When I saw on Friday evening there was a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Beachy Head in Sussex it was an easy decision to leave my end of season garden to the Scarlet Tiger larvae for at least another day. Not only was this bird a further passerine migrant to add to my autumn’s tally, but it was also a stonking adult male (see picture). There could be no more fitting candidate to take the landmark position on my British list.
Putting the destination into my satnav I was surprised when the distance was only 126 miles. En route I nevertheless felt like an extra couple of hours’ sleep wouldn’t have gone amiss. Then approaching Beachy Head signs about road closures from 9am because of a local marathon added a sense of anxiety. It was therefore a relief to find about 25 birders already at the stated location at 8:30am (below), staking out a hawthorn thicket right beside a roadside car park. I hurried to join them and got a first view of the bird within 10 minutes. Then two people close by said there was a Robin chasing the flycatcher around.
Though confident of what I had seen, that piece of dialogue meant a second view would be desirable to remove all doubt. About 30 minutes later the flycatcher began to appear more boldly, moving around the hawthorn bushes and flicking its black and white tail feathers, so that all present saw it clearly. A Robin it most certainly was not, though I did eventually observe the annoying local interloper as well.
At one point a chaplain in a high-vis 4WD stopped to see what was going on. He apparently has a role here spotting potential suicides and stopping them from jumping off the cliffs. Just as well I had seen the bird then! A few birders rushed for the pay and display machines thinking he was a parking attendant. Then two rather loud gentlemen arrived with a stock of twitching stories that anyone willing to listen was welcome to hear. When one of them began to quiz a big lens photographer about mega pixels, my thoughts turned away from getting record shots of my own. And so, mindful of the impending marathon I moved on.
Marshals and spectators were indeed beginning to congregate now but I soon left the race route behind. Sussex and the scenically beautiful South Downs is an area I barely know, so with mission accomplished so early in the day I hoped for a pleasant 70-mile drive west to Titchfield Haven on The Solent, where the day’s second lifer awaited. In the event Saturday morning congestion along the A27 rather took the edge off things, but having realised Sussex is so close by the direct route this is certainly a county I will re-visit in the future.
I made that drive with a great sense of satisfaction at having reached my British 300 birds. Also Red-breasted Flycatcher is a species that most seasoned birders will have and one that I’ve wanted to see for a long time. I suppose the next landmark must be to get my pan-European life-list to 400. That total, which includes the British list, currently stands at 373.