Monday 20 May 2013

Penance at Blakeney Point

Readers of my blog from Ireland will know what I mean when I talk about Croagh Patrick. It's a mountain in Mayo overlooking Clew Bay which devout Catholics climb once a year in their bare feet across sharp rocks and stones in order to atone for their sins. I would say this to them, if you really want to experience that true sense of penance and punishment for your manifold sins.......try lugging 10 kilos of birding gear all the way along the shingle of Blakeney Point and back again. You'll feel like someone thrashed you across the shoulders, back and legs with a great big dirty me, Croagh Patrick is like a gentle pedicure compared to it!
Ever since I knew I was moving to Norfolk, Blakeney Point has been on my radar. It has an envious record of rare birds. I'd been talking about 'doing' Blakeney for months now, so with suitable winds and a Bluethroat reported from halfway along the Point, that's where we headed for on Sunday.
We parked up at Coastguards and I began selecting only the essential items I would need for walking the Point. I still felt a little bit 'weighed-down' as we trudged the first hundred yards or so from the carpark. But the weather was glorious and the promise of 'frame-filling' Bluethroat shots filled my mind.

Blakeney Point from Coastguards - 19th May 2013

After forty minutes or so we reached the area just beyond the Half-way House and before the area of dunes known as 'The Hood'. Several birders were already assembled, they told us the bird had been showing well as we were fifty yards or so away but by the time we arrived it had vanished again. But not to worry, the best advice was to sit and wait. I spread out the legs of my tripod, mounted up my camera and lens, parked myself down on the shingle and began to wait. I enjoyed a relaxing lunch listening to the calls of the many Sandwich and Little Terns flying up and down the Point. After an hour there was no show, but I mentioned to Nick that I was happy to give it as much time as it would take to see it, I mean, its a summer male red-spotted Bluethroat, what was the rush? More birders had assembled at this stage and just then several more arrived on their return from the far end of the Point. I think some of them hadn't seen it on their way out so someone thought it might be a good idea to start some 'Suaeda-bashing' and three or four birders began moving through the sueda from opposite ends hoping to flush the bird out. I understand that on Blakeney this is sometimes the only way to see a bird but given that some of us had patiently and quietly waited for an hour hoping to see the bird pop out onto the shingle edge, I wasn't so sure I liked this approach. The bird was flushed and flew out of the Suaeda and dropped down in a different spot. The group headed towards where it had gone in and this is where the field-craft 'best practice' began to fall away. Nick and I decided that decent views would be tough and photos nigh impossible, so we gathered up our gear and decided to walk to the end of the Point. These are the best shots I got in the end.

Red-spotted Bluethroat - Blakeney Point, Norfolk - 19th May 2013
If you want to see proper shots of the bird take a look at Penny Clarke's excellent photos here

We passed many Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, four Whimbrel, several Wheatears and a Marsh Harrier on the way up to the end of the Point. After an hour we reached the Lifeboat House. Just before it is a small group of willows and sycamores called The Plantation. It looks really juicy! I mean, its had Alder Flycatcher in there after all! On Sunday the best we had was a male Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Common Whitethroat and two very pallid looking Willow Warblers ('Northern' types maybe).

'Northern' type Willow Warbler (?) - The Plantation, Blakeney Point
While Nick went to check the Lupins around the Lifeboat House, I had nice views of a Short-eared Owl as it drifted past along the ridge of dunes.

Lifeboat House, Blakeney Point, Norfolk - 19th May 2013

We began to make our way back, we arrived back at the Bluethroat spot giving ourselves half an hour to see the bird. This time things were much more civil. We were joined by a couple of other birders and we all sat still quietly waiting for the bird to show. However a cold mist rolled in off the sea and the bird remained buried in the Suaeda, probably keeping its head down for the night.
It was now time to start the trudge back. I thought I'd never see the carpark at Coastguards, in fact I couldn't actually see it through the fog and was glad there were a few Blakeney regulars in front of us so we were able to find our way home. By the time we reached the car I was ravenous. Lunch had been a long time ago, my shoulders were killing me and I was shattered. But at least I had the 'Blakeney-experience'.
So on the basis of my first visit there, what would I do to make it that little bit easier next time. Well first of all, bring food and water (which I did), only bring what you need - although I would hate to walk all the way to the Plantation without my camera only to find a cracking bird there giving itself up. A light lens would be good but the only lens I have which is lighter than the 500mm f4 is a 300mm f2.8, they're both bulky. Also, get a good kip the night before and stay off the sauce (definitely don't stay up late watching movies and drinking nice cold'll pay the next day..........ahem!). Finally, I would probably hesitate to do it on spec. Only if the winds were good for migrants or if I knew there was a good bird there. It must be tough to track all the way to Plantation only to see a Chiffchaff.
My next blog update won't be for another week. But it will be from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco where Nick and I are headed later in the week for Tristram's Warbler, Atlas Flycatcher and Seebohm's Wheatear amongst other stuff. It promises to be good!


  1. Congratulations Graham on your first BP experience. You've got the bug now – you'll want to go again even though it kills you!

  2. Hehehe - sounds like an expedition and a half Graham! Just have to make do with the fact that at least you never dipped, can't say I'm too enamoured of the stomping through the undergrowth method and deliberate flushing though - WTF???

  3. You should head down the chemist there G-dawg, get an oul bottle of Harden d'f*ck up! I will get P to start nagging ya to run that beach. ;) Enjoy Morocco. Great spot, one of my favorite countries for birding.

  4. Maybe I should call Sister Assumpta from the Mattie Hyslop crowd to call around and toughen me up!

  5. Ah no. Ya will end up on the floor covered in chocolate. Again.