Dungeness at dawn, complete with expectant hordes
Since arriving back from Morocco, things seem to have gone a bit nuts in the UK. Nothing spectacular in terms of quantity, but quality is certainly there. News of a Collared Flycatcher at Portland broke on 29th, and then later in the day a Crested Lark was found in Kent. So, at 02:20 on 30th, in the pitch dark, I rolled up in the area north of the new lighthouse at Dungeness, where the only other birders present were Will Soar in a suspiciously steamed-up car and Richard Bonser, who had already been on site for c80 minutes. Finding it hard to contain my excitement at the prospect of a dull brown bird I had seen hundreds of in Morocco over the previous week, I decided against sleep and stood in the darkness with Marc Read (and later Dan Pointon and Mick Frosdick). Interestingly Marc, then I, heard the Crested Lark calling a little after 03:00 (my ears sharpened after repeatedly hearing them in Morocco). It therefore came as no surprise when the bird was located flying from the direction in which we heard it some time before 06:00. Though generally flighty and elusive, it did show well on the odd occasion, although the rather large crowd didn't help in the plight to gain extensive deck views. A somewhat darker bird than those observed in Morocco, it was also quite strongly streaked on the breast. Unfortunately, my views were not good enough to observe the chestnut underwings but apparently they were present...!
With no news forthcoming on the flycatcher, I had a brief seawatch off Dunge. Not alot was happening; a couple of flocks of Common Scoters headed east as did several Arctic Terns. Then, at around 08:20 on it came - and so I got on with the arduous drive west.
The drive to Portland was, in essence, appalling. It was capped off by a crash at Ferrybridge, which temporarily delayed the journey further. Finally, some time in after 13:00, I rolled up at Southwell and was greeted by the usual midweek brigade, getting excited over every Blue Tit moving through the garden the flycatcher had been favouring. After some time, up popped the boy - a fantastic first-summer male Collared Flycatcher. A remarkably smart bird, the only real difference from an adult being the brownish primaries and fairly restricted white patch at the base of the primaries (for Collared). Being the miserable recluse I am, I soon got bored of the crowd and so decided to call it a day and battle through the traffic back to Lincs, arriving back in the mid-evening.
Next day (1st May), the flycatcher was still present, and was joined nearby by an Eastern Bonelli's Warbler. Setting off on initial news, I reached Thrapston before turning home on negative news. What a schoolboy error that turned out to be - no sooner had I got home then the bird came back on as there. To cut a long story short, it cost me the bird - I arrived at a rainy Portland some half an hour too late for the bird, and the rest is history. Spell it out: D -I -P....