Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Aquatics and Acrobatics at Pinkhill 13th November 2017

Today I decided to spend a morning at Pinkhill which is a tiny area of marshland made into a Reserve and squeezed in betwixt the River Thames and the northern end of Farmoor Reservoir. 

Pinkhill Reserve
It was very cold overnight but with little wind this morning the waters of the reservoir were glassy smooth as I walked along the central causeway heading for Pinkhill.

The numbers of Tufted Ducks on the reservoir have increased markedly since last I was here and separate discreet gatherings of them floated on the water, the black and white bodies of the drakes resplendent in the weak sunlight. Further out on the reservoir a much more unusual visitor, a sea duck in the shape of a female Common Scoter was diving for food. Little Grebes feeding close to the causeway crash dived on my approach, flinging themselves underwater with an audible splash and rising much further out. Two large gulls loafed on the causeway wall, a Greater Black backed Gull and a Yellow legged Gull, both adults and both equally wary of my advance, flying off long before I was close to them. 

I reached the far end of the causeway and turned down the metalled path that skirts the hedge forming the northern boundary of the reservoir. I passed through the gate, crossed the Thames Path and walked the few metres up the boardwalk to the Hide that overlooks Pinkhill.

Opening the door I found, as anticipated, that the Hide was empty. Ten am on a Monday morning was hardly likely to attract anyone unless they had a similar specific purpose such as mine, which was to see a Water Rail.

They are fairly regular here and with a combination of luck, patience and I may say, some perseverance, they can be seen in the winter months picking up fallen seed from underneath the feeders that are hung up for the tits. There is no guarantee one will appear and even when one does it is often only after a long and tedious wait and with a reward of just a few minutes in its company before it takes alarm and runs back into the surrounding dense sedge and reeds.

I sat at the Hide's open viewing window and waited, looking out at the feeders just a few metres beyond. The last time I was here, in the late winter of this year, the feeders were attracting many Reed Buntings but today there was only a fleeting visit by two, a male and a female.

My view of Pinkhill and the feeders from the Hide
There was, however, a constant coming and going of Great and Blue Tits, some making for the feeders but others flying down to pick up fallen peanuts and seed from the muddy margins of the marsh. When they did this they would adopt acrobatic positions, clinging to reeds and twigs, looking down and around cautiously before dropping to the ground to seize a peanut or seed and then hastening back into the security of the surrounding hedgerow to eat it.

Great Tits
The activity was constant and I could hardly claim to be bored as the ceaseless arrival and departure of tits and their subsequent antics continued to entertain me. 

Blue Tits
Almost an hour had passed when a dark shape became partially visible in the sedge and reeds behind the feeders. I tensed. Was this the moment? No sadly, it was a Moorhen which promptly fled when it saw me in the Hide. The tits continued feeding despite the Moorhen's alarm but then, after another ten minutes, a smaller, slimmer, browner shape than the Moorhen slipped through the sedge and there at last was a Water Rail.

As  always I felt that delicious vicarious thrill run through my body as I watched its arrival. Their lovely plumage of streaked brown upperparts and slate grey underparts with black and white bars on the flanks is for me an irresistible combination. Secretive, furtive even and forever seeming to be afraid of its own shadow it ventured out into what passes for open habitat in a Water Rail's world. This means it always contrived to be near dense cover and it was only the smallest of open areas that attracted it and proved acceptable to its highly strung character. Compared to some Water Rails I have seen here on previous occasions this individual was comparatively bold and was willing to expose itself a little more than is usual although still showing the innate shyness of its kind and it always endeavoured to be but a foot or so from dense vegetation

It pecked at the fallen seed and then found a peanut which it picked up in its long red bill. I was aware that Water Rails are omnivorous so should not have been as surprised as I was that peanuts were on its menu. It held the peanut firmly in its bill and decided that to consume the peanut it would be far preferable to seek the sanctuary of the enshrouding sedge and reeds where it could reduce it to manageable pieces and eat in relative peace, so promptly turned and slipped away into the sedge. It had been on view for less than five minutes and I assumed that once it had consumed the peanut it would come back for more but I was mistaken and as it transpired I did not see it again until two and half hours later.

