Saturday 10th December 2016
A week and a half ago a Masked Wagtail turned up in South West Wales. This is a remarkable record of a subspecies of White Wagtail which is only found way over in Asia.
Normally I would be straight in the car when a first for Britain turns up, especially a showy good looker such as this. But from a pure listing point of view this bird counts as a zero! It is not judged by most listing authorities to be a species in its own right, just as our own Pied Wagtail is just another subspecies of White Wagtail.
Whilst a number on a list is not the be all and end all, it did mean that I assigned this bird a little less urgency. I even chose a Dusky Thrush (already on the list) over it last Monday. Another reason for my lackadaisical approach is that it would seem to be strongly holding a winter territory, giving grief to the local wagtail population and even doling it out to a robin, usually the toughest dude in the neighbourhood.
So it was that this bird had to wait till its second weekend to meet me. I left at midnight on Friday night, meeting up with Peter on the way. I hadn't met Peter before but he has a long and very distinguished career in birding. It was his birthday today, 81! I hope that at the age of 81 I am as mentally and physically agile as Peter. He stayed awake for much of the journey and kept me entertained and engrossed with stories of his life and of how the early birding scene developed in this country.
With a stop for a sleep an hour short of site, we still arrived an hour or so before first light and grabbed a bit more shut-eye.
At 8 o'clock it was light enough to get out of the car and start exploring the area. It quickly turned out that I had parked in exactly the right place, for after fifteen seconds of intense searching a wagtail flew over our heads calling strongly and landed in the middle of the road. A couple of minutes later it was performing right in front of us, feeding in the leaf litter by the side of the road. I won't bother to describe all its plumage. You can see from the photos which Peter has kindly sent me.
The bird often walked straight up to us and was totally unconcerned by our presence. Only passing cars caused it to fly off. It seemed to be following a routine, maybe a set feeding circuit, as it periodically disappeared for up to 20 minutes before returning.
One good thing about being so late to go and see this bird was that we had it pretty much to ourselves for much of the time. When we eventually left after a couple of hours the number of birders to visit that morning had only just reached double figures.
This was another twitch where the locals seemed very chatty and happy to see us. That's two in a row. If we're not careful, twitchers will be getting a good reputation!