Sunday 19 February 2012

Wet in Wales

I've said it before and I'll say it again - twitching is a mug's game. My immediate reaction on hearing about the Gwent Yellowthroat on Thursday was "FFS". Not that it was such an unlikely bird in such an unlikely place at such an unlikely time, and that it was therefore amazing. No, it was that I had no desire to go to Gwent. Or anywhere in fact. Wanstead was where I wanted to be. In my house. Specifically, in my bed. Warm. And dry.

The weekend, as usual, had two days. In Gwent, one of those days was windy and really really wet. The other was nice and sunny. Guess which one I was free on? FFS. Of course I could have stayed at home, not hooned it off twitching, but that would have involved restraint. I blow hot and cold when it comes to twitching. Right now, and since about September, I am red hot. Why this should be I have no idea - it could be connected to work and being able to afford petrol again (though perhaps not for long - 150.9 on the way back....) So no, I couldn't stay at home, I had to go for it, particularly as if I didn't go, Hawky couldn't get there as he was busy Sunday too. Saturday was the day of spectacularly glorious weather in South Wales.....

Standing in the muddy field at 7:30am, protected from the gusting winds by a portion of hedge, I as usual questioned my sanity. I also questioned the sanity of Hawky, Nick, and 196 other people in the field. Everyone apart from Adrian - I already know he's mental. Needless to say there was absolutely no sign of the bird. We did see just about every other species Gwent has to offer though, all happy as Larry feeding in the hedges despite the cruddy weather. After two hours the cruddy weather got even better and it started to rain, drizzle at first, but then firming up to real rain. Real heavy rain. We gave up. After thanking the parking marshals, who did an amazing job, not only standing around in the rain all day, but also pushing cars through mud and into a field, we decided that rather than just be dippers, we should go and see Dipper. This we did, and got even wetter. Next stop, Cosmeston Lakes, just south of Cardiff, for a drake Lesser Scaup, a tick for Nick.

The photograph above is amazing, and it isn't because it shows a Lesser Scaup, which is a very rare bird. Check out the massive raindrop to the left of the bird - it's about a pint. At the Dipper site, we thought it couldn't possibly rain any harder. We were wrong. My raingear did an amazing job. If anybody wants to know how I survived Glamorgan rain, the answer is Aigle wellies, Rab overtrousers and a Rohan anorak. I remained totally dry on the inside, but you would not have known to look at me, I appeared as the proverbial drowned rat.

As we sat down to a well-earned bite to eat at the convenient visitor centre, Paul's pager bleeped. Can you guess what it said? Five minutes previously a small olivey-green bird with a bright yellow throat and a black face mask had popped out of a hedge in a now sunny Gwent. Piss. We ate up. Now a dilemma though, for Nick needed Bonaparte's Gull, which was between us and the Warbler. It would have been selfish to drive straight past it, though perhaps that would have been sensible, as in the event finding the right part of Cardiff Docks took about forty minutes. Happily finding the bird took about forty seconds when Paul located it dip-feeding on a water treatment tank. A few photos through a meaty fence, and then a high-speed run back to Rhiwderyn. We parked up where directed, and headed back to the field of misery. Dozens of delighted faces greeted us, including Adrian's. It had been showing well up to about twenty seconds previously, but was now getting chased across a field by about eighty desperate birders. We followed, to find a pile of people pointing into a copse and shrugging. More people were in the next field staring into a bramble. I looked and saw nothing, and then people were pointing again, and running to the next hedge. I briefly saw some movement in this hedge, and then nothing. Meanwhile people next to me were hugging, high-fiving etc. Nice. As the crowd melted away, leaving about fifteen people disconsolantly wandering around, I mentioned to Paul that we were probably stuffed. "I've seen it", he said. Eh? When? "Just now. You were next to me, I thought you saw it?"


I joined Nick looking at what was presumably the last known hedge. There was quite a lot in it. A Robin came through, but the hedge was so dense you couldn't really get much on it. Another bird was following it, but I couldn't even detect colour. I went up the hedge a bit, about halfway, to a smallish gap, where I waited. I spent a long time looking, intensely scrutinising the hedge, but the Robin never arrived. Instead a Dunnock went the other way. I wandered back to Nick.
"Did you see that Dunnock come past?"

The hedge clearly had black hole in it. This being the case I gave up and wandered to the next hedge, hoping for no cosmic phenomena. At this point we had about half an hour before we needed to leave. Then a shout! I shot back up to the previous hedge, to find some people staring intently into a dense bit of holly just up from where I had been staring. Nothing. No movement at all. I wandered down a bit, in case it should appear in the gap. Another shout! In the long grass! I went back up and did some serious peering. Nothing. And then there it was, in the open for about two thirds of second. A short break, and then it popped up to have a look about. About three seconds worth I reckon, and then it flew down the hedge about twenty metres. Needless to say my camera was safely tucked up in it's bag, my priorty being to see it. However thanks to a recent visit to New York and the magic of Photoshop I am able to share the spectacle. Note that I am so sad dedicated that just before we left I extracted my camera from it's bag to photograph the hedge specifically so I could create this.

Yes, the Warbler really did moult into adult summer plumage in the space of an afternoon...
So, another tick, the fourth this year, which for mid-Feb is ridiculous. Ratio of time in field to time looking at bird was very poor indeed, but what can you do? It was yesterday or nothing, and a tick is a tick, so all things considered we did rather well. So nearly a dip, but we snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and the duck and gull are excellent birds in their own right. A happy car headed east back to London.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a bit of a stress-out all right, but you have to go for kwality birds like that eh?

    My biggest twitch in terms of irish birders in Ireland was the Yellowthroat on Loop Head, at first light on the day after news broke, which did turn into a bit of a bun-fight at one point but I think everyone saw it well in the end.

    (Actually, there were lots more twitchers at the Canada warbler but most of them were tourists! And they'd all seen it by the time I finally got there anyway, so the stress profile was a bit different!)