The intervening time was spent watching the tits but after a while even I grew tired of their antics but was otherwise entertained by Great Spotted Woodpeckers making fleeting visits to the peanuts, a couple of Mallard guzzling up the fallen seed and two Cetti's Warblers singing from different parts of the marsh but, as ever, remaining invisible. Another Water Rail called from the far side of the marsh and was promptly answered by the Water Rail I had been watching, thus proving there were at least two present and probably there were more.

Water Rails have a widespread distribution from Eurasia, North Africa and across to Saudi Arabia and China. Northern populations migrate from Scandinavia and Russia to join resident populations in Europe including Britain. They are a night migrant and believe it or not a strong flier although you would never guess it. A bird ringed in the winter of 1990, in Lancashire, was recovered in the following breeding season 2000 kms away in Belarus. Vagrants have been found in such widely disparate locations as the Azores, Madeira, Mauritania, the Arctic, Greenland, Malaysia and Vietnam

Because of the bird's secretive habits it is difficult to estimate its breeding population but it is thought there are between 4000-6000 individual territories in Britain. They are susceptible to predation by Mink which, by 1965 had exterminated them in Iceland. Other large mammals and birds prey on them too and habitat loss is now also a contributory factor to their slowly declining numbers. In winter they are also vulnerable to freezing weather and can then sometimes be found in odd places such as ditches, damp hedgerows, rubbish dumps and even gardens.

The time wore on and I stoically sat on the hard wooden bench of the Hide looking out at this particular corner of the marsh. A tiny movement on a carpet of dead leaves, wedged between some stalks just beyond the feeders, caught my eye. At first I thought it was just the wind stirring a leaf. I looked closer and there was the movement again. So fast it could be mistaken for an optical illusion. I remained focused on the spot and the movement came yet again and for a brief second, whatever it was remained still and I saw it was something furry, a mouse. I think it was a Long tailed Field Mouse or Wood Mouse as it is now called. If I thought Water Rails were nervy and skittish the mouse took these qualities to a whole new level.The comings and goings of the tits would prompt it to flee at incredible speed every time a tit flew down but then it would return at the same frenetic speed to grab a seed and hurtle off to hide under the leaves and behind the dead stalks. Not one movement was achieved at less than breakneck speed and it was never still for more than a second

I resolved to leave the Hide at two pm regardless of what happened in the meantime. The clock reached half past one and then the same slim, brown form that had so energised me earlier, materialised once more from the sedge and wandered out to feed on the fallen seed. The Water Rail had returned. It was present this time for slightly longer than eight minutes and as before,  its nervous personality eventually got the better of it and persuaded it to return to the reassuring invisibility of the sedge and I saw no more of it.

I relaxed, content now but feeling the cold which had been untroubling and forgotten as I had sat in anticipation of the return of the Water Rail. I stood up, my bones stiff from sitting immobile for such a long period and I could not feel my toes, so numbed were they by the cold. It was time to go home.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

A Bucks Bittern 8th November 2017

Each year I make one or more trips to Calvert Lake in the neighbouring county of Buckinghamshire where I know I have a good chance of seeing a Bittern in the winter months.

Calvert Lake and its reedbeds
Bitterns are still a very rare bird in Britain and it is always a thrill to see one of these ultra secretive birds. I am lucky to have not only the opportunity to see Bitterns here but also at my local RSPB reserve at Otmoor in Oxfordshire where, thanks to the diligence and efforts of the RSPB, a large area of reeds has been created which now provides a habitat in which Bitterns have bred for the last two or three years.

Bitterns were common in west and central Europe up to the nineteenth century. In Britain they were historically considered a gourmet delicacy and as a result became extinct in 1887, mainly due to hunting and to a lesser extent habitat loss. Presumably it was birds from Europe that recolonised Norfolk in 1900 and were proved to breed in 1911 with the population rising to 80 booming males by 1950 but then slowly declining to only 22 booming males in the 1990's. It got worse as the numbers reached a nadir in 1997, when prolonged freezing weather halved the population to only 11 booming males but since then, with enlightened conservation efforts, the population has risen, so that by 2017 no less than 164 booming males were recorded at 71 sites in England. (They are not found breeding in Scotland and Ireland) The main threat to Bitterns today in both England and Europe is degradation and or loss of their reed bed habitat by draining, drying out or conversion to agriculture and in Holland to this day, 90% of reedbeds are harvested, which removes suitable winter cover for Bitterns

They are therefore still an endangered and rare bird and probably always will be due to their particular and specialised habitat requirements but hopefully ongoing careful management of the remaining suitable reed beds and creation of new reed beds for both wintering and breeding as well as supplemental feeding and maintaining ice free areas of water in freezing weather where Bitterns occur, will preclude any further declines and boost Bittern populations.

