Friday was an excellent day. Well the sun shone for a start and it felt like spring. Saturday was the complete antithesis and utter shite. Second patch Rainham beckoned, and OK I might have thoughts of ugly gulls, but more of ring-tailed and Marsh Harrier, Grey Plover and a host of other critters that I keep missing while Kev Jarvis sails full-steam ahead into the sunset.
Met up with Dave Callahan at the stone barges (just a little bit of self glory here - it was with Dave that I found Rainham's Hoopoe last year on a very instructive trawl round a much warmer marsh), he had already had a look at the tip and was on his way round by the river. I decided to give the tip a few minutes primarily looking for Meds, but should some hideous big bugger appear all well and good. Wrong move number two (number one was getting up at 05:19 instead of staying in bed). While he found Turnstone and Corn Bunting, I found disconsolate birders and a heaving tip. On the plus side I did find my first without-the-help-of-someone-else Caspian (I'll say the descriptions in the post. With the others!). As I trudged up to the Serin mound a stream of confident birders passed the other way.
At the mound I met up with Dave again and as we moved off to the sea wall Bradders on his way to the tip. No sign of Turnstone, or bunting we walked along the wall to find pipits. And find them we did, amongst which were some scandinavian Rock Pipit coming into their summer plumage, and they are really quite beautiful.
A cup of coffee or two later and while I was buying a replacement eye piece for the scope having dropped the thing last time at the centre, Dave set off to sit in the new hide. While I was haggling over the price - trying to get bars of chocolate thrown in, coded news came in over the radio. The SBG had been seen on the targets. Not a particularly good code.
I had a head start on the waiting masses and set off wet footed only to be passed by a dad and his kid with the same goal. Happy faces meant it was still there, and I must admit I was getting a bit excited. Get this out of the way and enjoy the rest of the day, I thought. Didn't see Dave in the hide when I arrived and assumed he was still making his way along the northern boardwalk. The guy who'd spotted the gull offered me a look through his scope, which I declined on the basis that the brute was going to stand out at that close distance.
I scanned the gulls. Nothing.
Having heard where the guy was giving instructions to other newcomers to look, I cheated and followed them. Got to be said I was a bit disappointed. The back end of another bird as they were all facing into the wind. What I saw looked like the back end of a GBB. Nothing like what I was expecting. No worries I have ti... the buggers all launched into the air and dispersed over the back of Wennington and the pools in between. Bugger!
Then the masses arrived.
While we scanned, or a few scanned the area I met up with a guy who I'd met down in Dorset for the Bufflehead, and again in Norfolk for the Woodchat. He had kindly given me lift to see the Stone Curlew and then on to Lakenheath for the orioles. We reminisced about bacon sandwiches and what we'd both been up to. Then I relocated Dave who had been fairly oblivious to the commotion around him. Had he seen the gull. No. But it was right in front! Seeds of doubt grew to larger proportions.
Back with the melee someone picked "the bird" up again right at the back of Wennington, seventh bird in from the right. Easy enough directions. Again a sense of disappointment. Everybody else seemed happy enough, but as time wore on a dissenting voice piped up. Brave fellow. The gull now had morphed into something quite grey, nothing at all like the pictures on Dom's website or Bird Guides...
... ah Bird Guides! The i-phone to the rescue. I showed the picture around. Of course the colour of the grey will change with the light. The finder himself said I think it flew off earlier. True the gulls were very unsettled and had taken off and shuffled around.
Then the clincher news of the gull back on the tip five-ten minutes previously. While some decided to go for the clincher at the tip others went home happy with their tick. I decided against fighting the elements and chose the option of staying put and drying out a bit more.
A crap day made crappier with the news of Jonno's Caspo on the flats and Tim's Waxwing by the stables. I wanted home.
Sunday dawned spectacularly-ish, and having provisionally arranged to meet Jonno for gull inspection I was on the flats early doors. On my own. For a long time.
When the laggards finally turned up we sauntered across the playing fields where I picked up the Med again. Apparently it had been re sighted the day before. After a week's seeming absence it had progressed further with its moult and looked a different bird.
Prodigal Med Gull
Tim suggested making a slight detour on the way to the little tea shop of happiness, to see if the Waxwing were still around. They were, patch tick for Jono and an opportunity for me to get some cracking visuals. That should read slightly better than my previous efforts visuals.
You've probably overdosed on great Waxwing shots anyway
After rattling off a good hundred shots (yup and this was one of the best!), we bee-lined the tea shop picking up Grey Wagtail for Jono and Tim on the way.
While stood soaking up tea and rays we watched a pair of Sparrowhawk displaying over the woods, joyous! Another birder joined us. Apparently Wanstead Park has made a name for itself because of its Lesser spots, and he was another drawn by the chance of a sighting. We brought him to the Dell, the most likely place. Nothing. We made to go to the Old Sewage Works, but a the call of the smallest woody stopped us in our tracks. It flew east, he followed.
Great Crested Grebe, Perch's first of the year