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October 2022

WBC Scottish Tour - Draft Itinerary

September 2022

News Items 

The Access for All Path at Minsmere - what it means to me

By Stephen Dean

One of the birds I most wanted to see in Britain was the Common Nighthawk, an enigmatic relative of the Nightjar that is a very rare vagrant from North America. The place in Britain where they have been found most often is the Isles of Scilly, but in 12 October birding holidays there I saw lots of other wonderful birds, but no Nighthawk. Then, in 1998, one was found on St. Agnes...

Picture the scene: I am with three friends and we have driven overnight to Penzance. We know the bird is still there. We have checked in for our flight and we are waiting in the departure lounge. The pager goes off and the message says that the bird has died!

Since then my mobility has become very limited and if I need to walk for any distance outside I have to use a mobility scooter. I also find it hard to stand and use my bins for long and so sitting down on my scooter or in a hide makes all the difference. My birding has been very restricted by these limitations and I thought my chance of ever seeing a Nighthawk in Britain had gone. Then, on 26th September 2022, one was found on a garden fence in the small Oxfordshire town of Wantage. A friend of mine was going and my partner, Louise, and he were able to get my mobility scooter into the boot of his car. When we got to Wantage, we parked as close as we could to where the bird was, set up the scooter and made our way along the pavement, crossed one road, turned left, crossed another road and then turned right into the quiet residential close where the Nighthawk was perched on a fence on the opposite side of the road, seemingly oblivious to the hundred or so birders less than 20 yards away!

The views of the Nighthawk were way beyond my wildest dreams. My metaphorical and literal journeys to that moment of connection had needed a lot of determination and I would not have been able to fulfil this long-held ambition without the help of others, my mobility scooter and scooter-friendly surfaces to ride it on (the Nighthawk's journey to that point, of course, was an unimaginable feat of survival).

So, what's this all got to do with Minsmere? Well, I first went to Minsmere in 1976 and fell in love with the place and its birds straightaway. I recall that day, and the nine species I saw for the first time in my life, as if it were yesterday. Minsmere formed the backdrop to many of my formative birding lessons and experiences over the years and I have missed that in recent times as my ability to simply go for the day, on a whim, and enjoy walking around has gone.

Now, the hard work of the Waveney Bird Club, the RSPB and others to get an accessible path built between the North Wall and the East Hide is coming to fruition, which will make a huge difference to me and many others whose mobility is restricted. I am really looking forward to being able to get to the East Hide (which has been extended) on my mobility scooter and enjoy the simple pleasure (that I took for granted for so many years) of sitting and watching the wildfowl, waders, gulls, terns and many other birds.

Thanks to Kathy Piotrowski, who first suggested the idea, and the tireless work of the Waveney Bird Club to initiate the project and raise funds, this is actually going to happen. It's great for there to be a good news story for a change and to all those Club members who have donated money and supported this project in other ways I say a heartfelt thank you!

I look forward to seeing you in the East Hide.

Stephen Dean

Common Nighthawk, Oxfordshire, September 2022

Common Nighthawk, Oxfordshire, September 2022 - at last!

Minsmere Access for All Path

21st September 2022 update

Since the images taken on the 15th (see below), work has been progressing well as these new images (and video) from Steve and Kathy show.

Minsmere Access for All Path

15th September 2022

The path project construction finally got underway this week and I thought you might like to see some pictures. We cut the path through the grasslands before Gilleards arrived on site, and now already we have a bridge and they are cracking on with installing the uprights which will hold the boardwalk. I’m very glad we did go for the boardwalk option in the end; even with this dry summer the last section close to the hide is really soggy and the team are adamant they only want to take the digger through once! So we are working from the bridge end and heading northwards. They estimate 7 weeks to completion but if nothing goes wrong and the weather stays dry I can see it being achieved in even less time.

Katie Fairhurst
Warden, North Suffolk Coast Reserves

Click images to enlarge

ernie-th

Ernie Lucking – a tribute

Suffolk’s birding community is still reeling following the sudden loss of our great friend and WBC member Ernie Lucking.  I knew Ernie since the early 1990s when we used to meet each morning whilst the team were ringing birds at Fagbury Cliff at Trimley.  Ernie walked his little dog, Monty, daily and as he passed our ringing table would stop to have a friendly chat and to see what birds had been trapped that day.