I got to the hide that overlooks the lakeside reed beds early and sat on a hard, cold bench in the damp, fusty hide looking out on a frosty morning but with the sun promising to soon rise above the trees on the far side of the lake. A group of four or five Long tailed Tits passed along the thorn hedge flanking the hide and out on the lake Tufted Ducks and Common Pochards were scattered about, either diving or sleeping. Coots were as usual, forever bickering, flapping across the water, but never quite becoming airborne, intent on confronting another of their kin, their aggressive progress aided by their huge lobed feet that made a loud splattering noise as they ran across the surface of the lake accompanied by mini explosions of staccato sound from their white bills. On the still air came the distinctive whinneying calls of Little Grebes, hidden at the outer edge of the reeds whilst a Water Rail gave voice from within one of the reed beds, its harsh squeals in discord with the grebe's calls. Cormorants growled and gargled as they perched on the rails of the  moored rafts, all black and ugly as they stood to digest their fishy meals. The lake is never quiet or free from bird calls.

It often requires a long wait before a Bittern appears, if at all, and that can be a bit of a hardship sat in a small doorless hide whose spartan interior can become very cold. Sometimes the views are extraordinarily good, as it was last year when a Bittern stood in the open for over thirty minutes allowing me to examine it in every detail before it finally crept back into the reeds see here

At other times the views are the complete opposite, granting a glimpse of literally only seconds as it crosses a channel between two reed beds but does not stop.

Such was the situation today and after a two and a half hour wait, a Bittern slipped across the channel in the reeds to my right and was gone almost before I could raise my binoculars. Unlike a Grey Heron they do not walk with an upright body or held at an angle but hold their body and head almost horizontal creating a distinctive crouched silhouette.

The origin of the Bitterns that come to this particular location are open to conjecture with some suggesting they may be from the RSPB's reserve at Otmoor.  Possibly they are immigrants from further afield as numbers of Bitterns from Europe come to take advantage of our comparatively milder climate in winter and undoubtedly prolonged cold weather in Europe will drive others to Britain also, as this species is particularly vulnerable to extended periods of freezing weather.

I remained for five and  half hours in the hide during which time I saw the Bittern three times for all of four minutes. There was no showing off in the open today, not that I was worried, as just to see this rare and shy bird, no matter how briefly was reward enough. Bittern watching is tantalising, unpredictable and frustrating but ultimately often rewarding and I would have it no other way

Monday, 30 October 2017

Late Departure at Otmoor 30th October 2017

I headed for Otmoor this morning after a night of freezing temperatures, clear starlit skies and a heavy frost that crusted the grass with white. The morning air was still, not a breath of wind disturbed the fallen leaves that formed a carpet of multi colours, shining in the sunlight along our driveway.

The drive to Otmoor was, as ever, along familiar rural roads, now aflame as the trees by the roadsides turn to rich gold or deep crimson red, their leaves giving a last burst of flaring colour, like the final flame on a log fire, before they fall to earth and are extinguished.

I had not far to go at Otmoor as I was destined for the cattle pens at the end of the approach track where it joins the bridleway and just a short walk from the car park,  My reason? A late migrant Whinchat has been tarrying here for the last few days. As I walked the track Redwings sat high in hawthorns plucking at the red berries, tearing them from their stems unceremoniously and swallowing them, gulping the berries whole, sliding down swollen throats of white delicately streaked brown. The blue blush from the sloes has now gone and they are rendered dull by the frost and disdained by the birds. They hang like black marbles on the branches of the blackthorn that guard one side of the muddy approach track, 

At the cattle pens I stood quietly in the lee of the bushes waiting. Chaffinches fed in the grass and on the bare earth around the pens, flighty and edgy and regularly fleeing to the nearby bushes in alarm at something unperceived by me. The slurred trilling of a troop of Long tailed Tits  announced their arrival along the hedgerow by a water filled ditch, then, taking to the air en masse they flew across the bridleway to the far hedge, each bird silhouetted in a backdrop of clear blue air, looking like a miniscule lollipop with barrel body and preposterously long tail, propelled by weak fluttering wings.

