Anyway, enough nostalgia. Yesterday I had a day trip to Dinant in Belgium with Sharpy, Brendan Glynn and Dave Johnson. A 05.00 meet at Sharpy's and we were soon on the road to Folkstone and then the Chunnel to Calais and back on the road to Dinant. The journey highlight was a pair of Common Cranes flying across as we drove through Northern France. Our target was of course the Wallcreeper that's set up home on the sheer rock face below the ancient Citadel. Good old Sharpy had been furiously Google Earthing and had a parking place sorted opposite the towns Police Station. Dinant is an idyllic, picturesque, riverside town with the dramatic backdrop of rock. A lovely place for a long weekend break if only you didn't have to constantly watch your step for the copious amounts of dog turd. Pity. Anyway, where to start? The rock face was more vast than we'd anticipated and obscured from various angles by buildings and trees. Reports of the bird had been sketchy at best for the last couple of weeks and I'd seen several tweets from people who'd gone and dipped. There were no other birders around so we had a challenge on our hands. We started out walking along the street surveying the rock in the hope of inspiration. Phone reception was good so we initially agreed to split into twos and start at each end, working towards each other. Myself and Sharpy scanned the far end of the cliff immediately below the Citadel but with no sign of the bird and a lot of tourists climbing the steps or using the cable car, we set off to look for the next vantage point. Dave and Brendon found 2 other English birders who had just arrived and exchanged phone numbers with them as they joined the search. We soon caught up with Dave and Brendan again and the area they were viewing looked promising so the team reunited. We'd no sooner joined the boys when Brendan lifted his bins and uttered those immortal, adrenaline surging words "I'VE GOT IT". This followed by the usual frenzied response of "WHERE!!!? WHERE!!!? WHERE ARE YOU LOOKING BREN!!!.? WHAT'S IT NEAR!!!"? and all that stuff. But no need to panic, Brendan soon had us all on the bird and just then the other 2 guys appeared right on cue. We were soon joined by a couple of Belgian birders and were able to get them straight on the bird as it worked the rock, poking and pecking the ins and outs of the crevices. I wont bore you with the usual excuses and apologies for the woefully poor record shots but they mean something to me.
Putting my pathetic images above to one side, I've always looked at photos of Wallcreepers and thought what a brilliant bird. But I have to say that after scoping this amazing creature in the flesh, even the best, 'proper' photos don't do it justice. It's a truly remarkable bird. The subtle rock grey and black camouflage betrayed by the brilliant crimson flashes as it frequently flicked it's wings and fanned it's tail, wandering around the vertical rock like some avian gecko. It was interesting to watch how it ceased its preoccupation with feeding and became very alert as a pair of Kestrels shamelessly and noisily set about creating their next generation in the tree above our heads. We spent a cracking 2 hours savouring this distant but wonderful bird. Sometimes obscured by branches but a slight change of position was often enough to get straight back on it.
There was enough time left in the day for a stop on the way back to Calais and we managed to find a tempting looking area of mixed forest. We hoped that Middle Spotted Woodpecker might be on the cards but alas only Great Spot. It was strange to see quite a large flock of Yellowhammer foraging the woods and Marsh Tits were everywhere and very confiding. As we were heading back towards the car, Dave called a pair of Treecreepers and pointed out that in Belgium they were likely to be of the Short Toed variety. This was confirmed as the male obligingly burst into song. 2nd new bird of the day for me and nice bonus. Another poor record shot later and the birds disappeared through the trees.
Back on the road and 4 happy birders were homeward bound. Our crossing back to Folkstone was cancelled and we had quite a lengthy wait for the next one but that was never going to take the edge off the day. I arrived home about 23.30, knackered but smiling. A long but really enjoyable day.
Special thanks to Sharpy for all the organisation and the epic driving effort, to Brendan for nailing the wonderous Wallcreeper and Dave for picking out my 1st Short Toed Treecreeper. And thanks to all 3 for the great company on a great day out.