Monday 15 September 2014

Old Fall Drift

Up early after late night in Sheffield watching Lee Mack. Couldn't get parked in my usual spot at the top end of Old Fall and shortly bumped into Martin Garner who kindly invited me to park on his drive - thanks Martin!

Headed off down Old Fall. It really is an exciting place to bird in autumn with an easterly blowing and despite the lack of birds (one Redstart, one Wheatear and a Whitethroat) the site always 'feels rare' and you never quite know what might be just around the corner. Today, it was a small, dark short-tailed Locustella which zipped off the clifftop path at the south end of the Old Fall hedge and shot into the long grass on the cliffs. Eek! My mind screamed 'Lancey' and I fixed my eyes on the exact clump of grass where it dived in. I hadn't seen much, but I was sure this was smaller than a Grasshopper Warbler. This could be my big bird.

With ultra focus I crept forward though to be honest, I had little hope of seeing the bird as the grass was very thick and long. A Lancey would just vanish in habitat like this. I got within a metre or so and I was just thinking that the bird must have scurried away, when it shot out again, down a sleep slope to my right and then up into the grass on the cliff side. Bugger! This wasn't going to be very safe or easy to get near to! I hadn't seen much more on the second view other than that the upperparts were the same colour throughout; brown with dark streaks, thus excluding Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler. Therefore, my choices were limited to Gropper or Lancey. I dumped my scope in the grass and gingerly descended the steep grassy cliff into the thick vegetation at the bottom. Nothing moved. I started to ascend the other side, which was really difficult due to the gradient. Using dead grass and brambles as hand holds wasn't really pleasant, or successful and I twice nearly fell. Reaching the top, I was gutted I hadn't seen the bird again. It must have flown further than I had thought or perhaps scurried away through the grass and out of my line of attack. What to do! Just to my side was the vertical cliffs - I couldn't really go any further that way. So, I opted to search the rough grassland on either side of the depression and the set aside crop. Half an hour later and still no sighting, so I decided this would have to be the one that got away.

A little later, I bumped into Craig and Lee and they were heading that way, so I suggested they have a look for the bird - just in case....

My little streaky distraction left me with not a lot of time. I had a quick check around Bay Brambles, finding a confiding Pied Flycatcher, but no sign of the reported Red-breasted Fly. I then spent a bit of time doing the gardens along the road, which revealed a Garden Warbler and little else. I decided to call it a day and head back - Dad duties beckoned back in York. I had a quick look at Old Fall steps where Phil's Barred Warbler had been seen again. Today, three Barred Warblers and a brief Lesser Whitethroat fed on the elderberries. Clearly a fall of Sylvia borin....Whilst watching these grey dudes, Craig and Lee rocked up. They had in fact seen my Locustella, albeit briefly in flight, and Craig had decided it was a Gropper. Darn it! Oh well, at least that saved a potentially life-threatening twitch on the edge of a very steep cliff, and meant I could leave without the spector of that little streaky dude hanging over me. Though I still wonder...

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