A small, inconsequentially brown bird flew up from the ground within the pens and perched on a cold metal bar. It had its back to me, showing predominantly streaky brown plumage but with feathers outlined by pale buff or tipped with tiny white droplets, as if of rain, creating a confusion of pin stripes and spots. 

It was the Whinchat, still here and using the cattle pen fencing as a vantage point to drop down on prey in the now thawing, cattle churned mud below. It turned its head to reveal a dark brown mask and a prominent cream eyebrow on its face and then turning fully to face me, the sun shone on its underparts to reveal a tawny tinged breast and paler buff underparts.

Demure, petite, with feathers fluffed against the cold it fed on the ground at length, hopping around before resuming its perching on top of the railings, waiting for another feeding opportunity. It had better hurry and stock up its fat reserves for it has a long way to go to its normal winter home, far south of the Sahara in central and southern Africa. Maybe it is too late already and it is now going to face the hazard of a winter in the northern hemisphere and an unlikely future. If it does it will be one of a very few of its kind that have ever been recorded to have done so in Britain.

Maybe it is not too late though, for records of migrant Whinchats in October, although unusual are not that uncommon, as from 1982-1996, 533 have been recorded in October, although most had left Britain by mid October. There is at least one other record for Oxfordshire of a Whinchat in late October; one on 26th October 2001 at Balscote Quarry.

November records are very rare indeed, there having been only seventeen from 1962-1999, so another two days will see this individual, if not making the record books at least joining the select few Whinchats to have been recorded in Britain in November.

In Oxfordshire there are at least two past records of individual birds that were presumably wintering; one at Otmoor on 27th November  2002 and another one on 31st December 2008 at North and South Moreton. Possibly with milder winters this behaviour might become more prevalent but at the current time it is still extremely rare.

I watched this Whinchat coming and going as the sun warmed the ground and it seemed content enough, although feeding opportunities will become less and less. It had survived last night's freezing temperatures but how much longer can it remain before hunger forces it to move or finally succumb.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Rufous Rock in the Land of the Dragon 22nd October 2017

Last Saturday, the 14th of October, I went with my twitching pal Clackers and Shirley (Mrs Clackers) to see a male Rufous tailed Rock Thrush at a place called Gilwern Hill that is 1300ft up in the Brecon Beacons National Park near Blaenavon in Gwent.

Clackers had never seen a rock thrush and I had only seen one before in Britain, a female at Spurn Point, Yorkshire on 25th April 2013, so it was a worthwhile bird for both of us to go and see, especially Clackers.

After a mile walk along a wet and muddy track heading northwest from the minor road where we parked, we got to where the rock thrush had last been seen half an hour earlier, which was in a disused quarry, one of three, running in sequence alongside the track and all now long defunct.

After quite a wait the rock thrush was finally located but the views we got were somewhat distant with the bird choosing to remain on rocks high up on the face of the disused quarry that loomed over where we were standing on some grassy mounds above the track. Behind us was a precipitous drop, down into a wide valley with the towns of Blaenavon and Abergavenny spread out far below in the distance. It was very picturesque, remote and ruggedly beautiful.

The Rock Thrush never came anywhere near us while we were there but Clackers was happy to have just seen the bird and delighted that he had stood up to the rigours of walking over a mile of rough terrain on his bad leg.

The distant view of the rock thrush on my original visit with Clackers
During the following week I noticed on social media some very good images of the rock thrush were being posted, which obviously meant that since our visit the rock thrush was being seen a whole lot closer than we had seen it. It transpired that it had settled down near the third and most distant quarry from the road and photographers had used meal worms to attract it to one particular area where it could be seen well, something about which I am equivocal as the practice becomes ever more prevalent with the burgeoning of expensive digital cameras and high powered lenses amongst people professing an interest in photographing birds and other forms of wildlife.

I resolved to make another trip this Sunday to go and see the rock thrush, hopefully a lot closer than on my last visit, as it is an extremely attractively plumaged bird.

