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'11 Northern Waterthrush and Black & White Warbler Twitch (Fri 16th Mon 19th September)
At 8:16pm a life changing experience was about to occur. RBA put out a message” Probable Northern Waterthrush reported St. Mary’s Lower Moors from ISBG hide at 7:30pm”. Then things got worse at 8:54pm RBA stated “Scilly possible Northern Waterthrush reported St. Mary’s Lower Moors from ISBG hide at 7:30pm”.
When a bird gets downgraded from Probable to Possible it’s usually game over. After a bit of information probing the finders had a good track record of finding good birds and this was enough for a famous Garry Bagnell message. At 9:32pm pager announced “ W.Sussex Lift offer tonight to Cornwall tel Garry ???????”.
This unbeatable excursion was immediately snapped up by Hugh Price. Then a flurry of calls from people wondering, what the f??k I was doing.
John Lees arrived at my house around 11pm and we then drew straws to whose car we were taking. John lost and his red Kia was selected. 5 minutes later we picked up Hugh from Three Bridges railway station and then we were off to the land of delicious pasties.
I drove John’s car to Exeter services and then John did an hour or so and I then drove the final leg to Drift for a bit of well-deserved kip.
Once light was up, all 3 of us marched to the hide. No sign of any good birds but wait what’s that soft liquidy sound coming from my trousers. No I haven’t sprung a leak but my HTC Wildfire has received a text message from Vodafone. Which usually means one thing MEGA ALERT? My heart sunk as I slid the lock and selected the icon for messages. I was shaking with anticipation and quietly read the message “VodafoneMDS: MEGA Scilly presumed NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH St. Mary’s at Lower Moors from ISBG Hide at 7am”. To say I felt a wee bit excited is an understatement. I felt like ripping my clothes off and jumping into Drift reservoir and to sing my favourite song. Which is currently Lady Gaga’s Poker face. The only trouble is I don’t know the words apart from “po po po po po po k kk k k facccee”
Smiling like a Cheshire cat, I gathered up the Drift dippers and made our way to Scilly Big Boat Central in Penzance and waited for the ticket office to open.
Hugh was trying his best to dampen my enthusiasm on this mega rare warbler. Every time I mention the magic words Northern Waterthrush (possibly every minute at this stage), Hugh held his finger to his mouth and said “sssshhhhhhhhhh”
Shortly after 8am the Cornish lasses arrived to open up the ticket office. I just couldn’t wait to throw the credit card onto the counter and say “charge what you flipping well like, I missed one of these little beauties in 2008 whilst I was on a family holiday to Turkey…in fact I nearly come back for it”.
Once I received my ticket, I folded into 3 sections and placed it snuggly into my wallet and zipped it securely in my coat pocket.
On the Boat, there were surprisingly very few birders. I spotted Johnathan Lethbridge and David Bradnum and a few Cornish birders who I didn’t know.
Good Sea birds didn’t really appear till we passed Cornwall, when a couple of Manx Shearwaters decided to follow the boat. 4 or so close Storm Petrel was seen. I missed the Sooty Shearwater seen on the other side of the boat. It started to rain so I went for some refreshments in the restaurant. Weather improved so I submerged to the viewing deck. I had a nice conversation with Johnathan and we were making plans to having some beers when we returned to Cornwall that night.
THEN WAIT FOR IT…………..ANOTHER MEGA alert went off whilst on the boat. The message on the pager was garbled, but one thing for sure it was on “Scilly” and the bird had the name “Black” in it. What could it be… BLACK LARK possibly, no not a BLACK & WHITE WARBLER. Yes BLACK & WHITE WARBLER, confirmed by SMS message.
Breathe, gather my composure….is this a bloody dream? I certainly hope not! There has not been a Black & White Warbler in Britain since 1996. I twitched one that year that was advertised at Beachy Head (Belle Tout Woods). Sadly this bird was broadcast at the end of the 2nd day, which turned out to be the day it left the private garden. It was seen by many Sussex birders from an invitation from the proud garden owner.
Our boat docked and our carriage was waiting for us on the quay. John & I got hurtled towards Newford Duckpond on route we picked up Andrew Holden and Vicky Turner. No sign of Solitary Sandpiper, so next stop was Lower Moors for the two Yankie Warblers. From here, we took the trail and soon met Spider and Joe Pinder who told us which path to start searching for the Black & White Warbler. They said if you hear the Tit flock, it should be close. I located the tick flock within 20 minutes and they guy standing next to me was the first to spot it. I watched in awe has this beautiful buff flanked lady Black & White Warbler fed at close range unconcerned with our presence. I rang the news out and watching this beautiful creature for the whole three minutes it was on view.
