04 April 2010

Lesser Kestrel gone AWOL.

2nd April 2010.

After much inner turmoil, and an apparent no-show on the Thursday (April 1st), I decided to make the four and a half hour pilgrimage to the Minsmere area and try for the Lesser Kestrel. This was my only chance to see it, as I couldn't get out of work in the week, and had other commitments from Saturday onwards.

I left Gloucester at 3.15am, and arrived onsite at Dunwich Heath shortly after 8.00am. Adrenaline saw me through the drive, although I did learn that long-distance driving in the dark is more challenging than I'd expected.

I knew the weather would close in for a couple of hours late afternoon, so the clock was ticking. Along the way to the quarry area I spotted Green Woodpecker, Yellowhammer, Skylarks, Greenfinch and a Linnet. I was encouraged, as I always take Green Woodpeckers as good omens! I also crossed paths with a very chilled out Muntjac:

I stayed on the Heath - scanning carefully - for a couple of hours as many other birders gradually filled the area. The wind was fairly relentless (as it was all day).

A relatively barren patch of land near the large NR car park was producing Woodlark most of the day, but sadly everytime I checked it out none were present. Shame, as that would've been one of the birds I'm embarrassed about not having seen. Still, there were a couple of pairs of Stonechat about - which were a year tick.

I did see my first ever Dartford Warblers, though. They were great - I can't decide if they're beautiful or ugly. They're colourful, but the colours are rather dull, I think. Still, GREAT BIRDS. I nearly had one long enough for a photograph, but not quite.

At 10.30am-ish I decided to make the trip to Kessingland for the Pallid Swift. This one was easy. Dead easy. It was directly above everyone's heads - sometimes coming quite low - and my bins were all I needed to get great views. On the way back down I stopped off at what I think was an estuary on the River Blyth. It was very windy, so holding the scope still was a challenge, but amongst other birds (Blackwits, Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin) were my first Barwits of the year. I tried for Little Stint, but in the conditions - and given that the birds were some distance away - I couldn't be sure. Never seen so many Avocets, though.

(You know, I almost hate identifying small waders as much as I hate identifying large Gulls.)

Next another quick stop on the Heath. More birders - and this time some Kestrels and Marsh Harriers, but no Lesser Kestrel.

I decided to go to Minsmere, as coming all this way and not taking it in would be a crime. It's gorgeous. I started with the Bittern and Island Mere hides. Alas, no sign of any Bearded or Penduline Tits. Far too windy for them to show, I reckoned. I did spot a Red Kite, though. Some Woodpeckers and Treecreepers in the trees on the paths, too.

Next, I decided I would go anti-clockwise around the other hides - which meant first hitting the West Hide. Gull central! This held what was probably my moment of the day. A pair of adult summer Mediterranean Gulls. This may not sound like much, but these were my first - and I'd been trying for Mediterranean Gulls all year with absolutely no joy. Here they are:

And then the call came.

The Lesser Kestrel had - according to the pagers and birdguides - been refound on the Heath. Minsmere and it's joys (and many lifers for me, I expect) would have to wait for another trip. I pegged it back to the Heath and joined the throngs headed for the logpiles. I'm relatively sure it was the right spot, as on Saturday (amidst unnecessary and unhelpful recriminations about directions) the chap who spotted the bird put a map up of where he saw it on birdforum. The bird didn't show, and as by now it was 4.00pm... rain arrived on schedule.

Most people went back home or to Minsmere (I imagine), but I simply returned to my car and had a kip for an hour. It was no longer than that before the rain gave way (some people were even going out looking in the rain)! Anyway, as soon as possible I went back out, and as the skies cleared between 5.15pm and 7.30pm I stayed on the Heath. Bloody cold... and not a single sodding Kestrel. Not one. The best it got was a distant Marsh Harrier.

I was the second last person to leave the quarry side of the road, and in disappointment retreated back to my hotel to sleep in preparation for my long drive home in the morning.

As a postscript - I noted a large number of 'SAY NO TO SEA EAGLES IN SUFFOLK' signs in fields.

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