I left home at 8am to make a journey of an hour and a half to Blaenavon. I was in no hurry and drove contemplatively along roads that at this time of day were virtually free of traffic.It was a pleasant journey on a typical late autumn morning, much of it in rural surroundings. As I passed northwest through the Cotswolds I noticed the leaves on the trees were turning from green to copper and yellow, the varied colours contrasting with the leaden grey sky, and with many leaves being stripped by the wind and blown like confetti across the road to form pockets of copper and yellow in hollows by the verge. This is pheasant shooting country and cock Pheasants, now in their full plumage, 
strutted in stately and  lordly fashion across the lonely road, whilst the females, always in little groups, dithered, uncertain about my onrushing vehicle and then dashed at the very last moment, tails pointed skywards and necks craning, for the safety of the verge on the far side of the road. Many of the fields I passed were now ploughed with the rich brown soil awaiting the shoots of winter sown crops to arise. 

And so this pleasant idyll continued as I drove, virtually alone, on the road leading past Ross on Wye and into Wales. Monmouth followed by Abergavenny came and went and shortly after the Satnav instructed me to turn off the dual carriageway beyond Abergavenny and take a much narrower road rising ever higher, twisting and turning through wooded slopes before crossing a cattle grid and bursting out onto an open, windswept moorland hillside high above the town and looking across I could see Gilwern Hill, my ultimate destination, on the other side of the valley. Up and up I went and then at the crest of the hill turned right and took an even narrower single track road to park, after a mile, in a layby a few hundred metres from the track leading off to the quarries. As the rock thrush had been present for over eleven days I assumed there would be few birders or photographers bothering to come and see it but I was quite wrong.There must have been over thirty cars parked perilously on the narrow green verge by the road.

The wind at this elevation had taken on close to gale force gusts but it was sunny and once I got walking, not too cold. Gilwern Hill is now, as I mentioned, part of The Brecon Beacons National Park and the track that I followed inland from the road was formerly a Tramway that served the three quarries  where, between 1800-1920, limestone rock was quarried for Blaenavon Ironworks. Now long abandoned, the quarries still remain impressive  and testify to a time when this part of the world was industrial and a place of toil rather than an area for recreation and leisure.

The track alongside the quarries on what was the former
Industrial Tramway to the quarries.
The isolation of this elevated and remote location was, for today, invaded by quite a number of birders mixing with the occasional hiker and dog walker but despite this there was still a sense, an echo if you like of its solitary rugged abandonment and echoes of an industrial past.

I headed along the wet and at times muddy track, walking, head down, into a wind that was continuously gusting ferociously and making my eyes water. I passed the first two quarries, their deep cavernous excavations hidden by the spoil that had been tipped from them and now long since reclaimed by nature and naturally grassed over to form soft contured mounds by the track.To look down into the quarries one has to climb from the track and up over these uneven mounds to look into the deep heart of the quarry,

One of the Quarries
I carried on, passing the location where I had seen the  rock thrush with Clackers the week before but still there was no sign of any birders, so I pressed on and passing a birder coming the other way elicited the fact that another ten minutes walking would bring me to the spot currently frequented by the rock thrush. 'I couldn't miss it or the birders' he told me

I turned another wind blasted corner and there in a little amphitheatre just off to the left of the track,  and sat or stood on some more grassed over mounds adjacent to a small quarry, were thirty or so birders and/or photographers, looking at a little ridge of small rocks and stones not fifteen metres distant. 

Birders looking at the Rock Thrush perched on the rock face

Birders and photographers admiring the Rock Thrush on the stony ridge
All were pointing lenses or telescopes at the ridge. I sat next to a photographer with an enormous lens and following his lead saw the rock thrush sitting on the small rocks doing its best to shelter from the wind. 

Rufous tailed Rock Thrush squeezed into the rocks for shelter
My first view of the rock thrush this time was a world away from my last. It was beautifully camouflaged amongst the rocks, its white fringed and spotted upperpart feathers blending perfectly with the grey and white mottled rocks and stones, and even on the ground it was surprisingly hard to see, such was the effect of its mottled and speckled plumage in merging into its background. 

Its underparts were rich orange chestnut but again with much mottling from the pale feather fringes with flecks of black at their tips.When it turned away from me I could see the white back between the wings and the bright rufous rump and short tail. Its head was a pale buff colour, the grey being concealed by broad buff fringes stippled with flecks of darker colour and it showed a prominent buff eye ring.

