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Saturday 18 May 2013

Blakeney Point and THE Red-spotted Bluethroat!!!

Blakeney Point

James McCallum and Ashley McElwee found the Red-spotted Bluethroat
at Blakeney Point and has made my day, thank you both!

I printed map and directions out very early this morning, thinking that I might be going with a friend to Margate to see the Dusky Thrush, but that didn't work out, long story and I didn't fancy driving alone, so stuck to my original plan of walking Blakeney Point.

Arrived at Cley fairly early this morning and started off at Walsey Hills NOA. It was really cold, dull and overcast. Found a pair of Blackcaps, the usual lovely Bullfinches, a couple of Chiffchaffs and that was about it really. Was hoping to find much more than this in here. I walked right round on the top path and just along this path by the round bales, I encountered some serious harrassment! By guess what – a blackbird, seriously! It was so funny! When I first saw the bird, I thought that it would make a nice picture, being as it was quite close, but I couldn't photograph the whole bird, as it was too close! It ran right up to me and was inches from my feet and then looked up at me and eyeballed me! I tried stepping back to take a picture, but it just moved closer to me even quicker! It's attention was diverted briefly by a nice juicy snail it discovered, but then tossed it to the side to chase me again! I was tickled pink by all this! I eventually got away! I saw Eddie in the NWT Visitor Centre afterwards and told him all about it. I also succumbed to a hot cheese scone whilst I was there, lovely! Later in the day Eddie sent me a text to say he was being harrassed by a blackbird at Walsey Hills! Eddie informed me that all the regular Blakeney Point birders had already gone out there! I had hoped to find something on the 'Point' today, maybe a nice bluethroat (they have had several along the East Coast today already I noted on RBA website). I nipped to Cleyspy briefly to buy another baselayer (bought one the other day and loved it so needed a second!) and then went to Coastguards.
 THE ASBO Blackbird at Walsey Hills!

As I was packing up my BP Rucksack ready for the day, the pager bleeped up with 'Norfolk, Bluethroat male, Blakeney Point between Watchhouse and The Hood' – I had mixed feelings when I read that message – excitement because I was just heading that way, but disappointment because I had wanted to find one myself! I was also right in thinking that James MacCallum probably found it – he did indeed I found out later along with Ashley McElwee! James finds most of the good birds down BP, if not all!!! They just fall at his feet, some people have all the luck, but to be fair he puts the hours in.

Richard Porter had come back from the 'Point' earlier and hadn't seen anything much, I bet he was disappointed to hear that! Andy Stoddart arrived in the carpark – blimey he must walk quick, by the time I had got my bag packed up he was gone – I couldn't even see him in the distance!

I started my plod across the shingle and just because I wanted to walk quick, it seemed like really hard work. I have had enough of shingle! Anyway, a few hundred 'ish yards after Halfway House (Watch house) there is a huge piece of old timber on your right hand side, shortly after this on your left is a bright yellow plastic container – this is the bird's favoured area. There were only a handful of birders there, but it was not in view as I arrived. I flushed the bird from the sueda in front of me and it landed – What a bird!!! The blue and red were vivid, a stonking male Red-spotted Bluethroat!!! I indicated to the others where it was and someone walked up from the lower path a bit too quickly and the bird sneaked back in the sueda again. I had only managed at that point, an out of focus shot, in other words a crap picture. I badly wanted a good picture of this bird, it was just awesome. Several of us stood at a sensible distance and excellent fieldcraft was carried out – no one spoke or moved an inch for at least 30 minutes – we were too good, we didn't get a glimpse for ages! Then everyone got restless and we all walked around in different areas. The bird was seen several times but incredibly shy and elusive and when it did show, it was only for a second or two, not even long enough to fire the shutter off. Andy Johnson was walking up the Point to see the bird and a bit later he phoned me and waved (at a distance) and said 'I have the Bluethroat here'. So we all re-located to near Halfway House. The bird was obviously ranging quite a distance, more then we would have liked! We saw the bird here and some people got some decent pictures with longer lenses, but sadly all I managed were more out of focus shots. Steve and Sue G. arrived and again with them, all we could manage was views of nano seconds and no photographs at all. I gave up and carried on walking to 'The Plantation' passing and chatting with Rob Martin (Punkbirder) and another man about birds, East Hills and rares etc. Rob asked if I had seen the Short-eared Owl, no I hadn't, but I did see it 5 minutes later just before I crossed over the short turfed area to The Plantation'. Also Marsh Harrier out here and a couple of Wheatears (at least).
 Short-eared Owl at Blakeney Point.

At 'The Plantation' I saw what was either a Robin or a flycatcher flick off the fence wire and back into the bushes at the back, but it was so quick I just couldn't see what it was. Very sadly, I didn't see it again, so I am telling myself it must have just been a robin. Two Willow Warblers in here, plus at least 3 Chiffchaffs, couple of Chaffinches and that was about it. Had a coffee and snack, chatted to two BP staff who asked if they could link my red-breasted fly pictures to their BLOG and then made my way back.
Blakeney Point

I searched hard for that bluethroat again and slowly walked along the shingle, close to the sueda and was going to carry on, but I refused to give up, so walked back again and re-traced my steps a second time. Suddenly a bird bombed out of the sueda and luckily into a smallish single sueda bush out on the shingle. I kept my eyes on this bush, there was no way I was going to let this bird sneak out of the back. I dropped to the ground and with camera posed, finger on shutter, I waited patiently. Suddenly the bluethroat crept out and appeared on the shingle, magic!!! It didn't seem bothered by the camera firing off and continued to feed. It just got better and better. The bird moved closer and closer, in fact so close I had to change the camera setting to Macro!! I didn't even need binoculars, it was only yards away. I just couldn't believe this magnificant jewel of bird in all its glorious colours was a few yards away and seemed happy for me to take pictures and even more fantastic was the fact that I was a lone observer. I had this bird selfishly all to myself. This was undoubtedly one of the best birding moments I have had. I have never been this close to a Bluethroat and probably won't ever again.

I know this is, as they say 'blowing my own trumpet' but when I looked at the viewfinder I smiled! They are still not perfect shots, they would have been better with more light. After all it was just after 7.30pm when I took these pictures, but they are not too bad at all!
Oystercatchers nest – look where you are treading!

My top tip for anyone going tomorrow morning would be to sit and wait for it to appear rather than stand. It is a very shy bird, even with only a small amount of people standing around.

I walked really slowly back, as I had no energy left at all and arrived back at Coastguards at a more respectable time of 9.30pm!!!! Well an hour earlier than Thursday anyway! Got home about 10.45pm.


  1. What a great account of a wonderful birding moment, Penny. One of those magical times you'll never forget. I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures.


  2. Cracking shots Penny.
    Great blog entry about the experience.
    I had the pleasure of spending a few hours of New Years Day 2012 with one of these fellas on Clonea Strand in Waterford. Had him down to 7-8ft - stunning wee birds!

  3. Fabulous shots Penny, well done. Just shows what you can do when you have the bird all to yourself!

  4. Thank you Floss and Sue!

    Just wish the light had been better – photographer always wants more!

    Sue – I notice on that you and Steve did get a shot in the end – lovely pic and light loads better in your picture.

  5. I'll give you your do Clarky ,you certainly put some time and effort in to your birding ,those pics are excellent and well deserved !! Congrats on a very entertaining blog

  6. It does help when you have two weeks off work, I don't normally have much time at all. 'Clarky' - havn't been called that since I was at school! Thanks very much for taking the time to comment.