9th October. Early October is always a great time for birding usually with an influx of unusual birds and I was determined to catch up with some today. My pass extended for a whole day so it was down to Cornwall to hopefully catch some American visitors. After a detour en route due to the M5 being closed, I still made it as planned for dawn at Davidstow Airfield. This is a disused second World War airfield, with its runways and taxiways covered with potholes, some pretty deep! I was here to try and find a wader that had been seen in pretty good numbers throughout the past month and one of which had been seen on the airfield over the past two weeks. Arriving and taking stock I quickly realised how naive I was in thinking it would be easy to find. The airfield was big and the bird was small! It was going to take some finding. Fortunately there were a few other birders in cars driving slowly along the runways, so after scanning for 15 minutes from the road, I also dropped down on to the airfield itself and began "wader-crawling"! Avoiding the biggest potholes I scanned from the car looking for any movement on the ground. My first birds of the morning were Wheatears of which there were dozens, virtually all fresh looking young birds. Other birds were Lapwing, Curlew, Meadow Pipits, Linnets, a couple of Skylark, Pied and also at least 2 White Wagtails. The weather forecast had promised wall to wall sunshine but other than a hazy orange globe at sunrise, there was no sign of it. It was cool, windy and after 45 minutes I'd seen only the aforementioned species and a large flock of Starlings. Driving down the runway again, I spoke to a couple going the other way who'd pointed the other two cars down to the far end. It had been found!!! Driving more quickly and concentrating on not falling down any holes I soon arrived to 2 chaps with scopes looking in the same direction - always a plus sign! And yes, there it was, a juvenile Buff-Breasted Sandpiper, feeding away happily alongside two Wheatears. I took the worst of record shots and had a peek through one of the scopes to see the elegant wader busily searching for food in the soft grass. One birder left and I chatted away with the other. He didn't mind if I used the car as a hide so I drove a little closer over the grass towards the bird which didn't flinch at all. Using a bean bag as support I then started snapping away, getting some nice shots in the grey light. I watched the bird for 15 minutes as it fed busily away coming closer and further away at random, unperturbed by some bloke in a car producing camera noises in its general direction. I swung the car round a little as the bird went in front of it and again got some cracking views and shots as the bird carried on with its feeding. It was a smaller bird than I'd expected with the nearby Wheatears not being much smaller than it and with my colour vision making it difficult to pick out from the surrounding vegetation, I was grateful that someone else had found it. Looking at the clock I decided it was time to move on, so with the bird almost picking food from under my tyres I moved away as gently as I could. Once on smooth tarmac again, the next stop was Wadebridge where another American wader had been seen. I wasn't too hopeful on this one as the only image I'd seen was a distant scope shot and arriving at 9:30 I was greeted by a scrape of very little birdlife! I had a quick scan through but other than a few Black-Tailed Godwit, some Teal and the usual Moorhen & Mallards there were no small waders to be seen, certainly no White-Rumped Sandpiper. I climbed up to the locked Tower Hide and could see nothing from the steps there either. I knew the high tide had been around dawn so my chances were slim and I later found out the bird had flown half an hour before I arrived. Never mind! From there it was back to the car after crossing the field and watching a Meadow Pipit trying to cling onto a fence in the strong breeze. Next stop was beyond St Austell and my most likely success of the day. Arriving at a very overcast Lost Gardens of Heligan and coughing up the expensive entrance fee I soon headed downhill towards the Swamp and to where birders and normal punters alike were being drawn. I knew I was in the right spot as a bridge over one of the lower pools was utterly rammed with people. There must have been sixty plus on this wooden bridge and as I struggled across, thinking it was just like being on a crowded underground train, I finally found a spot on the far corner where I waited for my first glimpse. The bird was hiding behind the thick vegetation but eventually I caught a glimpse of an eye and eventually a little more of the young Green Heron which was feeding around the edges of the pond. My first record shots were at around 1/10th of a second, handheld and being buffeted from all directions and as such were going to be rubbish! Once everyone calmed down a little and I also managed to wedge the camera on top of an information board things picked up. After a half hour wait the bird flew across to a more open point and after a further 5 minutes came out into the "open" The light was still dismal and with the location of the pool being in a steep valley I struggled to get above a 1/60th second. Still I managed to get some decent efforts all things