Starling shaped but larger, overall it looked bulky and compact, this impression being accentuated by its short tail barely projecting beyond the wing tips. The wind was obviously bothering it and eventually it insinuated itself between two rocks that sheltered it from the wind but it did not remain there long before flying up to the nearby rock face above us and sheltering there in a little nook out of the wind.

We all waited and I moved position to get away from a particularly loud and foul mouthed gent who kept swearing about the wind and photographers. He needed to be careful as he was considerably out numbered but all of us just rolled our eyes and ignored his invective. Two other birders had even brought their  small dog but the dog was, for once, well behaved so there was no strife there.

What I was unaware of at the time but realised later, watching the rock thrush feed, was that the short grass in front of the little stone ridge had been liberally strewn with mealworms, in fact there were so many they almost formed a narrow carpet of food on the grass. A Northern Wheatear had also found this food source and was making the most of it and entertaining us while the rock thrush sat it out on its ledge on the rock face.

Northern Wheatear
Fifteen minutes must have passed before the rock thrush flew down onto a large rock on the ground and then onto the grass and commenced to preen. 

It then flew back to the favoured stony ridge. It was obvious it knew that here was an ongoing, readily available food source of mealworms. It had difficulty maintaining its balance flying in the wind and veered wildly in flight due to the gusting wind and indeed the wind force was so strong in the gusts, that one particularly fierce and prolonged blast nearly knocked me off my feet and I retreated to a less exposed position, more in the lee of the rock face 

The rock thrush hopped down from the stones and proceeded to select a mealworm. It ate it and then sat for a while amongst the mealworms before choosing another. Obviously well fed and in no hurry, the rock thrush proceeded to give me grandstand views down to  ten metres, as it alternately fed and then relaxed, contentedly perched on the ground. The Northern Wheatear also tried its luck and every so often the rock thrush would make a desultory lunge at the wheatear in defence of its mealworm bonanza but there was more than enough to  go around and the rock thrush never pressed home any of its attacks.

Now I know I took full advantage of the photographers  baiting the area but I did feel a lingering unease about the ethics and wisdom of all this artificial feeding. This bird is currently well away from its native breeding habitat, although the quarry is virtually the same as its normal habitat  and it should by rights now be in its wintering area in sub Saharan Africa but will the mealworms persuade it to remain here longer than it should and then when the photographers get tired of it will the food source be no more and it will be forced to migrate, hopefully not too late? It's just a thought.

Rufous tailed Rock Thrushes are essentially an alpine species and I have seen them myself at the top of the Pecos de Europa in northern Spain. They breed on steep, dry, rocky mountainous slopes and alpine meadows above 1500m and are widespread southwards from northern Spain and Portugal  across Europe, breeding as close to us as southern France and Switzerland, then around the Mediterranean, extending east to central Asia, the Lake Baikal region in Russia, Mongolia and across China to northern Tibet. It is a nocturnal, long distance migrant,  retreating to spend the winter south of the Sahara in southern Africa. One ringed bird returned for three successive winters from northeast China to the same wintering area in northern Tanzania, a journey of over 8000km.

This particular bird in Wales is only the twenty ninth to be recorded in Britain with another two having being found in Ireland and normally it is a very shy species hence the great attraction of this confiding and rare bird in Britain to birders and photographers alike.

I watched it and took its photo for over an hour and a half. It had a routine where it would spend most of its time sat on the ground or the ridge of stones near the mealworms, occasionally venturing to pick at a mealworm, eating it and then sitting with feathers fluffed up, obviously at ease. After it had fed enough it would fly up onto the nearby rock face and sit there until it felt hungry again when it would fly down once more. I also noticed a couple of curious behavioural traits. The first was it examined its feet at regular intervals. As to why I have no idea but it did it on a fairly regular basis.The other was it appeared to be quietly singing to itself, although, because of the wind, it was impossible to hear any sub song but its bill was frequently partially open and I think this is what it was doing. I have seen similar behaviour in autumn and winter from a male Stonechat at Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire and a male Eastern Black Redstart at Skinningrove in North Yorkshire.

The wind continued to come in gusts, some incredibly fierce and there was little shelter but there were brief periods of relative calm when it was possible to hold the camera and lens steady. I began to feel the cold and, having met two birding friends from Sussex, decided to leave when they did and walk with them the mile or so back to the car, even as other birders were making their way past us to see the rock thrush.