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Sunday, 13 April 2014

MEGA TWITCH! CRAG MARTIN!

Gannet at Bempton Cliffs RSPB

I have had a crazy, crazy top draw day!

CRAG MARTIN
Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

I needed some excitement – Saturday had been pretty boring. Going on a big twitch outside Norfolk is always exciting, gets the heart racing, the journey and banter (A.W. & J.L), breakfast in MacDonalds at a bizzare hour, seeing the bird (only dipped once), the lack of sleep (not) – I just love it, every single minute of it!

So...... Andy and I discussed on Saturday evening about twitching the Crag Martin. The way I saw it was, that to have any chance of seeing this mega bird, we needed to be there at first light – in hope of seeing it leave its roost site. 'Early bird catches the worm' and this certainly paid off today! As Andy says 'If you snooze you lose'! Sadly J.L was not able to go, but had already seen Crag Martin in UK anyway, so the crew consisted of just Andy and I. For a change, I decided to drive. Initially Andy was undecided, but phoned me back at midnight when I had just finished writing my blog for Saturday, to say he was having a quick shower and he would be over in an hour and a half. OMG!!! This was crazy, no sleep then!!! I got all my gear together and bundled it in the boot. I had already made sandwiches, as I had planned to see the Red-rumped Swallow at Felbrigg and then do Blakeney Point, so just flasks to make. Flew in the shower, fresh clothes on and then Andy turned up with a 'morning' greeting! A very quick coffee for both of us and then out of the door at dead on the planned departure time of 2am.

I was shocked at how awake I felt driving with no sleep whatsoever, adrenalin and excitement I suppose! We had planned to hit MacDonalds for breakfast before we got there, but unbelievably we didn't pass any, so had to make do with my chucked together ginger & marmalade sandwiches. Two loo stops on route – my god it was cold out there! Fantastic seeing the Humber Bridge lit up! The toll charge was £1.50 each way.
Sunrise at North Landing, Flamborough Head.

Somewhere on the cliffs a Crag Martin was waking up!

Andy Wilkinson. Norfolk birder Phil Heath on far right.

Some of the 'first lighters'.

Flamborough Headland.

Moments after seeing our first UK Crag Martin!

North Landing Beach, Flamborough.

135 miles later we arrived in the carpark at North Landing, Flamborough Head at 5am. There were a few other birders here already. We reclined the seats down and snoozed until first light. Lots of other birders continually arriving, banging doors, loud talking, no more snoozing! Got out of the car at 5.50am. It was wickedly cold this morning and the wind cut through you. It was so cold, it was like getting out of the car in your pyjamas! I spent far too long getting my coat and waterproof over trousers on.  Several familiar faces here including LGRE. My fingers were in so much pain with the cold that I had to swop them for mittens (always warmer). The scenery before us was stunning beyond belief – high cliffs, tons of seabirds swirling below us and the excitement of potentially seeing a new mega bird – a CRAG MARTIN! Birders were lined up and ready. It was eyes to the skies, searching for this mega bird. As the sun rose, we decided it would be better to stand near the cafe so that the light was better. Moments later someone had clocked onto the CRAG MARTIN coming in over the cliffs at 6.29am, nearer to where we were standing originally. We all ran over to get the best views on the cliff edge. I only watched this awesome bird for less than a few minutes and was just about to start taking pictures, when it sped off with Sand Martins and disappeared from view. I was over the moon that we had seen this awesome bird, but gutted that I didn't get a single photograph! It was such the briefest of views – I know this sounds greedy, when other people dipped out, who arrived later, but I would have loved to watch this awesome bird for longer, to study and enjoy it properly, but I should count my blessings that I actually got to see it all! There were lots of relieved and smily faces! Several other Norfolk birders were here, including Dave Holman, Richard 'the hat', Phil Heath, Will Soar and others.
Flamborough Headland.

Tawny Pipit – honest!!!

