Sunday 26 September 2010


With the amazing news of an Empidonax Flycatcher species filtering through from Norfolk on Saturday afternoon, there was no way that I would reach the tip of Blakeney Point with enough daylight left.  I therefore took consolation in watching my dearest Tamworth FC.... lose 3-1 to York City.  Could my day get any worse?  Yes it could!  Whilst at the match Steve Richards called me to say that the mystery bird was now thought to be a YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER, a potential first for the whole of Europe.  As everyone knows though, there is always some poor soul out there more unfortunate than yourself.  My good mate Loyd Berry had spent the previous week slogging away on the remote Scottish Isle of Tiree.  During the whole seven days, the best he managed were a couple of Lapland Buntings and a single Ruff.  As his ferry docked back at Oban, disaster struck as he received the heart-breaking news that a NORTHERN PARULA had just been found on the island.  Birding can be so cruel at times.

Blakeney Point, Norfolk.
Photo by Adam Archer

As the hours passed by and the bird was discussed on the internet, the identification then reverted back towards it being either a WILLOW FLYCATCHER or an ALDER FLYCATCHER.  Whatever it was I needed to see it.  After a pretty restless Saturday evening, Jules Allen, Steve Richards and I decided to head over to Norfolk on Sunday morning.  We would take a slow route east in hope that the American rarity would be grounded by the foul weather overnight.  Initially there was no news but as we trundled along the A14 in Northamptonshire, positive news came through on the pager.  Superb!  

It was not too long before we found ourselves trudging along the 'Shingle of Pain' at Blakeney Point.  At this stage the weather was not too bad at all.  The high winds did not prove a problem for a trio of weathered birders like us.  The traipse was made even more tolerable as a pair of Long-tailed Skuas (279) flew past us just offshore.  Every now and then a Great Skua or an Arctic Skua would also pass by.  As we slowly plodded along we passed many 'early birders' heading towards us.  Familiar faces included a posse of Staffordshire 'Stokies' and a pack of 'Bumbling Bears' from Warwickshire.  After around a hour and twenty minutes we eventually reached 'The Plantation', a small assortment of stunted trees and shrubs clinging onto life in one of the most inhospitable parts of England.  

A short time later I was watching my first ever 'TRAILL'S FLYCATCHER' in Britain.  As the bird continued to show on and off, the weather took a sudden turn for the worse.  With no shelter on The Point we had no alternative but to stand huddled in the torrential rain as the bird struggled to find insects to eat in amongst the sparse vegetation.  Despite the frustration of my optical equipment steaming up and the fact that I could feel cold rainwater running down my back there was something tremendously satisfying about the whole experience.  The adverse conditions seemed to add to the excitement.  I also felt a huge amount of pride for all my fellow birders, twitchers and photographers who had made the effort that day, especially some of the more senior folk amongst us.

'Traill's Flycatcher' - Blakeney Point, Norfolk.
Photo kindly provided by Penny Clarke
Please click HERE for some more of Penny's photographs.

Taking shelter on The Point..... what's the point?

'The Point of Death'
Fortunately there were no birder related deaths in the stormy conditions but it did take its toll on various other local wildlife.  Above is an wrecked Northern Gannet whilst below is a stranded Grey Seal.

After a few hours of watching the bird we decided to brave the elements and hike back to the car.  As earlier in the day we were extremely lucky when another Long-tailed Skua flew through at point blank range.  There were also more Arctic Skuas and Great Skuas passing by.  In addition there was also a good passage of Northern Gannets and Common Gulls interspersed with the odd Kittiwake

We arrived back at the car park on Cley Beach soaked to the skin and exhausted.  All three layers I had been wearing were wet through.  To add to the discomfort, a section of skin had completely worn away from both of my achilles heels.  Both my beloved bins and scope were rendered useless and even my iPhone had stopped working in the damp conditions.  Despite all of the above I had enjoyed one of the most memorable few hours of birding ever.  I would do it all over again tomorrow if I needed to.
Despite hypothermia setting in, we then made the short journey across to Kelling where we finished the day watching a Grey Phalarope and a Red-necked Phalarope feeding together in unison.  Yet another pretty unusual treat that birding rewards you with every now and then.

An excellent article by Kevin Du Rose making a case for the above bird being an ALDER FLYCATCHER can be found HERE.

MEGA UPDATE: Following an announcement made on the 10th September 2014, after a four year wait, the British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee (BOURC) finally accepted ALDER FLYCATCHER onto Category A of the British List. There are therefore just two accepted records of this species for Britain as follows:

2010 - Norfolk - Blakeney Point - First-winter from 25th to 27th September.
2008 - Cornwall - Nanjizal - First-winter from 9th to 10th October.


  1. Just found this on the Surfbirds forum.....

    'I just saw a picture on Surfbirds by Mike Lawrence of the Alder Flycatcher which nicely shows the primaries opened slightly, revealing the length of the 1st (10th over here!) primary. As per my article on the Cape May website, you can clearly see that the 1st primary tip falls between the 5th and 6th primaries (6th and 5th over here) but is clearly relatively long and closer in length to the 6th (5th over here). This is a great starting point for Alder, while the head shape, eye-ring, relatively small bill and overall colouration are all ideal for Alder too. We should also remember the timing and the fact that Willows haven't been seen around here for nigh on a month now.'

  2. Arch can't believe you are all sheltering by that "shed" if you look in your first pic and see the BIG BLUE lifeboat building you would have been dry in there!!

  3. Yeah thanks, Judgester! I'll bear that in mind next time I trudge along to Blakeney Point in a monsoon..... like next week when that WHITE-WINGED LARK heads over from Sweden.