Our original plan had been to go straight to Pembrokeshire overnight on Friday but the weather forecast was terrible for the southwest on Saturday. Instead we decided to head for Derbyshire first, then drive to Pembrokeshire on Saturday afternoon (driving through the rain), stay near Haverfordwest on Saturday night and having seen our target down there on Sunday morning to head home during the rest of Sunday. And it went pretty much to plan with an additional bonus on the way home.
Leaving Justin's at 03.00 we were having breakfast under the golden arches in Chesterfield by 06.00 and then parking up on the carpark on the Chatsworth estate by about 06.45. The organisers of the birding operation the Dukes Barn Outdoor Centre had laid on a free one-way shuttle minibus to the village of Beeley about a mile away to prevent the village being overrun with cars and it worked like a dream. We were in the grounds of the outdoor centre pre-dawn awaiting the light. A Tawny Owl called and loads of Redwings were flying over calling making us a little nervous because it had been a clear starry night. More Redwings and a few Fieldfares started emerging from the gloom in the hedges and after about half and hour the shout went up for the Dusky Thrush. It was feeding on apples in a small orchard and despite the poor light and big crowd I was able to get some nice views of it feeding back-on in an apple tree, turning its head occasionally. We stayed at the site until about 12.30 and saw it 3 times, once at distance in a grassy field and finally back in the orchard for prolonged and very good views where I was able to get a few snaps. In between sightings there were several dashes but getting around, through hedges and narrow gaps in walls etc combined with the generally flighty nature of the bird meant it wasn't easy to connect with every time it showed. The hospitality of the guys at the outdoor centre was superb - trays of bacon rolls, coffees and teas for sale, loos to use and smiling faces. As Justin said 'I don't get treated this well at home'! Other birds were almost incidental but we had Grey Wagtail, 2 Nuthatches, Treecreeper, 4-5 Common Buzzards, 2 Sparrowhawks, Mistle Thrush and a couple of Siskins.
We dragged ourselves away from the site just after lunch and made our way via Derby then the M6, M42, M5, M50 etc into SW Wales. The weather was awful so driving through it rather than trying to bird in it was a good call. En-route we used Booking.com to book a cheap B&B in the village of Spittal north of Haverfordwest arriving there at 18.30. A meal and couple of beers in the local pub The Pump on the Green and we hit the sack knackered!
A quick DIY breakfast and a short drive later and we were stood outside a row of houses at Croft Villas in the village of Camrose. A Song Thrush completed the list of 6 thrushes in a weekend and then within about 15 minutes the Masked Wagtail popped up onto a roof top. During the next hour and a half it went on to show superbly well on the road, pavement, walls, gutter and rooftops. The birder who found it invited us into his back garden at no.5 and it gave some great views feeding on top of a mole hill at c15 feet range. This 'personata' race of White Wagtail has been split by the Dutch but nobody else yet. Nonetheless a real looker and a 1st for Britain.
We left the site at about 10.00 just as the other crew from Norfolk (Ian Brittain, Ghost and others) were arriving and made our way back through south Wales. News the broke of another goody in Tewkesbury and a quick look at the map revealed we were passing within 2 miles of it. It would have been rude not to! By 14.00 we were gazing up at a superb male Eastern Black Redstart flitting about on the tower and roofs of Tewkesbury Abbey. It showed nicely if a little distantly but eventually came down into a tree for some memorable views. A couple of Grey Wagtail fly-overs and Magpies gathering to roost was the cue for our departure and we were home at 18.30 in time for tea - and some sleep!
Tops marks to Andy for doing all the 800+ miles driving and both boys for the customary laughs and banter!