Desert Wheatear at Reculver – 9th Nov

To begin with a preamble, the reason for an apparent pause in the adventures related here has been dipping once more on Lesser Scaup. I first missed this troublesome (at least for me) north American duck near Hereford in April 2013. The species eluded me again last weekend (1 Nov) at Wraysbury gravel pits in Berkshire, having been flushed by an inconsiderate fishery worker an hour before my arrival. After being logged there on Thursday morning (6 Nov), this bird wasn’t seen either by myself or others in the afternoon and hasn’t been reported since.

Another 2013 dip was Desert Wheatear, a usually confiding little number that really ought to be in north Africa at this time of year. Last autumn on the Severn estuary a ridiculously tame individual actually walked around the feet of some travelling Oxonbirders one Saturday afternoon. When I visited the following day, on a break from searching for Two-barred Crossbill in the Forest of Dean, the lost waif had disappeared. There is always something wrong if a bird is that fearless, and my guess was that a cat got it during the night.

And so to the present. Over the last few days three separate Desert Wheatear had been posted on RBA in Kent, Suffolk and Norfolk. Checking the distance, the Kent bird at Reculver (134 miles) was just eight miles further than my last twitch to Beachy Head. It’s a slippery slope, isn’t it! The location held two further attractions for me. Firstly other east coast autumn specialities, Horned (or Shore) Lark and Snow Bunting were also present. Secondly I like to combine a twitch with a bit of history and revisiting early-life memories. Reculver, the site of a Roman fort of the Saxon shore, holds recollections of a school trip when I was about 14 years old, my only previous visit. Game on!

Reculver marsh and towers

Reculver marsh and towers

I arrived at Reculver Country Park at 7:50am, hoping the Wheatear would have been located in the interval since first light. On the far side of the Towers from the car park several birders were looking over a sea wall and there was my bird. I at once recognised the setting captured in some superb pictures on RBA by a Kent photographer. My image isn’t too sharp but still better than I could have expected: the bird didn’t come that close again while I was on site.

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Mission having been accomplished so easily and early I walked east along the sea wall in search of two recorded Snow Bunting and my first Horned Lark since 1993. A recent Norfolk weekend had made me want to see more of these two species, and Kent was after all a lot nearer. With many birders around for assistance, all three birds were seen well before 10am by which time the general public was intervening. Lots more birders were still arriving too, but with dogs running around on the beach I headed back the way I had come.

The Desert Wheatear, a first winter male was now entertaining a largish audience from within a shell fishery just east of Reculver Towers, making for some interesting location pictures (above). Clearly in good health, it was flying up and catching insects from one perch or another inside the untidy compound (below). A Black Redstart was also attracting attention here.

All this was much to the chagrin of one after another kamikaze cyclist who would zip through without warning, berating any pedestrian who might have the temerity to be in their way. It doesn’t happen in Belgium or Holland where there is a proper cycling infrastructure, only in blighty. And still more birders came, but I had gained a lifer and seen what else I wanted and so went on my way.

The bird is on the fence (centre) in the foreground

The bird is on the fence (centre) in the foreground


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