In more recent years, it was always a joy to meet Ernie at Landguard.  Several birders gather at the Obs each morning to log the birds that frequent the point and those seen flying offshore.  As we gaze into the rising sun, it’s always tough work and anything remotely unusual is shouted out.  “Fulmar soouff” in Ernie’s soft London accent always raised a chuckle!  However, Ernie’s “Directionlexia” was rarely spot-on and he often muddled noorf and soouff.  Fellow watchers would be thrown by Ernie enquiring about the identity of a bird flying souff past the green buoy!  “Do you mean the one flying north” you would hear someone say.   Ernie was never fazed and with a wry smile accompanied by a giggle, he would reply "Oh yeah that’s wot I meant".  Ernie was nearly always accompanied by his long-suffering birding companion Dave Langlois.  Ernie, with his impish sense of humour, would never miss a chance to goad Dave, whose hearing is somewhat restricted, especially when the pair was seeking out species such as Grasshopper Warbler.  This would always bring out the mischievous side of Ernie and he would ask Dave "Can't you hear it Dave" bringing the response "You know I bloody well can't" again evoking that giggling smile which we all knew and loved.  During our walks around the reserve, Ernie would always carry a huge fertiliser bag, to collect litter as we went, and he was party to many rare bird finds.

It was a real privilege to accompany him on three amazing WBC tours - to Georgia/Armenia, Kazakhstan and, last year, to north-east India. Ernie had a kind word for everyone and these trips were not without humorous incidents. Tour members will never forget going through customs on the Armenian/Georgian border. On the Armenian side our passports were checked, but on the Georgian side we had to get out of the minibus and then carry our luggage through the customs office where it was checked for contraband.  But where was Ernie?  He was not to be seen.  Had he popped into the loo – no one knew!  We waited but Ernie failed to appear, so the only option was for his travel companions to carry his luggage through and pretend that it belonged to one of us and hope to find Ernie later.  As we re-boarded the bus ready for the off, Ernie appeared.  He had decided, entirely innocently no doubt, to have a wander through no-man’s-land to admire the view - a wander that was of course unauthorised and very much frowned upon by the grim-faced border guards!

ernie

Another incident that will live long in our memories happened during our 2019 tour of north-east India.  It was a tough, full-on tour as we walked many miles each day along mountain passes and jungle trails.  Ernie was having ankle trouble so hobbled has way round without complaint.  We birdwatched the Sela Pass (a high-altitude mountain pass at an elevation 4,200m) on one of our days and, like me, Ernie suffered altitude sickness, so both of us remained in the minibus without a care about what the others were seeing!

There were lots of key species that we all wanted to see but a real prize was the stunning pheasant-like Blyth’s Tragopan.  It is undoubtedly one of the world’s most beautiful birds, showing vivid colours of crimsons with pale greyish spots, a yellow face and throat and a pale grey lower breast and belly.  For days we searched in vain along jungle trails, but this elusive bird remained hidden in dense undergrowth – somewhere!

After a third day of searching, our tour guide heard its distant far-carrying call.  It was some way off down a steep and heavily-wooded ravine, but we were determined.  Our leader began playing a voice lure and after several minutes we were in no doubt that its call was getting louder. The bird was getting closer, slowly making its way up the slope towards us!  We were told to take up position on the opposite side of the road and remain silent. The idea was that we would coax the bird across the road directly in front of us as it was attracted by the tape.  Its call got louder and louder and the tension mounted amongst our group.  It was now very close but then suddenly it stopped responding.  What was happening?  Was it still coming?

After a minute of extreme anxiety, we heard Ernie’s quiet voice. “What’s that bird standing in the road behind us?”  It was the tragopan and with that we all swung round in unison.  Our sudden movement and burst of excitement was too much for the bird and it immediately flew up the slope and was never seen again. Those who had occupied the front line of our group, but were now at the back, had their views blocked by a mass of human bodies so missed the bird (sorry Will Brame).  But thank you Ernie as several of us were blessed with a great, albeit brief, view, and we owe this amazing sighting to you.

Ernie was loved and respected by everyone who knew him and his infectious smile will never be forgotten.  He will be missed by birdwatchers throughout Suffolk and elsewhere.

Steve Piotrowski

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Frampton/Gibralter Point trip (16-18 September)

Picture of the group at the chippie in Chapel St Leonards. Report to follow.