I lost my heart to a desert wheatear!

27 Dec

I snuck away from the family this afternoon and sloped off to a secret liaison with a bird… a liason I’d been trying to resist for a while but I gave in.

The bird in question was a little lost – in fact quite a lot lost but seemed to be quite happy with its temporary home of Newbiggin-by-the-Sea which is a little different from north africa at this time of year (I think even Newbiggin’s most ardent supporters would concede that).

I had been for a bit of an exploration of Great Park (long overdue, seeing as I actually work at Great Park) following a tip off from a birdforum member that the pools and scrapes are hosting a little egret and several short eared owls, and had trudged/slid/squelched round with nothing more than a pair of yellowhammer, several blackbirds, a grey wagtail and numerous gulls and corvids. On my return I mulled over whether it was worth making the use of the remaining couple of hours of grey daylight heading up to Newbiggin to see if I could find the desert wheatear thats been in residence for the last couple of weeks. I’m glad I decided it was.

Walking up the beach I could see two groups crouched on the top of the bank peering down at the sand a few feet below so I was pretty sure the bird was in residence. I climbed up on to the path along the edge of the golf course and approached the watching birders and there right enough was the little chap I was looking for – sat happily between the two groups, bobbing away like a pied wagtail and pursuing the copious quantities of insects buzzing around despite it being the depths of December.

He may only be a pocket size passerine, but this bird has oodles of character – bouncing around, fluttering up into the air like a butterfly, chasing along the deck. Full of action but always happy to stop and pose for a photo and often turning round to look and check that the paparazzi are getting his best side.

At one point he was flushed up the beach and having already spend half an hour watching him I was happy to move on and walked up the path towards Beacon Point where I came across two holidaymankers from Derbyshire who just so happened to be volunteers at a nature reserve in Derbyshire who had just chanced upon the birders and the bird and were keen to know a bit more.

“What will happen to him?”, “Where should he be?”, “How did he get here?”  “Will he get back?”, “Does he feel lonely?” came a barrage of questions from one lady… “He’s not a bird psychologist Jane!” was the sharp retort from her friend. All good questions… does he feel lonely? Well he seemed happy enough at that moment – plenty of small flies filling his belly. Will he get back? Probably not… sadly he’s probably destined to a miserable cold and hungry end to his life at some point in the next few weeks. “It makes me very sad” says Jane – I can’t help agree, but at the moment he is putting on a show and making the most of his unexpected vacation about 1,500 miles north of home.

As I wandered back to town I noticed the bird was making its own way in the same direction and so I dropped down onto the beach and waiting for him to approach. Sure enough he hopped his way down, investigating the seaweed and the sand until he got to within 9 or 10 feet. By this point my camera was complaining that my memory card had no more space… frantic deletion of old images ensued as he hopped to a mere 6 feet away. Great… got enough free space… what… battery dead? No problem, switch to my spare battery. The one that’s in the boot of the car. Doh! Managed to coax a couple more efforts out of it, but by this point he was actually too close to focus on, so I just settled for enjoying the kind of closeup naked-eye views normally reserved for chaffinches at picnic tables.

Eventually he got to within two feet before deciding that discretion was the better part of valour and retreated to the far distance (well ten feet anyway).

What a star performer… very sad that our winter will start soon and he will find the northeast coast less to his liking, but that late decision to come and see him was definitely a smart move!

Too close to focus


One Response to “I lost my heart to a desert wheatear!”

  1. thehutts January 4, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Great photos!

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