Despite the quality of our roadtrip on Doris Day up to Scotland and back down the north east coast, there was still more tarmac that needed to be covered, so Neill picked me up at 5.30am today for a further round of year ticking frenzy.
Skipper Rothwell and Alan Wright were already aboard for a top day of quality birds, dvd critiques and lots of laughs.
First stop was Great Barford in Bedford, for the splendid Little Bunting that is a member of a winter feeding flock in a seed heavy corner of a field just down the Ouse from the Olde English village.
We got onto to it straight away as it shuffled about amongst stubble, Reed Bunts, Yellowhammers, Great Tits, Chaffinches and Robins.
Obviously smaller than Reed Buntings beside it, it’s whiter undercrackers made it stand out in the morning light, but it always kept low, only occasionally affording views of its lovely dark edged chestnut ear coverts.
Good bird – long time no see.
Green Woodpecker was calling here, but we didn’t hang around as we had many miles to cover, moving on to Grafham Water, which was stacked with Great Crested Grebes, Goldeneye, Goosanders and Tufties, but not much else.
At Needingworth RSPB we squelched around the gravel pits until we found the redhead Smew, which showed distantly making snappage challenging at best.
Cetti’s Warblers exploded from the brambles and Green Woodpeckers yaffled around the car park.
Neill steered out onto the vast flatlands of Cambridgeshire, a landscape that makes the south west Lancs mosslands look decidedly hilly, with Ely and its cathedral sailing above the horizon, but keeping its Glossy Ibis under wraps while we were there.
Which was annoying.
We pushed on until we got to Lincs Wildlife Trust’s Willow Tree Fen reserve, where a super confiding Bluethroat has been entertaining the troops all week long along the main track.
The bird had flitted back into a reed stand just before we arrived, so there was nothing to do but hunker down beside the track and wait until mealworms dumped on the track lured the bird out again.
Some of us may not have been firing on all cylinders by this latest stage of the year ticking odyssey, as a cold wind began to pick up and the early start took its toll.
Was it worth the wait?
Bluethroats are always fab, but this one didn’t give a fig about who was about as it bounced out onto the track a few feet from us 20 minutes later, flicking its tail, dropping its wings and generally showing off as only a Bluethroat can.
It’s not often that a bird leaves the assembled ranks speechless, but no one made a sound as the Bluethroat performed barely ten feet from us – what a bird!
With time catching up with us, it was full steam ahead to Rutland Water for Red Kite, 2 Black Necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, squadrons of Great Crested Grebe, flocks of Goldeneye, Tufties, Wigeon etc and an unexpected rendezvous with Neill’s brother Barrie, before the younger Hunt got behind the wheel again to get us home safely and speedily.
Great stuff – thanks all for yet another wondrous day… I could get to like this year ticking mullarkey.