Saturday, 18 May 2013

Dusky at Dawn

Plan A today was to sow all my Mangel Wurzels, rotavate a large area of ground and empty out the second pig stable. Oh, and to treat the four new lambs for flystrike.
For the year is flying by and, as usual, I have queues of young plants waiting to go outside into beds which are not yet ready. I am much more on top of things than in previous years, but a few more days hard toil is still needed.

So it was that, before first light, I found myself parked at the entrance to Margate Cemetery! Thankfully, without the rotavator.
For at just past 11 o'clock last night the pager had whirred into action announcing a Dusky Thrush in Kent, my old stomping ground, present for the last three days.
A quick internet search revealed a photo of the bird from 15th May, identified as a Redwing.

To put this bird in context, the last twitchable Dusky Thrush in Britain was FIFTY THREE years ago. That comes in the Birds Before I Was Born category.

So after just one hour's sleep, there I was at 4.15a.m. waiting for it to get properly light. There were fewer cars than I expected. I think petrol costs these days lead people to wait and see if the bird is still present before jumping in the car. A fair few people were either in bed or the worse for wear by 11 the previous evening, so will have woken up to some most exciting news.
Anyway, it was very good to see a few old friends again. By and by more truly gripping photos of the bird appeared on Smartphone screens, giving us some vital clues about where to start looking in this vast cemetery.
It wasn't long before the gravestone which featured in one of said photos had been located, and then began in earnest the tense wait. Could there really have been a Dusky Thrush in this corner of Kent for the last three days? And much more importantly, would it still be there on this fourth day?

It felt like an age, but at just before 6 o'clock a soft whistle led to a minor stampede of birders across the cemetery. The bird had flown in to the top of a tree, looking to return to its feeding area.
But before many people could get views, off it went. But it didn't take long to get found again, or to fly off again. At least this time I got brief flight views, but not enough to tick the bird.

The bird's third appearance (in a thankfully short time) was much more satisfactory as it perched at the very top of a tree on the edge of the cemetery.

The sense of excitement, mixed with relief and joy, at the moment I set eyes on the thrush is something that probably only fellow twitchers can begin to comprehend.

The next couple of hours were more leisurely, spent catching up with old friends and trying to get better views of the bird. It continued to keep its distance, clearly perturbed from returning to its favoured area by the sudden appearance of a couple of hundred people. (Though behaviour was actually very good. Thank goodness this was the older, historical part of the cemetery.)

I eventually got some much better views of the bird perched in a small tree in front of me and it was time to head back to Lincolnshire. Not before a quick stop at Reculver towers where I enjoyed some excellent views of a ringtail Montagu's Harrier. But these days I can no longer manage on an hour's sleep, so my journey home was punctuated by an hour's nap in a layby.

Eventually I pulled back into the farm in the early afternoon, only to find my friends visiting to help us out with the lambs. I had secretly hoped they might have been over in the morning and the job would be already done for me.

However, the lambs are becoming much tamer and keeping them in place for long enough to squirt the treatment fluid along their backs was no problem. I only had to catch one of them, the most timid, which we have realised appears to be a girl. More on the lambs in a post to come soon.

I still had time to get those Mangel Wurzels sown too.
For more information on these, just follow this link:

There was time too to cut about 10kg of rhubarb from Don's rhubarb jungle, which Sue spent the evening turning into 1910 Rhubard Chutney and Rhubarb Ketchup.

At about 8 o'clock, just as I was composing this post, the pager began wailing again. With three lifers, this year has already outstripped 2012, but another one would be most welcome. I jumped up and grabbed the pager expectedly, but it carried news of a Collared Flycatcher in Yorkshire. This is a bird I'd like to see, but it's on my list so does not take priority over all the jobs I've got to do here at Swallow Farm.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring. The plan is to continue preparing veg beds and moving young plants outside.

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