Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The Magic of Mistley!

Mistley Walls - 12th February, 16

Weather: Cloudy and overcast. Very cold in the wind.

Bird Total: 44
Plus: Alpaca (no, seriously!); Brown Rat.

After two outings in a row I was going to have a lie-in today. Carol had forecast cloudy skies with a cold snap. My nice, warm bed seemed to be the best option. Two things put paid to that idea. First up, was a visit to the Dentist - for some reason I had agreed to a 9am appointment. At least I got the all-clear!

Drake Goldeneye
Secondly, my good friend and fellow Birder, Ron aka 'Amwell Watcher' invited me to accompany him down to Mistley, for another visit. I was keen to go, as my first visit wasn't a total success. Ahem.

High tide was just before 3pm, so we had to be in place well before midday. We arrived in plenty of time and so we made the Quay area our first port of call. It was still irritatingly fenced off and it was also blowing a very cold gale. I'd forgotten to bring my magic scarf with me.

However, plenty of birds could already be seen. The first birds we spotted, before even leaving the car, were several Goldeneyes. Scanning the area brought us a couple of Redshank; a few Shelduck and then Ron spotted a party of Pintails, which swam up fairly close. However, the star bird here was a fantastic Red-breasted Merganser, a bird I hadn't seen for years.

Another couple of lunatics, I mean Birders, were here, too. One of them, a local, struck up a conversation with Ron. When I enquired, Ron shrugged and said he hadn't understood a word!

A fantastic Red-breasted Merganser!
Just before we arrived at the Walls, Ron suggested that we pay a visit to the White Bridge, nearby, where we saw scores of ducks, mainly Wigeon. A few Redshank could be seen, out to the left plus a lone Common Sandpiper.

Ron pointed out a small flock of Little Grebe, who were all continually diving down. Flocks of birds could be seen further up the estuary. A few minutes later, nearly all of them took flight from some unseen predator. However, it was a tad breezy here, so we moved on to our primary target area.

The usual Mistley Swans were about, all waiting to be fed. Which several kind members of the public did. Gulls and Geese joined in the feast. One of them, a Canada Goose, had 'Angel Wing' - too much white bread! The occasional Rook wandered in. As did a Brown Rat, which scurried past us and the Swans several times, while we were there. I guess the white bread was too much of a temptation. I wondered if the bread would give it 'Angel Tail'?

Don't feed them white bread!
Ron's fingers had started to get frostbite and so we had some hot coffee, while we waited. Not long after, the tide started to come in, pushing the birds our way. After a fairly sunny start this morning, it had clouded over quite badly and the light was poor. However, on the plus side, the birds had started to move towards us.

I had scanned the area earlier, with my Bins, just after we arrived and I could see thousands of waders out over the mudflats. Every now and then, large flocks of small birds took off and flew around, before landing back down.

Neither of us were experts at waders. Especially in their winter plumage. 'They're Sanderlings!' I confidently cried. Ron looked at me, unconvinced. 'No, wait,' I added, 'they're Dunlin. Or Knot.' Cue 'not' jokes.

Little Egret poised to take flight.
We took a wander further down the road, looking for a good place to stand. More birds started to move in closer, especially dozens of Shelduck. There were Gulls aplenty.

'What's that Gull?' Ron queried.

'Lesser Black-backed!' I shouted.

He gave me a dubious look. 'It's got yellow legs!' I said to him, grinning. Cue 'yellow-legged gull' jokes.

It didn't help that my bird book was dated pre-1940, with most of the photos in black and white. I must make an effort to update it, some time.

A brave Black-tailed Godwit
We returned to our original spot, near the car. A Little Egret had ventured close in and I was surprised that it didn't take off when we approached. A lone Black-tailed Godwit was similarly unconcerned as it, too, approached. Both allowed a few modest snaps. I also noticed that, among the many Black-headed Gulls, there were one or two in near-breeding plumage.