I wanted more of this bird, so we followed the cliff path to re-search for the Crag Martin. We then heard that the recent Tawny Pipit had been re-found a bit further along the path in a field. We walked to the spot at a fairly decent pace and stood with Will Soar (RBA), LGRE etc and had good views of the TAWNY PIPIT at 7.20am in a grassy field. The usual conversation then ensued, about people getting too close when others hadn't seen it yet, so I walked away, having only achieved smudgy out of focus shots on my camera. We then heard news that *people had got the Crag Martin again and that it had also been seen sitting on a cliff edge – we could see were they were watching the bird..... it was between us and North Landing carpark – it was only seen for a few minutes and then lost to view again. We had been standing in the same area only a short while ago. *Read about this and see cracking pictures HERE. I walked back to try and get some pictures of the Tawny Pipit, but by the time I had walked around all the other birders/photographers the bird had just flown, unluckily for me. Cracking pictures of this bird taken today HERE.

Not long after this, news broke of the Crag Martin flying round in the Lighthouse area. As Lee said, as we all looked at the distant lighthouse – it was further to walk there, than the long walk we had just done from the North Landing carpark. So the choice was, leg it to the lighthouse or walk back and get the car. Andy went off to the lighthouse. My gut feeling was that this Crag Martin would be hanging about all day now and I am a great believer that birds have their favourite spots – I didn't want to walk to the lighthouse and then hear that it was back at North Landing, so I opted to stay put – this more than often pays off. Now most people had left, I sat myself next to the Tawny Pipit field in hope that it would return – it didn't! Andy then appeared and said he didn't go as far as the lighthouse as news came out that it had disappeared again at 7.50am and that was the last time it was seen that day.

We then decided to return to the carpark and re-locate to the lighthouse in case the Crag Martin showed again. Still a good number of birders waiting patiently at North Landing carpark and late comers arriving. On arrival at the lighthouse, it was clear from the relaxed state of birders lined up, that the Crag Martin was not currently on show! I felt close to collapse now and we needed to eat, so we had a full breakfast and opted to sit outside, even though it was bloody freezing, yards from other birders so we didn't miss anything! My vegetarian breakfast didn't score a 10 out of 10 with the bean burger being rock hard around the edges, but the eggs, beans and toast were yummy and it made me feel a whole lot better afterwards. Aside from the freezing temperatures, it was a glorious sunny day. No further signs of the Crag Martin. Decisions, decisions, what to do next? I really didn't want to leave here at all, but Andy suggested we go to Bempton Cliffs RSPB for a while and then return. As he said, if the Crag Martin appeared again, we would only be 3 miles down the road, so off we went. Unbelievably I have never visited Bempton Cliffs, so I was really excited about visiting this reserve.

Gannets and Kittiwakes at Bempton Cliffs RSPB


Bempton Cliffs RSPB
Parked up in the carpark and had a wonderful time watching loads of resident Tree Sparrows: on the roof of the visitor centre, bird feeders, on the grass, in the bushes – I reckon there must have been at least 30+. We watched 13 together feeding on the grass alone, wonderful views and lots of pictures taken! Other birds seen with them were: Hedge Sparrows, Chaffinches and Goldfinches. The visitor centre supplies basic snacks and coffee & teas.

Walked down to the cliffs to the viewing points – absolutely incredible views. I hadn't had cliff and seabird views since I went to Fair Isle in 2010. This lifted my spirits massively. It was awesome standing here watching and listening to thousands of sea birds swirling round the cliffs – Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars and Herring Gulls. We also found 2 Puffins sitting on the sea which was an added bonus! We moved to a different viewing point where the gannets were much closer. I had a fabulous time taking hundreds of Gannet pictures and also Fulmar and Kittwakes! It was fascinating watching the Gannets landing, to gather grass for their nest sites – got several shots of this. Andy said a bit later 'when you have finished taking your one millionth picture of gannets, shall we go and have a coffee? Andy doesn't get the photography thing! I love taking birds in flight – its more challenging and very rewarding and I got some cracking shots – well I think I have..... I haven't looked at them all yet! Apart from a couple of skylarks we didn't see any passerines on the cliff tops.