Black and White Warbler (Photo by Ashley Howe, Sep-11 St. Mary's Lower Moors)
Next stop was ISBG Hide to look for the Northern Waterthrush. We were advised which route to take…I wish we didn’t listen. John & I must have spent 30 minutes fighting our way through an 8 foot high reed bed and some very prickly bracken. There was no turning back as we were too far off the beaten track. I felt exhausted, all I was carrying was a scope and tripod and my very heavy walking boots. I barely had the energy to lift my legs. I slipped and landed in bracken. I laid there for 5 minutes to regain some energy. I got myself upright by using my tripod as a walking stick. Once on my feet, I found a route onto a lawn and jumped onto it. I was still knackered, my legs were heavy, my heart was pumping, I was covered in sweat and all wanted to do was sit down and recover. But John who walked through the path I had freshly made through the reeds, had plenty of energy. I just followed him the best I could.
When we arrived at the ISBG hide, there had not been any sign of the Northern Waterthrush since 7am. We waited in the hide and enjoyed the close view of the nearby Pectoral Sandpiper.
Pectoral Sandpiper St.Marys from ISBG Hide @ Saturday 17th Sep (Photo taken by me)
There’s only so long you can sit in a hide with the main course not showing. I lasted about an hour and thought I might as well go and have a look for the Solitary Sand, Buff-breasted Sands, Bee-eater or Red-eyed Vireo. Got a taxi to Newford Duckpond and still no sign of Solitary Sand. A small walk around the corner at Borough Farrm and the Bee-eater was showing beautifully.
Bee-eater St.Marys near Borough Farm @ Saturday 17th Sep (Photo taken by me)
At 3:05pm, just about an hour and 10 minutes before we had to back at the boat and then Andrew Holden shouts out they’ve found the Northern Waterthrush at Lower Moors next to the Black and White Warbler. We then rushed towards Maypole and booked a taxi back to get us to Lower Moors.
On arrival at Lower Moors, we soon found the area the Northern Waterthrush had shown. A small pool nicely concealed within the Woods. But you guessed it….there was no sign til 4pm and we decided to get the boat back to Penzance.
My mood was instantly shite. I was leaving Scilly without the Northern Waterthrush, which was the main reason I put myself into Cornwall in the first place.
Back on the boat, the plan of spending Sunday birdwatching in Cornwall just didn’t appeal anymore. I just wanted to go back to Crawley once we arrived in Penzance. Everybody agreed they were happy to head back home immediately. My daughter Georgie had some homework (due to be handed in on the Monday) that I promised to help her with. Kim was in a bad mood that I hadn’t done Georgie’s homework before I left and her son Andrew had girlfriend problems (common occurrence) and he also failed his first driving test earlier in the day. I rang Kim to give her some good news; I announced “Kim, you’ll be please to know I’m coming home back tonight, should be home about 2am Sunday morning".
During the boat trip to Penzance we saw loads of Storm Petrels, Manx Shearwaters, 1 Bonxie and 2 Sooty Shearwaters, Grey Phalarope etc etc. I had a look at the pager whilst on the boat...bad move....the Northern Waterthrush was seen at 6:38pm and 6:43pm. Why the hell did I leave Scilly?? We were all due at work on Monday. I could have got Monday off as holiday and by now I would have seen the Northern Waterthrush. Never mind its only a bird. I might come back during the week.
At 7:15pm Hugh and I got off the boat before John and then waited for him to disembarque. Eventually John emerged, he was one of the last people off the boat and didn’t look very happy. John announced as soon as he saw us that he has lost his CAR KEYS.
John’s coat has about 1000 pockets, it only took 2 hours to check all of them and when we finished searching we can confirm John has definitely lost his car keys and now the nearby Fish and Chip shop has closed.
Next stage was to find out from the lovely people from RAC if they could tow the car home for us. RAC wouldn’t as it was not a breakdown..but they offered to send out a lock smith over to get the car open and then a key could be made to fit the ignition. They estimated it would cost £350 for the privilege.
John gave darling a ring (Liz his sensible half) to see what to do. Whilst all these exciting phone calls were being made Hugh and I were about to die from malnutrition. So with minimal energy levels we crawled around Penzance to find another Chippy. We did find one and I had Haddock and Chips, lovely chips but not a big fan of battered Haddock. I could talk about food all day…but this is a birding trip…right? So let’s fast forward to the dilemma that surrounds us.
