Isabelline Wheatear – Landguard Common, Suffolk

While at work on Friday morning I checked my pager to see that a probable Isabelline Wheatear had turned up near Ipswich at Landguard. The bird was soon trapped and the identification was confirmed. I immediately began to make plans. There was a problem however, Isabelle’s birthday party was the next day. About an hour later I received a Mega Alert, a Red-necked Stint in Cambridgeshire! Both birds were worth a long trip in their own right.

I phoned Peter, Nick & James (my Dad was unavailable in Ireland). Peter couldn’t go until Sunday because he was helping friends to move house. He suggested we went together and he would go with me for the Isabelline Wheatear, which he didn’t need. I remained non-committal about waiting. Nick would probably go on Saturday but we couldn’t go together as he was going with Clare and then would probably stay up in East Anglia for the weekend. There was no answer from James, although he did text me soon afterwards to say that he was on holiday in Sweden and wanted an update on both birds, was he considering coming back?

All this meant that if I went on Saturday I would need to go on my own. From the office I rang home to check when we needed to go to Salisbury for Isabelle’s party. I was disappointed to hear that the party was at 12pm and that we were invited for lunch afterwards, we would need to leave Poole at 11am. At this stage my plan was to try and convince Sara that I wasn’t really needed at the party. Sara agreed but said that I would offend people if I didn’t go to the do afterwards. This would mean getting back to Salisbury before 2pm. There was a much higher chance that the Stint would hang around (compared to the Wheatear) and so the best idea would be to get to the Stint for dawn and then try for the Wheatear if it was still around. However, even if I saw the Stint immediately this wouldn’t give me enough time to drive to Landguard (another 1.5 hours) and then all the way back to Salisbury. Misery and frustration set in. Both birds stayed until dusk and I decided to ring Peter to say I would come with him on Sunday, he was out. Also no answer on his mobile.

I then rang Nick and he confirmed that he was going with Claire separately. He was surprised to hear that I wasn’t going until Sunday, this unsettled me even more. I began to consider my options and had the idea that if got to Landguard for dawn (rather than Cambridge for the stint) then it was very likely that I would know by about 7am whether the wheatear was still present and this would give me enough time to get to Cambridge and then back to Salisbury for 2pm. I began to pack my things!

The alarm went off at 2am! I was on the road by 2.12am and the 210 miles to Landguard (Felixstowe) took 3.25 hours. It was 5:30am when I arrived and so I slept in the car for an hour before heading out into the mist of Landguard Common. The skies had been mainly clear overnight but it was very foggy now. If it had been foggy in Landguard in the late evening then the wheatear would probably still be present, however if there had been the clear skies which I saw in Poole and on the trip down it seemed likely that the bird would have gone.

The fog hampered searching and made conditions very wet and cold, however by 7:45am I felt reasonably sure that bird had gone. I needed to make a quick decision and so when news came through that the stint was still present I headed off to Cambridge. Most birders were still onsite looking for the wheatear and so I felt a little anxious about giving up so quickly. It turned out to be the correct decision, the Isabelline Wheatear was not seen again.

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