Back at the visitor centre we had a coffee and shared a chocolate brownie, whilst watching the Tree Sparrows again. We desperately needed a nap. Andy wanted to nap here, I wanted to nap back at North Landing. Napping at Bempton mean't a 3 mile race if the Crag Martin came up again.
TREE SPARROWS
Bempton Cliffs RSPB
Chaffinch by the feeders, Bempton Cliffs RSPB.
 Jackdaw by the feeders, Bempton Cliffs RSPB.

 
GANNETS
Bempton Cliffs RSPB

Gannets and Kittiwakes, Bempton Cliffs RSPB.

Kittiwakes, Bempton Cliffs RSPB.

Fulmar at Bempton Cliffs RSPB.

Great Black-backed Gull (juv.) at Bempton Cliffs RSPB.

Kittiwake, Bempton Cliffs RSPB.
North Landing, Flamborough Head
Back in the carpark, we reclined the seats and snoozed for an hour. We felt loads better afterwards. There were still birders sitting on seats, waiting and hoping. We ate the cheese sandwiches that I had made and had coffee from the flask. I left Andy sitting here whilst I trekked back over the cliff top path to try and see the Tawny Pipit and get some decent photos. I passed a birder on route who said it was not showing and the last he had heard, was that the Tawny Pipit was last seen around the lighthouse area. So I didn't walk to the field where I saw it this morning and instead turned back and walked over to the edge of the cliffs to sit, photograph and watch distant seabirds. Got some arty farty shots of Razorbill sitting on the sea and some Kittiwake gliding past. Panoramic views and arches in the cliffs  – it was so beautiful here, so much scenery to take in and I didn't want to go home.
Razorbill at Flamborough Head.

Kittiwakes, cliffs at Flamborough Head.

Razorbills & Kittiwake, North Landing, Flamborough Head.

Kittiwake at North Landing, Flamborough Head.

Razorbills & Guillemots, North Landing, Flamborough Head.

 Kittiwake at North Landing, Flamborough Head.

North Landing Beach, Flamborough Head.

Back at the carpark Andy and I had a coffee from the cafe and I bought us some scrumptious buttered cheese scones for only £1.20 each (far cheaper than certain places in Norfolk!) to eat later on the homeward journey. We sat on a seat overlooking the beach and cliffs drinking our coffee. More birders were now turning up – maybe they were thinking about yesterday's afternoon sighting – would this bird return again? With more people turning up, I didn't want to leave, but we had to, with no sleep since Friday evening and over 3 hours before home (and another hour for Andy), we sensibly had to leave. So we set off at 3.50pm.
Starling on the wires in North Landing carpark.

Birders hoping for the Crag Martin to show this afternoon.

We stopped once for our cheese scones and coffee. I had to stop once more when we had reached Sutton Bridge – I just had to, I was losing concentration. Shut my eyes for a few minutes and then carried on, reaching King's Lynn at 7.30pm. Filled up with diesel which cost £39.90 – we had done 293 miles in all, cost was better than I had expected, so that was good! Andy transferred all his gear into his car and went straight home. It seemed to take forever to unpack my car. Got straight into the shower. Finished my fruit salad. Wrote up the Norfolk bird news up on my blog and then started to write up today's twitch, but started falling asleep, so had to stop. A cracking day out with, as always excellent company, but missed Justin's banter! I'm usually lucky getting photos of rare birds, so its massively disappointing to get nothing at all. I think I might have a distant shot of the Tawny Pipit on a post, but will look at pictures properly later.

Looking forward to the next twitch!!! Easter Weekend? I still might have a chance of photographing the Crag Martin if it turns up in Norfolk – here's hoping!

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