Friday, 15 May 2015

Citril Finch dash

After the excitement and travelling of the past 2 weeks I was hoping for a quieter weekend. Friends were coming over on Saturday and I planned for a gentle days birding on the Norfolk coast on Sunday. Things changed with the news that my mother was in hospital having fractured her pelvis in a fall. A trip to Derby was now required. It was an early start on Sunday;  my younger daughter needed to be dropped off at a swimming gala at Bury St Edmunds at 8am before I headed north. Hence I was on the A14 north of Cambridge when the pager mega-alerted. I couldn't believe it, a Citril Finch in Norfolk! I had only commented the previous weekend it was about time  for another big bird in Norfolk. Now it had happened and I was heading away from my home county. I briefly considered the option of going to Derby via Burnham Overy but decided it wasn't really a practical and consoled myself instead by calling in briefly at Ferry Meadows, Peterborough just off the A1 for a Red-rumped Swallow.
I arrived in Derby as the pager started reporting the Citril Finch as showing well and texts came from friends first asking what I was doing about the bird and then commiserating after I replied. I sorted out my dads phone answer machine then, after my brother arrived, headed to the hospital. My mum was very bright and the news was better than expected, no surgery was required and physiotherapy was to be started that afternoon. After the hospital visit, we took my dad to the supermarket and introduced him to ready-meals. He can't cook and he had been living on fish and chips from the local chippy. After teaching him how to use the microwave, having a sandwich and a cup of tea it was time to leave. It was 15.45. I typed Holkham in to my sat-nav and it gave me an arrival time of 18.47. Should I give it a go? I had to work the next day, so time would be tight then too and Holkham was only a small detour off my normal route. It was worth a try and I set off hoping the traffic gods would smile on me. A hold up could spell disaster.
As it turned out, the gods were munificent. Every single traffic light through Nottingham was green, the traffic on the A52 was travelling at speeds near to the speed limit and even the normally cursed A17 was moving at a good pace. The minutes were steadily dropping off my e.t.a but once I hit the empty B roads of Norfolk they poured away and I pulled in to Lady Ann's drive at 18.17. Even the ticket machine joined in my good fortune by giving me my money back plus an extra 50p along with my ticket! There was just the 1.5 mile walk to complete which seemed endless. Happy birders on their way back from the bird reassured me it was showing well and "looked settled", (frequently words of doom) and at long last I turned a corner, walked over a small brow and came across a group of maybe 10 birders and Richard Thewlis painting. I had expected a bigger crowd but this was indeed the bird. I asked the nearest birder (who turned out to be Chris Craig) if I could look through his scope (thanks Chris) and after an anxious few seconds when the bird was hidden behind some vegetation, the Citril Finch finally emerged in to view and on to my list. Huge relief and joy! I enjoyed excellent views for the next 15 minutes as it fed on seeds on a tiny patch of sand on a bank right on the edge of the pines. Then suddenly it flew up in to the pines on my right and was not seen again that evening.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Go West! Hudsonian Godwit and Great Blue Heron

The news of a Great Blue Heron, a second for Britain, on the Isles of Scilly on April 15th sparked only mild interest in me at first. It was a long way away, the bird was being awkward and as I had to work on Saturday morning I couldn't go anyway. The bird stayed, however, became more settled on the pool on Bryher and I was free the following Saturday; my interest levels began to rise... One small problem though, as most of the people I knew who wanted to go down to Scilly had already gone or were going on Friday I found myself without a car share. The prospect of a solo drive to Penzance was one I didn't want to do so it looked like I was stuck again. Out of the blue I was offered a place in a car IF someone dropped out. There was an anxious wait until Friday but the crew remained intact and I had no place. Then they offered to squeeze me in (I am only little) but unable to get an appropriate flight off Scilly I had to decline. I went to bed somewhat glumly, at least I would get a lie in for the first time in several weeks.
The following morning I woke at 8.05 and glanced idly at my mobile phone. Surprisingly for the time of day there were 2 text messages. The words Hudsonian Godwit Somerset had me instantly wide awake. Turning to my slumbering husband I announced I was going to Somerset and leapt out of bed.  My husband had seen the 1983 bird so I hastily arranged to meet up with my friend James in Letchworth for the long drive west. Two small obstacles delayed my leaving, my elder daughter was off on a Duke of Edinburgh practice expedition and had to be got ready and there were bottle-reared lambs to feed. Daughter was seen off with me clutching bottles of milk in each hand and I finally hit the road at 8.55. My sat-nav reckoned I wouldn't be in Letchworth until 11.15 but lets just say I beat that time with plenty to spare. It was only when we were ploughing around the M25 did I remember that I had forgotten to make my daughter a packed lunch (oops), but as James said, the Duke of Edinburgh award is supposed to be character building!
We had an anxious 3 1/4 hour drive down to Shapwick but regular updates on the pager reassured us the bird was still there. The large car park was just about full but we found a place and made the  walk to the godwit at a brisk pace passing happy, relaxed birders returning along the embankment. Too our huge relief the godwit was on show when we joined the crowd and it put on a superb show posing at every angle, lifting its wings to show off its smoky black underwings and flying around occasionally displaying its wing bars. After watching it for an hour and a half it was out turn to amble happily back to the car. We left the car park at 4.15 with birders still arriving unaware that the godwit had flown off. On the drive home we made plans to go to Scilly the following weekend if the Great Blue Heron was still around and as it was the World Pilot Gig championships that weekend we both booked places on the Scillonian in hope.The heron obliging moved to St Marys at the start of the week but on Friday the news wasn't good, just a single no sign message at lunchtime. Reasoning that we would be gutted if the bird was still there on Saturday we gambled and set off on the long drive westward buoyed by a message reporting the bird still present.
It was a dismal damp day in Penzance which meant staying below decks on the Scillonian but dosed up with Stugeron I survived the voyage. Finally on St Marys, we joined a small group of birders route marching from the quay to Lower Moors, winding our way through the packed gig rowers above Town Beach. We piled in to the ISBG hide and there was the Great Blue Heron straight out in full view, looking a little damp but actively preening. Phew!

We watched it for a good hour then headed to Juliet's Garden for a celebratory lunch which happened to coincide with the spectacle of 150 brightly coloured gigs racing from St Agnes to Hugh Town. The roar of the crowds was audible across the harbour

 After an amble across the island we returned to Lower Moors for another look and found the heron actively hunting close to the hide, often peering intently in to the rushes before pouncing on a hapless eel.

It was soon time to return to the Scillonian to start the long weary journey home but it had been a trip well worth doing.