I was up all night on Valentine's Night. The frighteningly damaging gales were causing havoc outside and I've been a bit wary of strong winds since I saw my Mum's washing blowing off the line when I was a kid. I got very upset that it was lost forever! As the bedroom wall started to creak as the wind hit 60-70 mph, I was seriously worried about what I'd find in the morning.
My mind was racing with thoughts of losing my favourite cherry tree in the garden, nestboxes and insect homes blown away, or the chimney falling on my car, but as it was the paper-thin fence that I've been propping up between my neighbour finally gave up the ghost and it was smashed to smithereens. No excuse this time for a non-repair by my neighbour! It was terrible to see the damge that occurred across the UK and the very sad loss of life, so I counted myself very lucky.
With a sleepless Friday night, Sunday morning's jaunt down to Hythe in Kent to see a Chinese pond heron - a potential first for the UK, but an also equally possible escapee from a zoo - meant it was a particularly rude awakening at 4 am to get to my birding buddy's Ade's house. I'm getting too old for that sort of malarkey!
We'd toyed with going to see the amazing yellow-rumped warbler found on the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, but chose the heron as a good day beckoned at RSPB Dungeness, close to Hythe. As it was, the heron didn't appear (making it easy for us to dismiss it as an escaped bird...) and Ade managed to not only blow a tyre, but also shatter the wheel completely after a drain came up in Hythe. Note to self, stay away from Hythe in future...
"Dunge" was a bit cruel to us to start with as we spent two hours trying to locate the wintering Hume's yellow-browed warbler without success and missed a glaucous gull, but two black-throated divers together on the new diggings, right next to the road were a superb treat - absolute stunners, even in their juvenile black and white. We finished the day in style by connecting with a penduline tit in the reedbed at Hooker's Pits and timed our arrival back at the new diggings to see the glossy ibis fly past on its way to its roost. I loved the letter in the current Nature's Home about the glossy ibis seen in manchester by reader Peter Dagnall and it was nice to get in on the action and see my first of the winter.
Black-throated diver by Mike Langman (check out his work in Dominic Couzens' Secret Lives in Nature's Home) - stunning in summer, pretty fine in winter too.
The "ready runner" tyre that we'd been pushing our luck with on the pot-holed roads at Dunge managed to get us home too, so a definite day of two halves. The came a body blow as we learned that the yellow-rumped warbler looked to have departed on Sunday night, so we wouldn't get to see it this coming weekend. I was so pleased for the family who found this rare bird - especially after our feature in the current issue of Nature's Home about Big Garden Birdwatch and how you never know what might turn up, including real rarities. I felt a little bit smug about that I must admit!
Let us know what you've been seeing
We'd love to know what you've been up to in this very mild, but extremely stormy winter. Keep the letters and e-mails coming to email@example.com or by leaving a comment here. It hasn't been a winter for waxwings or influxes of cold weather species from the continent such as wild geese and ducks, but the biggest influx of parrot crossbills for 20 years or so has been a stand out feature and colonising species such as great white egret and glossy ibis are present in some of their biggest numbers ever. But it's not all about the rarities - my garden birds have been thinking of settling down to breed for the last two weeks.
4am- not much gets me up at that time in the morning...
Great story though - keep updating us on your twitching tales.