|Alder flycatcher (photo: Cephas via Wikimedia Commons)|
"SOUTH-EAST WINDS FOR QUALITY - NORTH-EAST WINDS FOR QUANTITY"
THE special birding magic of Blakeney Point on the Norfolk Coast was the subject of a fascinating illustrated presentation by Paul Laurie at the January meeting Grimsby RSPB.
Born in Grimsby, Paul grew up in Kent where, 47 years ago, he began developing his birding skills by watching the birds in and around St Margaret's Bay between Dover and Deal.
He moved to Norfolk in 1997 and, ever since, has been monitoring the birds of Blakeney Point two or three times a week,more often at peak migration times.
The Point is not for the faint-hearted, requiring a lot of walking on shingle - guaranteed to tighten the hamstrings.
It is a bleak environment with just a few trees and shrubs, laughingly known as "the plantation".
There are no records of great tit, green woodpecker and great-spotted woodpecker and only one each for nuthatch and blue tit. Even house sparrows are rarities.
Yet, every year, this iconic habitat yields one of the UK's most impressive tallies of rare and scarce species - the likes of Siberian stonechat, desert wheatear, thrush nightingale, short-toed lark, red-breasted flycatcher, Pallas' grasshopper warbler, pallid harrier, various of the less common pipit and bunting species and, in September 2010, what was only the second British record of an American species, alder flycatcher.
Obviously, there are many quiet days, but the magic of a place such as Blakeney lies in its "you-never-know-what-might-turn-up-next"quality.
And, as Paul said, it is a fair bet that, if you see one rare bird, you will then see a second on the same day.
An example of this came when he was trying to relocate a red-throated pipit he had seen fly in off the sea. As he did so, a beautiful bluethroat, in breeding plumage, popped up just a few metres away from where he was standing.
Alternatively using either a Nikon, with 200mm. 400m lens or a Canon PowerShot SX 60 bridge camera, with video capacity, Paul has captured some excellent images not just of these species but also of the various, terns, divers, grebes and ducks that are a feature of the various habitats at this truly wild habitat.
The divers, incidentally, are particularly partial to the tiny crabs which dwell in the harbour.
Blakeney Point throws up a special challenge for birders. Because there is no cover, birds can see humans coming from a long distance and quickly fly off.
But Paul has certainly cracked the challenge. He revealed various aspects of his fieldcraft - for instance, watching to see if any passerines are being flushed as marsh harriers or other raptors patrol the saltmarsh
There is a saying among Norfolk birders: "South-east winds for quality - north-east winds for quantity."
That certainly seems to be borne out at Blakeney Point where Paul has certainly enjoyed some sensational experiences with huge autumn arrivals of winter thrushes on north-easterlies.
On one occasion, he had to tread carefully because the ground was covered with exhausted redwings, including one bird which he saw flying in through sea spray, land just before his feet, then tuck its head under one wing and fall asleep!
On that spectacular day, he reckons there may have been as many 200,000 redwings, fieldfares and ring ouzels.
According to Paul, winter visitors such as fieldfare tend to leave Scandinavia at about midnight on clear nights, but, if they encounter heavy mists over the North Sea, they become disorientated and fly around in circles until they can see light reflecting off land (for instance, the white cliffs of Hunstanton - a noted Norfolk hotspot for migration-watching).
Paul's inspirational presentation - to an audience of about 50 - was peppered with amusing anecdotes, for instance about a 'dead' tawny owl that a friend picked up off the road and put in the boot of his car before continuing his journey.
When he arrived at his destination and lifted the boot, he was taken aback when out flew the owl, apparently in perfect health.
On another occasion, he watched in fascination as a kestrel spied an exhausted starling that had collapsed into a pool after a long migration from eastern Europe.
The raptor pounced, but the starling was so waterlogged that it took three or four attempts before it could could take off with the prey between its talons.
By request, Paul escorts small tours around Blakeney Point, and more details are on his blog: