Sunday, November 20, 2005

I am on FIRE! 208 species in total

Another bitterly cold morning, but I overcame the little demon saying ‘stay in bed’, pulled on my alarmingly kinky, brand new neoprene overshoes, and pedalled off into the sub-zero dawn.

This really was the coldest yet, and I simply could not feel my feet by the time I reached the New Forest. I jumped up and down to restore a bit of feeling in my toes!

But, frostbite notwithstanding, I reached Lower Pennington Lane by about 1010, and stepped off the bike for my customary look at the flooded fields by the last bend in the road. Three Meadow Pipits flew up from my left, accompanied by a larger bird – Song Thrush, I thought. But it dropped down on the right of the road with them, in a wet field, hovering momentarily before pitching. Blimey!

Sure enough, a quick glimpse was enough to confirm it was a large pipit, and although I can’t say I had feather-by-feather views, its strident flight call when it shortly flew off strongly to the west had me in absolutely no doubt – Richard’s Pipit OML! This is a rare bird indeed in the county - only some 25 or so previous records. Surely my luck would run out soon, however?

Not yet! Julia arrived a few minutes later, and we walked off towards the Normandy area. There, we met Marcus and Zoe Ward coming the other way – no sign of the Snow Bunting, alas. We chatted for a bit, in the glorious sunny (and now a bit warmer) weather, and then carried on in our opposite directions – for about five seconds! “Simon!”, called Marcus urgently – we spun on the spot, and there was the superb male Snow Bunting flying towards us, tinkling away.

Snow Buntings are scarce autumn and winter visitors to lowland coastal Britain, but they are really very scarce in Hampshire – this was only the third one I’d seen in the county.

Much encouraged, we moved on towards Salterns, via a smart Spotted Redshank. Casually ambling past Eight Acre Lake, I saw what I assumed was a buffy-grey Black-tailed Godwit, oddly sat on a gravel island. On raising my bins, however, it became more serious – it was a first-winter LAUGHING GULL! [Can you believe that Laughing Gull isn't in bold? I still can't!)

Once we’d taken a second to check the ID (especially eliminating Franklin’s Gull, outrageous though the idea was), we quickly called Marcus, who said something rude over the phone and hared round back out from home to see the bird. He, Pete Durnell and Russell Wynn all connected, plus a few rather bemused semi-civilians who happened to be passing.

It’s impossible to be absolutely certain, but it seems very likely that this was the same individual bird as the one at Gosport two weeks ago – not that that detracts from the excitement of finding a pukka British Birds rarity by bike!

Thoroughly elated, we enjoyed a further couple of hours in the field, seeing three Kingfishers, numerous Little Egrets, stacks of roosting small waders, and lots of Great Crested Grebes on the sea – although sadly no Red-necked Grebe! You can’t get too greedy.

The ride home was fine – funny how good birding can take the weight out of your legs and the chill out of the air!