Once we got back to John, there was very good news. Darling has tracked down John’s keys. Somebody had found them on Scilly and handed them into the local Police Station. Only trouble is, we can’t get back to Scilly till Monday morning. (Note: All Plane and Chopper seats were fully booked for Monday, so the only way to get John’s keys back was to go on the boat, Monday morning.
John decided he was going to stay in Penzance for Saturday and Sunday night and would go back to Scilly’s on Monday. He understood that Hugh & I were due back at work on Monday, and offered to pay a train fare for both of us to get back home. We couldn’t let him do that. We both simply refused his generosity. We certainly can’t abandon our mutual friend John in Penzance, it just wouldn’t be right. Hugh and I both needed Northern Waterthrush, whereas John didn’t. The chance of getting my 513th British & Irish had no bearing of us both holding John’s hand on the boat Monday morning. Did it?!
We wandered around Penzance for a B&B, first one had a spare room with only a double bed, second one exactly the same and the third B&B had one room left with twin beds. Bingo, John & I booked it for two nights. Hugh decided to splash out and check into a 3 star Hotel on the Penzance Seafront.
Later that evening John and I went out for a beer. We found a pub with one room containing a Band playing and the other with a Dartboard. I beat John 2-1 at Darts and John could have easily pulled the Village bike. Well to be honest, John only said “Hello” as their eyes met has he was getting the beers in. She instantly turned into his long lost friend. I just let them get on with all the chit chat… I do hope her breasts are ok as she accidentally kept brushing them on 20 different guys arms during the night. I spent the next hour trying to hit all the doubles on the dart board. Once I hit the bull’s-eye, I looked over my shoulder and I couldn’t see John. John disappeared around the corner and he was strutting his dance moves, to the music the band was playing. When I got him back we both slipped out of the pub and we both escaped without John’s new found friend realising.
I had a good night sleep in the B&B. I woke before John, got up and put my dirty clothes on for the 2nd day. Once dressed, John then got up. I’m not sure if John lost his Y-fronts during the night, but he walked around the room for ages showing off his wedding tackle. I’m pleased to announce John found them before we entered the breakfast room…which was full of holiday makers.
Breakfast was good and the mission of the day was to find a car hire company open on a Sunday. My HTC wildfire did the trick. A quick search on google and the time it took John to find his Y-fronts (bloody ages), I had found a Company who could deliver a car from the Marazion area direct to the B&B. Terrific! We booked them and within 15 minutes the car had arrived.
We picked up Hugh from the hotel and first stop was Drift.
Semipalmated Sandpiper Drift @ Sunday 18th Sep (Photo taken by me)
Spotted Redshank & Lesser Yellowlegs Drift @ Sunday 18th Sep (Photo taken by me)
Just as we entered the hide it was announced that the Semipalmated Sandpiper had just been flushed by a photographer. Anyway at least the bird was still here. We decided to walk to the opposite side of Drift. I soon relocated the Semipalmated, and seen very well by all of us. I fired off a few record shots and just around the corner were the Lesser Yellowlegs and a Spotted Redshank.
During our stay,I had a phone call from Sussex that there was a Pallid Harrier showing well near Arundel. I tried to forget the phone call had ever happened.t…nobody likes missing County Firsts do they?
Next on the agenda was a toss-up of seawatching at Pendeen (pager was currently advertising Leach’s Petrel and Sabines Gull by the bucket load) or having a look for the Black Kites near Porthgwarra.
John & I have both seen Black Kites in Britain. But the ones we had both seen were either Black-eared Kite (Lincs) or the long-staying potential Hampshire escape. I also saw one at Beachy Head… this was courtesy of viewing through Dave Coopers scope. This was way back in ’03, and I saw it just before it crossed the English Channel. This bird lingered for nearly 3 hours and I was the last person to see it in Sussex.
So clearly Black Kite would be worth seeing if seen well. Eventually we saw TWO Black Kites about 100 yards up the Porthgwarra road. One of the locals gave us the gen, in where to watch and after a couples of hours we all enjoyed good views.
Last bird stop of the day was Pendeen. John hates seawatching, so after 1 hour he retreated to the car for a sleep. Hugh and I soldiered on and enjoyed a busy sea bird spectacular.
