Wayne, Kev and I left Cardiff early on Friday, April 30th with the long Bank Holiday weekend stetching in front of us. First stop was Welney WWT, where we didn't have to wait too long to get on to the long staying Bluethroat. It popped up in the reeds in front of us giving us a stunning 'point blank', if rather brief, view. While we hung around to see whether it would show again we picked up the usual suspects in a habitat like this - we were surrounded by Sedge Warblers, the odd Reed Bunting and, on the lagoons, there was a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits as well as good numbers of Avocet. Suddenly, a cry came from the hide - the Bluethroat was out again having somehow snuck, undetected, over to the other side of the path. We had much longer views of it this time although it was quite a bit more distant. Back in the car park a Corn Bunting was singing and Wayne found a Red-legged Partridge.
Next stop Lakenheath for our now annual dip on Golden Oriole. On our arrival up to 20 Hobby flew above the pool, a Common Tern flew over and a male Garganey decided to naff off just as we got on to it. A pair of Marsh Harriers quartered the reedbeds, Cuckoo sang in the distance and, in amongst the constant background noise of Sedge and Reed Warblers, Kev miraculously dug out 'scope views of a Grasshopper Warbler which had been irritating us by reeling out of sight for ages. Oh yeah, we dipped on the Orioles.
Weeting Heath turned up trumps with a pair of Stone Curlew and then it was on to North Norfolk. We arrived at Titchwell late afternoon hoping to pin down the Iberian Chiffchaff. We had no problem finding a 'Chiffchaff' in the bush where it had been hanging around for a few days - in fact we found two there, both subtly different from each other - but neither of the little ******* sang. There was much debate amongst the birders present but no consensus. Of course not!
Bored rigid, we moved on to the rest of the reserve where we ticked off Beardies, Whimbrel, Ruff, Little Tern, summer plumaged Grey Plover, Spot Red, Dunlin and a RC Pochard amongst the other Titchwell regulars. A 20 minute scan from the beach was productive: a large flock of Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider, scores of Sanderling and, best of all, Wayne found a Red-necked Grebe close inshore. On our way back to the King's Arms in Blakeney, which was our base for the weekend, some Brent Geese in a field next to the side of the road was to be our last trip tick of the day.
Refreshed by a good night's kip - not to mention a few pints of Nelson's Revenge - we were back at Titchwell early in the morning. Convinced that, yesterday, our little Iberian friend wasn't singing because it was on its siesta (as you'd expect from a creature from its part of the world) we set our 'scopes up again on its bush. (Don't be childish). Surely it would be singing in the morning sunshine? Nope. Clearly fed up with the cold weather it had either keeled over or decided to return to where it came from - or even headed west to Wentwood?
We spent the rest of the day at our Montagu's Harrier stake out. There was no sign of one early on but the Kev's pager suddenly bleeped to inform us that there was a pair of Dotterel in a pea field near Choseley. It was like an episode of the Sweeney as we all piled into the car, wheels screeching as we tanked it over there (via Burnham Market which was heaving with poncey Londoners 'escaping to the country' in their Porsches, BMWs and 4 x 4s). We found the pea field and I caused confusion as I thought I'd seen one of the birds silhouetted distantly on the brow of a hill. But, I'd left my 'scope in the car so I couldn't be sure. Cars were turning up from every direction and birders started to scour the area where I'd "seen" the Dotterel. I returned with my 'scope but there was no sign of 'em. I tried to comfort myself by claiming that the birds must have gone over the brow of the hill. In all likelihood I'd probably seen nothing more than a Dotterel shaped sod of earth. Yellow Wagtails in the field was some consolation.
Back to our Monty's stakeout. We hadn't been there long when the pager bleeped again to say that the Dotterel had been seen again in a different field. 'Regan, Carter and Haskins' jumped back into the car and, to cut a long story short, we got 'em this time. A male and a female - but they were nowhere near as good looking as our Cefn Cadlan birds.
We tried our Monty's stakeout again and, Bob's your uncle, a male finally appeared. Chuffed isn't the word - lovely bird.
By now it was early evening and after acquiring some gen from some locals we went in search of Dartford Warbler. On our arrival at the site, it was clearly a larger area than we'd aticipated to cover to try and find one DW, but Kev used his 'fieldcraft' (i.e he asked another birder whether he knew where this bird hung out) and within no time we were on the bird. With daylight fading and so much suitable habitat to cover I doubt whether we'd have ever found it without this local birder's knowledge. He was an all-round good bloke. We didn't get his name but thanks anyway. And it proves that it's always a good idea to use a bit of 'fieldcraft'.
With about an hour left until sunset we arrived at Salthouse Heath. The first bird we saw was a Marsh Tit in nearby woodland, a Barn Owl flew in front of us, a Lesser Whitethroat 'rattled' in a bush, Garden Warblers were singing and eventually we heard a Nightingale - never saw the damn thing of course. Close up views of a Chaffinch, which Kev found sitting tight on its nest, was a nice sight.
Day three was wet, windy and cold but we were still up seawatching at Cley before breakfast. It was rubbish with only a Gannet or two passing by. We went down to Winterton Dunes in search of a Woodchat Shrike. It was miserable there too and no self-respecting shrike would be out and about in such weather. We gambled on the weather improving later and naffed off to Hickling Broad for an hour or two. It proved to be equally birdless - a fly-by Bittern being the highlight. Back at Winterton it was still windy but the rain had subsided. The shrike was obviously fed up with its morning wasted lurking around out of sight in a gorse bush and promptly put on a show. Nice one.
Day four was our last and it was still flippin' windy. With nothing to go for in Norfolk we started heading home. We called in at Ferry Meadows CP near Peterborough where we got on to a Red-rumped Swallow straight away just 20m from the car park. We didn't hang around long to enjoy it because the wind by now was so strong you could hardly stand up in it.
Next stop Rutland for Wood Sandpiper. No sign of them but a pair of Whinchat and a couple of Arctic Terns amongst the Commons was a bonus before returing to the birding nirvana that is Glamorgan.
A trip list of 124. We'll get those Orioles nest year.