An Oystercatcher flew in and settled down on one of the rocks, about 30 metres away. It then promptly tucked its' bill in and went to sleep. A few Turnstones appeared and darted about, amongst the Gulls. Then a pair of Stock Doves flew in and landed just in front of us. A pair of Curlew could be seen, picking their way towards us. It was starting to look good!

Stock Dove
The Tide continued to move in, pushing more and more birds towards us. I held my breath. I was sat down on a soggy dead log. Ron was about 10 metres away, to my right, propped up against the sea wall. Both of us with cameras at the ready and wearing silly grins.

At this point most of the birds, mainly the smaller ones, flew further down the estuary. Just like last time, I thought gloomily. I wondered if the rest would follow, just like last time.

But no! One Redshank and one Black-tailed Godwit stayed put, as all their buddies flew off. That's all I wanted, the chance to photograph at least one, close-in. Ron was partly sheltered from them, by the sea-wall, while I was sat low down, trying to look inconspicuous. I was trying to improve my poor field-craft skills. A bit difficult, with a damp bottom!

Just then, one of the locals walked up beside me and started chatting! I feared he might scare off the remaining birds.

'Seen any Terns?' I think he asked. I looked up at him, blankly. Terns? At this time of year?

I thought for a minute, looking out towards the birds. 'Oh, you mean Turnstones!'

He grinned, nodding his head and said, 'Yeah, them!'

Ron's friend from earlier, had also arrived and promptly started talking about seeing a Mongoose. Eh?

Your man eventually moved off and, to my relief, the birds stayed. However, they began to move back up the water's edge. So Ron and I followed, trying to use our 'best' fieldcraft skills. We could be seen from the nearby road, so I fervently hoped that the passing car drivers couldn't see two plonkers, trying to creep along the grass verge. Well, it's quite difficult with heavy optics.

One of several friendly Turnstones.
We positioned ourselves behind a tree and began snapping away. Eventually, I crept further forward a little, to the sea wall and managed to get some closer shots.

The birds began their return journey, pushed back by the Tide. We followed. I took a few seconds to check the photos. I told Ron that I thought I had under-exposed them. He told me to turn the LCD brightness up. Doh!

Alpaca - eh?
We took up positions again, with the birds continuing to give us some really close views. Then about 5 Turnstones also flew in and proceeded to edge in closer, as well. Brilliant!

Satisfied with our efforts, so far, we decided to take a walk further down, with the Tide, to see if any other photo opportunities were on offer. Oddly, I spotted a few Alpacas, on the adjacent fields, over the road. Not something you see every day!
Rook posing for us.

I have to admit to looking around for a Mongoose at this point. Crocus were in flower. A Rook posed nicely for us.

The Tide had come in quite quickly and so we paused. Ron spotted a few waders nearby. I thought one of them might have been a Greenshank, but I couldn't be sure. It promptly flew off, before we could get a bead on it.

Then about 4 small waders flew in. 'They're Sanderlings!' I cried.

Ron gave me another doubtful look. Surprisingly, they didn't fly off when we approached and so we sat down again. The birds continued to move along the tide-line. Turnstones moved in amongst them, all feeding furiously, before the Tide forced them in even closer to us.

I said they were Knot! Didn't I?
Whilst I was snapping away, the nearby Mute Swans kept walking in front of us, getting in the way. I guess the plus side was that they hid us from the smaller birds. The waders eventually flew off and we later confirmed them as Knot. That's what I said, diddle I?

The Turnstones crept even nearer to us, before I scared them all away, by trying to get closer. Too greedy!

A few, last shots of the Black-headed Gulls were taken, before we decided to head back to the Quay area, to see if anything else had turned up. Nothing had, save for more Shelduck and a pair of Pied Wagtails.

Near-breeding plumaged Black-headed Gull.
The Tide had come in, the weather had deteriorated even more and so we made for home. My thanks goes to my driver, for a sterling effort. So much better than last time!

'The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.' Norman Vincent Peale

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.