A new day and a new year – but who to believe on the weather? For those who behaved themselves on New Year’s Eve, there was a bit of a split. The BBC radio news had given a brief warm spell, with temperatures of between 10-13 degrees. Metcheck, however, was predicting ‘6 degrees, feeling like zero.’
Well, Metcheck won that particular prediction, and it was a chill, windy morning, full of cloud as 19 sober birders assembled at Carlton Marshes car park for the annual WBC visit to Lowestoft, led by the two Steves (Howell and Piotrowski).
For those into such things, there was also the business of the New List; a pinball day of seeing your tally rocket with every flap and tweet. There’s usually about three or four of these days at the start of the year if you pick your venues well; a wildfowl day, a wader day and a ‘general’ day – before getting into the serious business of specialists.
So, pencils out, and here we go…..
Somewhere out there in the Lowestoft area, various Lounge Lizards were doing the same thing, and the plan was to meet later at the Triangle Tavern to put the Lizard Land Challenge list together.
With a bit of a wind and muddy tracks, we single-filed in two groups round Carlton, SP leading a group towards Oulton Broad and SH heading straight out towards the Scrape.
Obviously, walking in this kind of order means some get birds that others don’t – despite my best efforts, I failed to pick up a passing yellowhammer, which was probably the best individual bird for our group. However, a large flock of distant pink-foots heading inland from Lowestoft was a pretty good reward.
Steve Howell’s group picked up a lone stonechat and redshanks on the Scrape and we got a marsh harrier, but the conditions made it a bit of a struggle, and an hour or so of slipping along the tracks was probably enough.
We re-assembled at the car park with a plan to head to Leathe’s Ham on Normanston Park, and walk through to what is now called ‘The Boulevard’ at Mutford Lock, separating Oulton Broad from Lake Lothing.
Leathe’s Ham is much improved from when I was a teenager in Lowestoft, and produced the unusual sight of almost-tame pintail, scuttling about with the mallards by the edge of the car park. Large numbers of gadwall were accompanied by tufted and one or two wigeon, as well as common gull and kingfisher. A lone heron stood sulking at the sight of all the dog walkers, as by now, the public was out and about in force, so we moved off down the track.
Curses! Loitering about at the back, I missed the lone chiffchaff hopping about in the bushes. Two dips already and it wasn’t even lunchtime.
The path is full of character, passing over the railway line just before the Ipswich-Norwich split, then down towards the edge of Lake Lothing, past the boatbuilding school and small repair yards with their links to Lowestoft and Oulton Broad’s past, before emerging onto the Boulevard – a swank new tarmac pathway, sweeping under the Mutford Lock bridge at the end of Lake Lothing.
And here was a possible Bird of the Day – a feeding common sandpiper amongst the turnstones and redshank, apparently quite happy to spend a winter’s day in the cold mud of Oulton Broad. Another kingfisher showed off by catching a small fish and posing with it on some brickwork nearby.
Lowestoft’s resident biking birder, Richard Chilvers, picked up on a rusty-backed fern growing in the brickwork of an old outbuilding – a bit of a rarity, apparently – and we briefly paused on the railway bridge on the way back where an interesting little garden had sets of feeders out.
So, off to the lunchtime rendezvous (where some were due to depart and others arrive) at Asda’s café – but it was shut! So we made ourselves obvious to the arrivals by scanning for peregrines on the old tower opposite (unsuccessfully). Lunches were assembled from Asda’s shelves before heading down to Ness Point in what was left of the light and what seemed to be an increasing wind.
Joined now by John Grant, firmly in the Champions League places of Suffolk gull experts, the ‘scope forest’ was assembled in what shelter could be found from the cut of the breeze. We picked up 7 of one of Lowestoft’s winter specialities, the purple sandpiper, before a massed scan located gannets, kittiwake, med gull and red-throated diver over what was a particularly uninviting-looking North Sea.
Three of us headed up to Hamilton Dock to check for anything taking advantage of the protection of the harbour walls, but the cold wind made it almost impossible to use bins without your eyes drowning, so gave that one up as a bad job.
The sea had also given up all it was going to, so those of us remaining headed back to Oulton Broad to use the last of the light checking the gull pre-roost by the sailing club, and perhaps pick up on a glaucous gull that had been reported the day before.
We did about an hour, but with usable light rapidly dimming and the cold biting into our inactivity, decided at last to de-camp to the Triangle Tavern for the meet-up with whatever Lizards were about.
Of course, as we arrived at the pub, Steve P received a tweet that the glaucous had come in 5 minutes after we left, apparently! Still, the pub was warm, and the Green Jack Golden Best on top form……so never mind.
Lizards began to arrive, the beer flowed and the Birding Tales began, some – but not all – featuring D’Weasel and other notable listers.
Still – that was it. Another year, and another list started. What the Lizards got that WBC didn’t added 8 to the total, which ended up in the mid-seventies for the day; not bad considering the adverse conditions.