Hugh certainly lived the dream, he connected (with Bins) on 3 separate passages of Long-tailed Skuas and I missed all 3 of them. However I did manage to find a few Sabines Gull’s, lots of Balearic Shearwaters, Bonxies, Arctic Skua’s etc. Not bad for a sh*t seawatcher hey? But not good either, if you are an active member of premiership listing fraternity. How would have I felt if I couldn’t get onto a Madeiran Storm Petrel or Fea’s Petrel, for example?
Hugh and I started to get cold and we went back to the car to wake John up. Back to the B&B. Later that evening all 3 of us went to Penzance for night out on the town. We started off in an Italian restaurant and at the end of night were still in the same restaurant. We stayed to about 10pm. I was certainly in the mood for having loads of beers, but something told me it wasn’t going to be cheap in this restaurant….and I was right it cost £10 for 2 pints of beer….and that included an inch of froffy head.
Sunday night, I just couldn’t sleep. I was excited about going for the Northern Waterthrush…why? One to two hours sleep is all I achieved…I love birds….but I hate them when they stop me from sleeping.
Woke up, and put the same smelly clothes on for the 3rd day. John & I left early to fill the car up with fuel, we then went back to pick up Hugh and then left the car at Penzance docks where the car hire owner was waiting for us. Said our goodbyes and toddled over to the Isles of Scilly travel shop. Got a day return on the boat and I realised that I left my telescope caps in the glove compartment of the hire car. The car was driven back from Marazion and I thanked them for their swift response.
All of three of us were tooled up and ready for action. On the boat it was nice to talk to Ollie and Josh Jones. During the cruise we saw a close Leach’s Petrel and a few Manx Shearwaters.
The taxi we booked on St. Mary’s arrived late. First stop was Solitary Sand at Newford Duckpond. No sign but it was nice to see Dan Houghton’s Blue-winged Teal.
Blue-winged Teal St.Marys, Newford Duck Pond @ Monday 19th Sep (Photo taken by me)
I then went to lower moors to have another stab at the Northern Waterthrush. I knew exactly where to watch from…so I made my way to the gnat infested cess pit of a pool. Many people were gathered around the pool, I sat on a tree stump until my bum became numb. I must have sat quiet for at least 3 hours.
At around 3:30pm my crew decided enough was enough and they were going to leave at 4:00pm to get the boat back.
At this stage of the game, I was quite happy to stay the night. I had about 20 gnat bites all over my face…and looked like a pin cushion. I got a bit restless and wandered off to other pool where Dave Mac was standing. After 15 minutes I left him and went back to original pool. Then would you believe it, Dave Mac whistled us over as he has just seen it.. I charged over to where he was and I on this occassion missed the Northern Waterthrush by 20 seconds.
He had it perched on an ivy covered tree branch and then it dropped into dense leaf cover. This was found at exactly 3:45pm. I felt we would have a chance at seeing it as the Northern Waterthrush was feeding in are with some large holes in the leaf cover. At 4:30pm if flew back to the same branch that Dave Mac had originally nailed it. I saw it very well at close quarters in good light with my Leica bins. I could see that it was a Waterthrush, I saw its long white supercilium and mantle and head colour appearing slate grey in the bright sunlight, and some breast streaking and then the bird was gone. I had the bird for only two second perched and a split second as it flew off from the branch towards an area of dense cover. Two others birders to my left, also saw the bird when I did. I asked for their names but failed to jot them down at the time. Please come forward as I would like to add your names to the write up.
Northern Waterthrush (Photo by Ashley Howe, Sep-11 St. Mary's Lower Moors)
I felt delighted that I finally connected; only 12 people saw this elusive bird on the Monday and 90 dipped. The boat had now departed and I decided there was now no point staying the night as it would cost me another night in a B&B, train fare or coach ride to Sussex, another meal etc etc. Andrew Holden has been on St. Mary’s for 3 days and only managed 5 seconds view of the Northern Waterthrush, so if I stayed the night I might have got 3 more seconds for an additional £200 and another day of precious holiday day leave used up, was it really worth it? I thought not, so I made my way to the Airport. I was very lucky as the helicopter was running late and there was one space left on the 7:15pm departure to Penzance. Which is due to get in, at exactly the same time as the ferry! I decided to book to book this last seat for £50. Between 4:45pm and 6:30pm, I managed to see 4 Buff-breasted Sandpipers and a Woodchat Shrike.
