Gun Hill, Burnham Overy Dunes
Last night I was contacted by email, to ask for assistance to ID a Wheatear. The finder sent me four pictures and thought they were of the Isabelline Wheatear but wasn't sure – the pictures were taken at 2.43pm on Saturday and the bird was west from where the Isabelline Wheatear was. When I read this email it was very late – just before midnight and I was already falling asleep. To be fair the pictures were grainy and difficult to ID, well they were for me anyway! My first thoughts were that it was the Isabelline looking at three out of the four pictures, two of which were back views, one slight side on view, but the fourth picture was a front view and the bird didn't look right, but I wasn't even thinking about another species of wheatear in the dunes! So I passed on the pictures by email to Mark Golley who would ID this bird far far quicker and more accurately than me – Mark was luckily still up! My first email response from Mark was 'OOH ERRR.....', the second was 'Not a second Isabelline. Third species of wheatear in the dunes...'!!! The third email said 'my tired eyes think its a 1w female Desert' and went on to explain why (1.14am!). Mark looked at the picture again with clear head early this morning and confirmed that it was indeed a 1w female Desert Wheatear and put the news out to Rare Bird Alert! With permission from Mark, I emailed his analysis to the finder to whom I would like to thank for emailing me the pictures, it made both myself and alot of other birders very happy on Sunday! Though it was frustrating to know that Connor and I had searched this area thoroughly last night as I know others did too – a good number of birders were around yesterday – a Desert Wheatear was right there under our noses!!! Can't believe no one saw this yesterday!
So obviously I returned to Burnham Overy Dunes this morning! It was a beautiful sunny day. I did not get there as soon as I would have liked, which mean't there were tons of birders here already. There was some diabolical fieldcraft going on and different 'rules' for different people – the worst incidence I witnessed was for the Desert Wheatear when I first arrived (having not seen the bird yet). I joined a line of birders on the outer edge of the dunes at the western most end of Gun Hill. Below where we were standing, was a large area of beach/shingle and sueda bushes where the bird favoured to feed. One lady was standing by a small sueda clump at the far side – apparently she had boldly walked across the beach in front of everyone to photograph the bird yards in front of her – the bird obviously had flown and at this point no one knew where it was and she remained standing next to the bush in hope that it would return!!! It was completely selfish to walk across the entire feeding area of the bird – why did she think other birders were standing where they were!!! Also did she really think it was gong to return to the same bush with her standing so close!!! Eventually the Desert Wheatear returned (after she left) and I had a some cracking views of this gorgeous bird in the sunshine – it was covering a large area, including flying to the brick ruin area to feed and the roof of the boat shed. How fabulous to have an Isabelline and Desert Wheatear within yards of each other!
I witnessed birders and photographers far too close for the Isabelline Wheatear too and one photographer who was standing on the path at the top of the dunes only yards away from the bird – ok, so this could have been ok to do, but when I did a similar thing later on, but standing a long way away I got duly ticked off for the first time!!! I was standing at the top of the dunes and was in the middle of a rant to someone about watching birders walking across everyone else eg a line of birders were watching the Isabelline Wheatear half way up the slope of dunes, some with bins, some with scopes and a birder walks past in front of them all!!! Total rudeness! Why did he not walk behind them? Eddie was having a far bigger rant about this yesterday when the same thing happened to him – I won't repeat the language Eddie used!!! The lack of courtesy to other birders is sometimes quite shocking. Anyway, I then bumped into three very nice birders I had met last year who were telling me that photographers were getting awesome pictures from 'over there' (positioned half way up the slope). So, I started to walk round the top of the path (seaward side) so as not to disturb the bird to join the line of photographers, when suddenly the Isabelline Wheatear flew up onto the little path, directly in line with me! I stopped and didn't move. The bird disappeared behind a small sueda bush – I couldn't see it and it couldn't see me. So, as I often do in these situations, I pulled my hood up over my head to cover up the blonde hair, so I blended in more! I took a few steps forward slowly and stopped. The bird still wasn't in view, I took a couple more steps, carefully and stealthily. The bird then came into view slightly just to the side of the bush. Then a voice from behind me aggressively said "Are you going to walk into that bird?" I was quite taken back, as I was far from close to the bird and I would not have been walking much further than I was, but obviously he didn't know that. So I swung round and said 'are you being serious?' It made it all the more upsetting as I knew this person. I can't remember what his reply was now, but I explained that I wasn't that close and walked and turned back to talk to him, pulled back my hood and said 'I won't be needing this up now then will I then!' and stormed off seaward side to escape the crowds! He probably flushed the bird by shouting at me, it was certainly settled when I was standing where I was and he probably lost me my only chance of getting a half decent picture, so thanks alot! I'm getting tired of all photographers being tarred with the same brush – I watched a very selfish 'birder' later on in the day chasing the Isabelline Wheatear to watch at closer distances than a photographer would have been (seriously) and the bird flew off because of this! There are inconsiderate birders and photographers and there are some very considerate birders and photographers – just a pity we are not ALL considerate to both birds and each other at times! Rant over!
The best part of the morning was eating my lunch alone on a dune looking out to sea towards Scolt Head – what a beautiful day! A Black-throated Thrush popped up on the pager! Knowing that Connor R. was birding at Brancaster and doesn't have a pager, I phoned him straight away to let him know – understandably he wasn't overjoyed when he said he had just been birding in the area where it was found at Brancaster Staithe! Several people left Burnham Overy Dunes to go and see this rare bird, but were unlucky sadly, as the bird was only seen by the finder. I made the decision not to go until I saw a pager message saying 'showing well' – I made the right decision!
I spent the rest of the day away from the crowds and felt determined to find my own good bird. I spent hours trudging up and down dunes and walked as far as Holkham. I walked all around the west end of Holkham pines and found a Treecreeper at the base of a pine and 7 Grey Partridges. I also sat for a good while in the large dip by the big sycamore (where the Citril Finch was) waiting for something to appear in the scrub. Had a coffee and snack and sat in hope! A Robin was singing, a male Blackcap appeared, 2 Jays (not siberian!) flew across and a few Redwings erupted from bushes. It was highly disappointing to say the least! The light was beautiful though and I just love the variety of scrub at this end of the pines – especially the spindle trees with their bright pink fruits, holly, oak, holm oak, sycamore, bramble etc. I headed back through the dunes which was birdless, aside from Pink-footed Geese and the odd Cormorant flying overhead.
I spent the last of the day sitting on the edge of the beach watching the Desert Wheatear feeding on the shoreline at 6pm – it was lovely sitting here alone, watching this magical little bird all by myself. The light was too poor for photos. I carefully walked away and could still see the Desert Wheatear feeding, as I looked back one last time. Walking back in the dark and the dreadful mud was not funny, but the sunset over the pools of water was spectacular!
So, no we didn't get a Norfolk Siberian Accentor, but there is still time yet – please!
PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE ADDED