Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Monday 10th February 2014 - Lightening does really strike twice

Its been a different start to the year.

The year started on January 1st, as it usually does every year. We headed off to Burton Marsh hoping to see the BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT. Amazingly, the very first bird we saw as we got out of the car was a Siberian Chiffchaff feeding in the hedge a few inches away from the car door, and later we had the bizarre sight of a Wheatear. Unfortunately, the forecast was against us and by 09:00hrs it was pouring down. We headed back to the RSPB centre at Burton Mere Wetlands for some shelter. Highlights were a Little Stint and three species of swan. 

The rain continued so we headed back to Staffordshire. Gailey was the first stop for the wintering Great Northern Diver. Then onto Belvide where we saw the immature Long-tailed Duck and four Scaup. With fading light, we headed home, calling in at Westport. A decent first visit for the year saw a Gadwall, Peregrine and Lapwing.

The first Saturday of the year saw us stay in Staffordshire again. At Gailey, a Great White Egret had joined the Great Northern Diver. At Aqualate, we saw the female Velvet Scoter but couldn't find the LONG-TAILED DUCK or SMEW. Then we were called away to Hanchurch Hills where there was a report of a possible PARROT CROSSBILL. We did find a flock of 50+ Crossbill but it was impossible to find anything different amongst them. 

And then the year came to a sudden halt. I had chest pains again and headed off to A&E. It was to be the start of two weeks in hospital, culmulating with a seven hour open heart operation and three days spent in intensive care. It was puzzling as to why I'd had my first heart attack in 2012, but to have a second 14 months later was a bit of a bummer. It all became clear when it was discovered one of my arteries was coming off the heart in the wrong place. It was going between two other arteries and it was being squashed. Both heart attacks were caused by a birth defect and not by eating too much cake and getting stressed over the Staffordshire county boundary changes of 1974. Originally I was going to have a heart bypass operation, but at the last minute (as I lay in theatre) they decided they were simply going to move my artery and put it back in the right place. This re-positioning of the artery was described by the surgeon as a "once in a life time operation" to perform, and it was the first time the operation had taken place at the hospital. Quite simply, I'm one of a very small number of people in the world to have this type of operation!

I was soon back home, but it was clearly going to take a while to get back on my feet. My first walk to the top of the street was a complete struggle. But each day you get stronger, and regular walks at Westport built my strength up. Finally, 23 days after my operation, I managed a complete lap.

Apart from my visits to Westport, I haven't done much birding. My first trip was five days after coming out of hospital when PJ very kindly took me up to Tittesworth to see the drake Lesser Scaup

On Sunday 9th February, details came out of the location of a YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER in County Durham. It was on an housing estate and viewable without going into peoples houses. GAS was unavailable to go on Sunday (and I'm unable to drive for six weeks from my operation).

Having already practised by walking all the way round Westport, I knew the walking on the estate would not be an issue. We decided to go on Monday, setting off at 07:00hrs. It wasn't a very good journey as for some reason, we headed up the M6 and across the M62 - a Monday morning rush hour - what a mistake. We arrived at the village of High Shincliffe in County Durham at 10:15hrs. The place was heaving and there were cars everywhere. As we were walking down towards the main feeding station, a large crowd were running up towards us. We followed them and eventually had brief views of the Yellow-rumped Warbler high up in one of the fir trees. We were able to follow it around the gardens until it flew off and headed away from us.

We headed back down towards the coconut shells and stood and waited. Eventually, it completed its circuit and returned, giving good views in the silver birch and by the feeding station. I didn't realise it would be as mobile as this, but the birds every move was carefully followed. After about two hours of standing around, I realised my legs were starting to tell me I'd been on them for too long. It was worth it though.

Interesting fact - between the 10th and 18th February, I've now seen three American wood warblers - the Yellow-rumped Warbler, the Gwent Common Yellowthroat and the Kent Golden-winged Warbler.