considered and really enjoyed watching this little heron go about its feeding. It was pulling small fish out the water every few minutes and keeping the assembled masses very content with its eventual appearance. Eventually the bird was spooked and it flew off down the drainage channel where it had been feeding. After a few minutes I realised that it would probably head downstream and so tried to pre-empt its appearance by searching for it. I took a long path uphill to head downhill and by this time I was alone. As I neared the bottom of the hill I saw a party of 5 non-birding visitors chatting noisily. Then in front of them, the Green Heron walked briskly across the path and into the undergrowth! I quickly got off a shot before it disappeared and then located it as it flew to a nearby dead tree where it promptly perched and surveyed the valley. I crept closer and got a few reasonable shots of it, again with poor light to contend with. After a few minutes the bird took flight again and seemed to head off down the valley. Realising I'd had my views for now, I decided to call it a day and started the steep walk back to the car, chatting to some of the staff and arriving birders as I headed back. It was still grey at the car and after finding if anything had been sighted north or east of my location decided on having a go at the debatable resident of Prawle Point in Devon. Mileage wise it wasn't too far but as the roads became narrower it was obvious why the journey was to take as long as estimated. I arrived and donned a few extra layers as the wind was pretty cold, certainly much colder than forecast. A few other birders were in the village and not looking flushed with success. Hmmm! Anyway I got out the car and began searching all known House Finch haunts. The café, bird feeders, the cottage, privet bushes etc. but only finding the sizable flock of House Sparrows which it had been associating with. I spent well over an hour searching but like the other birders present not getting overly excited by the occasional sighting of a windblown Greenfinch or Chaffinch! It was now 5pm and I took it on myself to call it quits. Two out of four for the day isn't a bad return and of those two new species, I certainly had two good sets of images.
16th October. I had a choice to make, do I head west or south? Each one held a potential new species one a mega and the other a rare. I chose to head west for the rare and fortunately it was the right decision as I later discovered the Solitary Sandpiper in Devon had departed overnight. A clear night was great to drive through and promised good early morning light as long my target bird remained and so I arrived at Angle in Pembrokeshire just before the sun raised itself above the oil refinery! It was a stunning morning and as I familiarised myself with the bay I took stock of what was around whilst searching for a second new Heron in a week. I found the stone bridge landmark and also the blue boat named "Emma" and also five Little Egrets feeding in the stream but no sign of a buff coloured bird amongst them. I walked to the corner near the shoreline with still no sign and was beginning to get "that" feeling - "should have gone to Devon" I thought to myself! I headed back towards the stone bridge and finally there it was. The juvenile Squacco Heron was feeding in the stream 25 yards from the bridge. I fired off a few record shots peering above the grass trying to get a clear view and then manoeuvred myself into a better position clear from vegetation and with the strengthening low sun at my back. The Squacco Heron was busily feeding in the stream and showing really well. I used the beached moored boats as cover and they allowed me to approach fairly close with the Heron seemingly unconcerned with my presence and only bothered by any Little Egrets that strayed into its immediate area. 2 squawking Little Egrets flew in and moved the Squacco Heron on which gave me my first glimpse of its white wings, quite unexpected from the overall buff appearance of the bird as it fed. The bird only moved 30 yards or so and I was soon enjoying further cracking views as it stalked small items of prey in the stream. With such early morning bright light and a pale bird the photos were always going to be distinctive and metering on the bird gave quite dark backgrounds but as with most herons, the eyes are always impressive and the Squacco was no exception. With its motionless head as the bird was about to strike for its prey, it was relatively easy to get lovely sharp shots, even handheld with me standing in slippery squelchy tidal mud! I proceeded to watch the bird for just under an hour, leaving after thanking two fly by Little Egrets for moving the Squacco Heron on to finally grab a flight shot to show those distinctive white wings. Other birds seen comprised the usual shore birds in Redshank, Curlew, a few Dunlin and a single Snipe. A flock of 40 or so Lapwing just after getting in the car and a further sign of Autumn with a several murmurations of Starlings seen on agricultural land. It was a short visit as I had to get back as soon as possible to help out with a poorly little lad suffering Chicken Pox at home but on arriving back I discovered that the Sandpiper had not been seen so I was thankful for making my lucky decision.
