Mike Weedon, assistant editor,
Recently, Mike has been drawn away from his local area, lured by some great birds, but will temptation get the better of him again?
Once again, Mike has been tempted away from his home area in search of a scarce visitor. Or has he?
REGULAR READERS MAY remember that recently I have strayed. I have fallen victim to temptation. I have been disloyal and have been a-wandering. The trouble is the birds of nearby Norfolk and even nearer Frampton Marsh in south Lincolnshire, have simply been so much more desirable than those around Peterborough. There, I’ve said what needed to be said. Frampton, in particular, has been silly, recently. On one day in late August, the site had 258 Curlew Sandpipers. Just a few days ago, there were more than 40 Little Stints there! But it was the appearance of a Wryneck just outside its 360 Hide that had me drooling and thinking of once more heading north for a taste of something naughty and special. But late August is not a time of weakness. It is a time to gird one’s loins (whatever that means) and go out and find ‘stuff’. As luck would have it, the weekend of the Birdfair saw the arrival of a couple of Cattle Egrets on the Nene Washes (just east of Peterborough), which I was able to connect with. And on the Sunday, after seeing the Cattle Egrets for a third and final time, en route to the Birdfair, a friend and I managed to find a couple of Little Stints to keep my almost moribund local year list just ticking along. The last week in August is Redstart season around here and Peterborough’s prime Redstart habitat, Ferry Meadows CP, duly turned up one or perhaps two females and a Whinchat a few days ago. These were not year ticks, but they are always good. On the late August Bank Holiday, I was watching more Redstarts at Eldernell on the Nene Washes. I met local top bird-finder Andrew Gardener near the car park there and, while we were looking for a female Redstart he had found earlier, as if by magic, out popped a lovely male, almost looking as good as a spring bird (autumn Redstarts are usually ‘fresh’, so with buff-tipped feathers masking the bright colours). We walked the hedge together and found a third Redstart. But, great though these birds are, we agreed, the bushy, rough grassland there looked amazing for something really good, such as a Wryneck. Ah, Wryneck (sigh). What a lovely bird. I still remember my first, in a little garden on the Italian mainland, waiting to cross to island Venice. I’ve seen Wrynecks aplenty in Europe, finding a few nests in Spain. I have even found nests with chicks calling in Hokkaido, Japan (though that was 20 years ago). But I have seen only a few in the UK, and they are always exciting. Like Nightjars and Woodcocks, there is something special about cryptically patterned birds. But these cryptic woodpeckers out-weird even those strange, strange birds. In October 2004, a Wryneck was flushed by a birder’s dog called Sparky (the Pickles of the local birding scene), in a field in the village of Langtoft, south Lincolnshire (and part of the Peterborough area). I saw a tiny glimpse of it flying at dusk to roost and I returned at first light the next day to rediscover the bird feeding at close range. Since then, Peterborough area Wrynecks have been elusive and untwitchable. They are reported almost annually, usually after they have departed and from private gardens or obscure wastelands, or even, annoyingly, suppressed. Ah, Wrynecks (longer sigh). The lure of that Frampton individual was growing stronger. I could hear its distant siren call drawing me to my doom. Or perhaps that was just a Green Woodpecker I could hear. But yesterday, I got a text from Andrew Gardener. He had been back to that amazing stretch of habitat at Eldernell and, as he arrived, a Wryneck had flown from the ground into one of the Redstart Elders. Then it disappeared! Rediscovering the second twitchable local Wryneck in the 16 years I have been living in Peterborough was a joy. The cryptic beauty dropped from a bush and fed on the ground for what must have been a full 20 seconds, 10 of which I spent trying to photograph it, before hopping under a Bramble. There is temptation and temptation. Some may say I am a dirty twitcher. But twitching a bird in my local area just feels so much less shameful than venturing onto someone else’s patch. And, boy, did I enjoy that Wryneck (sigh).
Like Nightjars and Woodcocks, there is something special about cryptically patterned birds
WRYNECK It didn’t pose for long, but long enough!