Call me shallow, but 2 Smew, 4 Long-tailed Duck, a Ring-necked Duck, a Scaup, 2 Great Northern Diver, a Black-necked Grebe, 7 Great White Egret, 2 Cattle Egret, 2 Rough-legged Buzzard, a Merlin, 4 Hen Harrier, 11 Marsh Harrier, a Siberian Stonechat, a Grey-bellied Brent and an Eastern Yellow Wagtail have convinced me that there is perhaps more to birding than repeated visits to Wanstead Flats. Add to that a supporting cast of thousands upon thousands of seven other species of geese, and countless waders and ducks in fabulous scenery, and I am sold. Re-sold.
This of course is something I used to do a lot, but for whatever reason I fell out of love with it. I have no idea why, it was terrific. There was some driving of course, but not the mind-numbing hours and hours that a long-distance twitch incurs, and most of it was done in the dark. And the rewards at the end of the journeys was frankly staggering for someone numbed by the weekly routine of urban birding.
That is not to say that the weekend was perfect in every way. My metaphorical spectacles are not so rose-tinted as to be able to deny some of the more unavoidable aspects of birding the North Norfolk coast in early January - that is to say that I felt rather as if we were in a procession of sorts for most of the day, seeing the same birds as everyone else. A shuffling doddery green-clad procession... One man I saw four times, and to be fair he could have said the same about us. Were I to spend all of my time up there I expect that it would drive me stark-raving bonkers, however the excitement of a fresh year list will no doubt wane shortly and my next visit, whenever that is, will probably be rather calmer. The birds were good enough that none of this really mattered, and the landscape vast. At any other time of year you could probably find a few spots that get no visitors at all.
|Out here were 7 Marsh Harrier, 3 Hen Harrier, 1 Merlin, 1 Peregrine and 1 Sparrowhawk.
Suffolk and Essex were far less busy, neither are on the birding map in quite the same way, and I suspect that I will head back there first. Abberton, immense, was exceptionally good. Freezing but excellent. Wanstead has had so few ducks of late, Abberton has thousands, and I spent a happy hour or picking through flocks of Teal in the hope of a vertical stripe. A vain hope... Neither could we dredge up the Black-throated Diver.
This of course was before I remembered to buy a Double Decker. This delectable confectionery is often thought of as an autumn staple, but its mythical power can be unleashed at any time of year. As soon as there was one in the car we were unstoppable. Rough-legged Buzzards in the gloom, the Grey-bellied Brent after less than a minute of scanning an immense flock of Pink-feet, the Stonechat on view immediately - everything simply fell into place. The Wagtail showed brilliantly - a UK tick. Although there have been loads recently I have felt no urge to twitch any of them, but as a part of a big day out seeing gazillions of birds I didn't mind in the slightest.
So why was it so good? Because it was refreshing. I have not done any UK birding like this for simply ages and it felt really good, just like birding abroad. My last visits to Norfolk, Suffolk and coastal Essex were all in 2016, and very simply I was ready again.
Here's to 2020.