It's taken me four years, but I eventually got round to twitching the famous Black-browed Albatross over the weekend. It's proved a much easier bird to catch up with so far this spring, visiting Sylt on a near-daily basis. Having booked flights on its return in early April for just £70 return (to Hamburg), I connected with the albatross instantly at its favoured haunt of Rantumbecken, a large, brackish lake on the southern side of Sylt.
While it would spend much of its time swimming around with the swans, it would sometimes have a fly around, particularly during the Saturday morning, when it cruised along the sea wall, right past me, on at least a couple of occasions. I was amazed by the bird's apparent fascination with the Mute Swans and have written a short article about it, which can be read on the BirdGuides website here.
While I was on Sylt, news broke of a male Yellow-browed Bunting at Skagen, right at the northern tip of Denmark. With nothing to lose, I decided to leave Sylt early and tackle the long drive. This passed about as quickly as was possible, with a couple of brief stops for fuel and food, and I arrived at Skagen a little before 4.30 pm. The bunting had shown just minutes before I arrived but, despite a constant vigil at its favoured garden feeders, it did not show again by dusk. Still, it was a beautiful evening and at least the lighthouse was looking good ...
Sunday morning revealed a fair few Tree Pipits going north, with a few other migrants including small numbers of Common Buzzards overhead. There was, however, no sign of the bunting which, after a clear night, was assumed to have gone. Indeed it wasn't seen all day, despite searching, although was amazingly relocated on the Monday afternoon, by which time I was already back at my desk in London. Sunday wasn't totally wasted, however, as a short diversion on the way back to Hamburg airport produced a couple of fields full of these beasts. The less said, the better!
I enjoyed another great weekend's birding in Lincolnshire, which began on Friday 6th with a second Kittiwake of the spring flying around the gull colony pit in the evening.
Up bright and early on the Saturday morning, I arrived at the wader pit around 06:45 and was soon enjoying a flock of 11 Whooper Swans, which circled a few times before continuing off north towards Bourne. Extraordinarily, under 10 minutes later, this was followed up by the sharp 'ki-rick' of a Sandwich Tern. Several more calls followed from up high before an amazing flock of seven Sandwich Terns suddenly dropped out the sky and circled the pit a few times, before continuing to the north-east. Like the Whoopers, they were on view for just a few minutes before disappearing. Extrapolate that over every morning of the spring and you can only wonder at what must be passing unseen
No soon had the terns gone, I scanned the northern corner of the pit, where the Long-tailed Duck is usually to be found. A pair of small duck were making their way about the shallows, the drake's unmistakable white supercilium quickly identifying them as Garganey. A truly amazing 15 minutes on the old patch.
The pit also held a Dunlin, up to four Little Ringed and three Ringed Plovers, several Common Redshanks and Oystercatchers plus the usual gulls. A return visit in the afternoon revealed increasing numbers of hirundines, mainly Sand Martins but also a few Swallows, while a Ring Ouzel sensationally flew out of the adjacent hedge and flew over the gathered birders' heads, after having been called by Mike Weedon. It then settled in the hedge on the east side of the pit, dropping down to feed in the field edge and offering good views, if distant for the camera.
Mike W was obviously inspired by Saturday, as I found him already on site again at BLGP by 06:45 on Sunday morning. While there was no repeat of the previous morning's passage, a fair few birds were seen, including the Long-tailed Duck and a couple of White Wagtails. The Pink-footed Geese also remained by the Cross Drain, but it was the discovery of up to four Hawfinches at Park Farm that really made my morning. I first picked up a female, which lolloped by me and began to call from nearby trees at the farm. It showed surprisingly well, but I thought I could hear more, without actually seeing them. Mike W returned to twitch it, but it had flown off east by the time he arrived. Then, just as we were giving up on it, three more came low overhead and went off east, calling. They'd evidently been sat in roadside trees nearby, and timed their escape perfectly.
Martin Coates then had a brief Kittiwake at the wader pit mid-morning, which had been replaced by a winter-plumaged adult Little Gull by the time I returned at 11:15. I also had my first Yellow Wagtail of the year by the Cross Drain, while the afternoon saw Swallows increase into three figures and the first House Martins of the year also appear.
This morning (Monday), what is presumably the same pair of Garganey was back on the wader pit, although the Long-tailed Duck looks increasingly likely to meet a sorry end in the near future. It has taken to swimming around in circles, on its side, one leg sticking in the air. I wonder if it's had some mental trauma, perhaps the result of a Peregrine/predator attack or perhaps even a tumour/cyst causing nerve damage? Or a stroke, perhaps - do birds have strokes? All speculation of course, but the prognosis doesn't look good.
Off to Mauritania next week, which will provide a nice change to the damp and dreary conditions that we've grown accustomed to in the UK of late.