24th October. Everyone has days like this! With the gloomy economic conditions and talk of a double dip recession, I never enjoy dipping in the birding sense and even worse is a double dip, especially when there were only two things that you'd hoped to see that day! The usual crazy start time was blearily observed and this time it was a stretch down the M4, seeing a Weasel whizz across the A34 roundabout at 5:30am. My destination was Hayling Island which I reached in good time. Usually off limits to the public, the reserve at Sandy Point had been partially opened after some consultation to allow birders to catch up with one of the thirty Red-Flanked Bluetails reported this autumn - an amazing figure seeing at there have been barely that number reported as a total before now. The bird had stayed for 6 days but a clear night worried me. As I'd driven down I'd urged cloud to be present but it was mostly clear for the duration of the drive. I arrived at the spot just before sunrise and joined three others who were already waiting. They'd all seen the bird before and commented on how well it had shown. The Robins began to emerge as did other common species but a silhouetted Firecrest was a first for the year. As the light improved more souls arrived until after an hour or so the number of birders exceeded forty. It was a perfect morning weather wise with clear blue skies and the sounds of wading birds and Brent Geese an ever present. Constant sightings of small groups of Wood Pigeons were a further reminder of the time of year but it was increasingly obvious that the star of the show had exited the stage south. It was a strange gathering of birders with no chat at all - reminiscent of a morgue! After over two hours of waiting in one spot I'd had enough and planned on returning if it was found later that day. I got back in the car and headed east, desperate to get something from the wonderful weather. Another long staying vagrant was present 60 miles down the coast so after a straightforward journey I arrived at Newhaven in Sussex with my anticipation rekindled for a new species. Walking up the hill to the coastguard station I kept my eyes peeled on every Starling I saw hoping it to be more than your average bird. A few people were above the sheltered valley where the adult Rose-Coloured Starling had been seen so I joined up to get the gen on the bird. Small groups of Starlings were dropping in regularly to the bushes in the valley and at times there were well over a hundred birds but no pied birds amongst them. After watching for almost an hour all of a sudden the constant noise of the Starlings stopped, then 5 seconds later a Sparrowhawk shot over the lip of the valley and into the middle of the birds. One bird in a bush squawked loudly as the others dispersed in several flocks. A few seconds later a single Starling flew out with the Sparrowhawk a couple of seconds behind. The bird dived into cover as the predator dropped to the ground nearby and took stock of its missed opportunity. Nature in action but it hadn't half scuppered my Rosey hunt! After half an hour the birds started to drip back a little further down the coast so I set up there and waited for another hour or more hopefully scanning every arrival. Other than a party of five Swallows, a few Red Admirals and a single Small White there wasn't an awful lot to get remotely excited about and realising again that it wasn't to be my day, I decided to head home. There'd been no further sign of the Bluetail and other than a Shorelark somewhere in the wrong direction (which I also had no idea on how to get to) there was scarcely anything reported. I got back after a thirteen hour trip, in which I'd taken precisely 5 photos (3 of which were checking to see if the Sparrowhawk had caught the Starling!). Ultimately I can't complain too much as I've been fairly successful recently but it's always a grotty feeling. Almost certainly bang goes 270 by Christmas!