the visiting birder decided to check out another pool nearby.

Well, you can guess what happened about 2 minutes after Chris and Cliff left!! The Northern Waterthrush was located on the larger of the two pools. As I was steaking out the small muddy pool at the time, it was a nervous 20 yard walk to where it had just been seen. But it was still walking around by the base of the trees, dipping its tail slowly up and down, seemingly innocuous to our presence. After a couple of minutes it walked behind the trunks and into the irises and disappeared.

I watched the bird for a couple of minutes walking around HERE.

I tried to ring Chris, but reception in Lower Moors is SOS only. After about 20 minutes he returned, happy with his Wilson's Snipe but not so happy at the news about the Waterthrush. I began to discuss the options come half past three, when a decision would need to be made about going back to Mainland. Chris might be travelling from Penzance by train!
But then I heard the Waterthrush clearly call about six times. I went to fetch the birder who was watching the other pool and when we returned Chris had enjoyed a brief but satisfactory view of the Waterthrush. Pressure off!
That was to be the last we saw of the Waterthrush for the rest of the afternoon. Cliff never did see it. I hope he enjoyed his night on Scilly and connected with the bird in the morning.
Meanwhile I had taken a stroll to see the Wilson's Snipe, which was still present, mostly asleep, in front of the hide. It looked good, noticeably greyer than its congener, though it never moved and only woke up briefly.

30 minutes peace and tranquility inside the ISBG hide at Lower Moors.

At 3:30 we left Cliff on his own in the wet wood and strolled back toward Hugh Town and the quay, enjoying a delicious toffee'n'hazelnut icecream as we went.
The Scillonian waits at the key to take two happy birders back to Penzance.

Along the way we met Spider, who informed us that photos of the Wilson's Snipe showing the underwing barring did not look good.

The pager later announced ...
 The journey back aboard The Scillonian was not uneventful. First the announcement that we would be sailing with only one engine, delaying arrival by 40 minutes. Just what you need with a 6 hour drive ahead of you. Then, mid crossing, the announcement that we just needed to cut the engines for a while, but not to be alarmed. We drifted for a few minutes before the engine fired up again...for five minutes, then a repeat of the first announcement and another few minutes drifting. I glanced out of the window, but could not see the captain heading off in a lifeboat. Then both engines fired up and we were informed that the delay would now only be 20 minutes.

Off the ferry at 8ish, into Penzance 24hour Tescos (a strange, eerie place in the middle of the night, frequented by students and a lone security guard who has been there for years) for a much needed top up on crisps and coke (multipacks). A treat rather than a staple these days, and only when I need the fast fix to get me through a long drive.

At some time approaching 2 we rolled up back home in Lincolnshire (Chris still had a couple of hours back to Stutton Mill in Suffolk).

Four hours later the alarm went and I rolled out of bed to take this...

Friday 13th April 2012
I think we have had rain every day since the hosepipe ban!
 Then back to bed till midday! Ready for another adventure.


  1. Good result John! Did you dip it last autumn, or just play it VERY cool and wait?

  2. Dipped it by 2 feet in the Autumn. Same day as I ticked Black-and-White. Mr Buckingham saw it next to me, but it was obscured, then flew off! (across the path of Mr Bagnell!)I'd seen one in Ireland, so have been biding my time.


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