Jane and I were married at the end of September, nearly 36 years ago. We were students at the time so I borrowed my Dad’s car and we stay for a few nights in a B&B in Northumberland for our honeymoon. On our first proper day together we went to visit Lindisfarne and passing Newton Pools, a shallow rain-filled depression in a field, (not sure if they are even there anymore ) we came across a first winter Wilson’s Phalarope! Now Jane wasn’t much of a birder at the time but even she could appreciate the simple, elegant beauty of this transatlantic vagrant.
Fast forward to this morning. Monday is my ‘duty day’ at Cley NWT. I’d checked the wader scrapes from the hides – no sign of the reported Pectoral Sandpiper from earlier and nothing much of note either. I took a brisk stroll down East Bank, the wind was strong from the west and keeping everything down. On approaching Arnold’s Marsh there was a small group of bird watchers looking closely at something. ‘Something of interest?’ I asked – ‘there’s an odd looking bird in the vegetation by the edge of the water’ came the reply. A quick look with my bins and I could tell this was something interesting! I dismissed the suggestion that it could be a Marsh Sandpiper and focused on the Phalarope family – silvery grey upper parts with brown scalloping at the rear, long black needle-like bill, dark eye mask, a whitish supercilium and… bright yellow legs! Hold on – that’s Wilson’s – oh heck, I thought!! I concentrated for the next few seconds on getting some digiscope grab shots before the bird rather inconveniently flew off west along the shingle ridge, showing a neat square white rump as it did so. I raced down to North hide whilst trying to contact Cley NWT Centre on the radio – no luck and no mobile phone signal either! On entering the hide I asked, breathlessly, if anyone had seen any interesting waders – ‘no’ came the reply. A brief scan around with the scope and I relocated the bird at the far end of the scrape. It eventually came closer for a brief while before heading off again, over the Eye field, towards Blakeney. I managed to get a weak mobile signal by the beach car park and put in a call to Mark Golley, who luckily was at home in Cley. Using his considerable local knowledge he went off to Bishop’s hide and relocated the bird some time later. The bird stayed on Pat’s for most of the afternoon.
I’ve seen a couple of spring birds in the intervening years but this is the only ‘first winter’ I’ve seen since our honeymoon special!