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Saturday, 25 September 2010

Mega Empidonax Flycatcher (but which one?) on Blakeney Point

A Mega alert which I first found out by looking at BirdGuides and confirmed on Suffolk BINS at 1.15pm alerted me to the amazing news that incredibly an American "Empidonax" Flycatcher had been seen in the Plantation on Blakeney Point, North Norfolk. Empidonax Flycatchers are notoriously difficult to identify in the field. Ringing around most Premier League (or should that be the Ryman League) Lowestoft birders were following the fortunes of their beloved Lowestoft FC down at Stratford in Essex, where are your priorities boys??
Finally managing to give a lift to Ricky F, we made our way up to the Point, parking at the Cley Beach car park. 
We then started at 3.40pm, what was the most arduous 3 miles walk I have ever undertaken, we were battling force 9 Northerly winds blasting right at us as we trudged along the seemingly never ending shingle ridge towards the tip of the point. The shingle made you feel you were taking a stride forward but slipping half a stride back! The weather threw everything at us from heavy rain, to "hard as nails" hail that stung your eyes incessantly, but doggedly we finally trudged our way dragging our bedraggled soaked carcasses to the Plantation after about an hour's walk!
It was good to see both Paul N & the Dereham boys in the near distance as we neared the Plantation and they gave us the thumb's up!
A group of around 70 birders were standing inland of the Plantation and I saw John H & Ian M briefly, Baz H very kindly said we needed to go on the left hand side of the group if we wanted to see the bird. It was also nice to see regular correspondent Paul W as well.
After 15 minutes a shout went up and I picked up the bird 4 foot of the ground perched on a branch just left of the main trunk of a Sycamore tree. A stunning bird, it had it's back to us showing a grey- green back with 2 white wing bars and thick creamy- white tertial edges were clearly discernable. It looked large headed and had a grey-green head and white complete eye-ring as it looked to the right.
I watched this stunning bird for 2 minutes before it flew back and out of sight.
After 20 minutes a shout went up where it had flown over to a smaller sycamore tree behind some Lupins. It was seen again just above the Lupins by the tree trunk but frustratingly some sycamore leaves in the foreground completely obscured bird at the angle I was and I didn't see it on this occasion, although I did see a shape fly down.
Finally at 6pm, another shout went up, it was just right of the sycamore in a bare bush. It then flew and perched right out on a horizontal branch in full view (very close to some fence posts within the plantation) for around 2 minutes, sadly the final 1/2 minutes was marred by some heavy rain. The bird was perched facing left and showed a yellowish wash on the breast and white belly with a white throat and also with a noticable darker greyish left breast side. Again an absolute stunner of a bird!
With these features, some are calling it a "probable" Yellow- bellied Flycatcher. I don't think Willow or Alder Flycatcher, should be ruled out, the pictures I have seen tonight on the web and my observation make me lean towards this latter pair. Whether it will be ever specifically identified I don't know, trapping it is the only answer but the weather conditions and concern for the safety of the bird may rule this option out. I'm not sure, Whatever it is, it's a first for me and for Norfolk! Very sadly, I can show you no shots of the bird due to the poor weather conditions and brief views of the bird.
Other people at the twitch included LGRE as always selflessly shouting directions and getting people onto the bird, the Suffolk contingent included Matthew D, Craig F, Nick A & Roy M.
By now, I was beginning to shiver (the effects of being soaked through and the strong wind) and Rick and I decided to leave. On the way back I saw 1 and then a group of 3 Dunlin which called as they flew on the beach. As the light was beginning to fail, we encountered an injured Common Seal pup on the beach which was manhandled by LGRE's friend & moved into cover. The Seal pup sadly had a bloody foot and the Seal rescue service were called.
Finally in the pitch black, after what seemed an eternity, but must have been around an hour I met Rick back at the car park and we drove back home.
Norfolk's now had a Red- breasted Nuthatch and an Empidonax Flycatcher but still no Red- eyed Vireo (my favourite bird (excluding the Owls), you know why!) Maybe I'll find one in Great Yarmouth Cemetary!
 

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