For some reason, Ashley Howe and Dan Houghton starting quizzing me about my Northern Waterthrush sighting. They told me “it’s not grey”. Do they think I’m cheating? With this sort of behaviour, I thought it was appropriate to justify myself…next time I certainly won’t try justifying myself to anyone. I’M NOT A CHEAT. I WILL NEVER CHEAT. IWOULD RATHER GIVE THE HOBBY UP, THAN ADD BIRDS TO MY LIST THAT I HAVE POSSIBLY SEEN OR NOT SEEN AT ALL.
To justify my sighting I took the time to google Northern Waterthrush images and asked random people at what colour they thought the mantle and head colour was on my phone. 10/13 said grey. If the Northern Waterthrush is seen in the shade, like most people would have seen it, of course the colour is brown but when seen in strong sunlight about 3-4 foot off the ground the colour does in fact look slate grey. One of the sunny photographs on Surfbirds, confirms the slate grey colour that I describing.
I would have loved to have watched the bird for an hour or so….but I saw the bird well, perched at close range in good light, through bins for two seconds and “Yes” I will be ticking it as Northern Waterthrush. The bird had been identified as a Northern Waterthrush by better prolonged views than mine. Two seconds view didn’t give me enough time to rule out Louisiana Waterthrush, but there are no rules in how long you have to observe a bird before you tick it. If the bird is seen well, why shouldn’t it be ticked?
I managed to get repatriated with John and Hugh at Penzance Heliport, and got to bed in plenty of time to do a full day at work on the Tuesday.
Costing to follow shortly.
Birdforum comment from Lee
Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Little Chalfont
Garry Bagnell saw the Northern Waterthrush for three seconds - probably two seconds longer than one guy who works for one of the pager services saw an Eyebrowed Thrush on North Ronaldsay and a Norfolk popular birding magazine editor saw a Mugimaki Flycatcher in North Humberside. There is no law that states a birder cannot count a bird he only sees briefly. Garry saw that particular bird very well - at point blank range - but frustratingly incredibly briefly. I see no reason why he should have to return to the islands to satisfy Dan Pointon
Birdforum Response from Dan
Join Date: Mar 2005
Lee, just a quick response to this laughable thread, in which you have done more U-turns than those on the way to East Hills last Friday...anyway, as for pleasing me, a ridiculous comment. I seem to remember on that hilarious programme that you are the one that needs pleasing as self proclaimed 'judge, jury and executioner', not least when it comes to Mr Bagnell, making him wait around for further views of the AYLG Awhen you hadn't even seen the bird in question. I also remember your comment a fortnight ago as you sat and laughed off said Waterthrush sighting "he would've seen a Wren at best!", as well as numerous other comments which if Garry still sees you as anything like a friend I think he would be extremely dismayed to hear.
On several threads now I have seen you comment "I don't know why I bother telling people what actually goes on...". Well I agree, I don't know why you bother, it's tiresome and does little but aggravate people often over topics you are clearly not qualified to comment on aside from facts you have gleaned from hearsay.
Don't you have a 'list of lists' to be getting on with anyway?!
Birdforum response from Lee
Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Little Chalfont
I am happy to supply the phone numbers of individuals that saw the Pacific Swift with me - email me offline. Some have told me though, particularly high-ranking listers, that they do not wish to get involved with petty squabbles and they are not interested in such nonsense
As for Dan Pointon's claims, I wouldn't speak to him if he was the last person on earth after what he did to CDRH and I on a certain twitch, so comments he claims I have made must have been made to somebody else. Garry knows full well what I think of his birding capabilities and experience and I am always badgering him over it and he does try - but one thing I do know is that he saw enough on the Waterthrush to know that it wasn't a Wren. The Wren account came from another birder I know.
My repsone to Birdforum
Join Date: Mar 2007
Thanks Lee. I've wrote about the Northern Waterthrush trip on my website, which maybe of interest to people that enjoy my write ups.
This will explain exactly what happened with the Northern Waterthrush Twitch.
I am 44 years old and have been a Nationwide Twitcher since '99, I can't see me ever getting in the Top 10 of the British & Irish Listers, so why do I get so much grief?
I just want to enjoy birds, places and people. Maybe I'm asking too much. Every bird I visit, people now recognise me. Most people are very nice to me. But a few members of the younger generation, think they know best and will try humiliate me at every opportunity they get. If you fall into this category I prefer you not to talk to me or ring me, as life is hard enough without constant backstabbing.
If people want to see birds for more than 3 seconds, so do I. But sadly its not always possible.
My birdforum repsone to Sylvia staffs
Join Date: Mar 2007