There were two potential ticks for the Clayhead Crew - the ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE in Oxfordshire and the SLATY-BACKED GULL at Rainham. Unfortunately, the SBG didn't show on Friday, but we knew we could always head down from Chipping Norton on news - Rainham was only two hours away. Due to logistics, there was only two of us in the car, but PJ travelled down with the Suttons and Karl, and we arranged to meet on site. I knew there would be quite a queue this morning, and so we set off at 04-10hrs, arriving on site in the rain at 06-10hrs. I couldn't believe how many cars there were already parked up, and my fears came true as I saw the queue that had already formed outside the house. I stood at 06-10hrs in constant rain with c50 birders already in front of me. So much for getting up early! It gradually got light at 07-00hrs, and the first Jackdaws started to appear. GAS left the warmth of his car to stand with me, and the rain eased slightly. The other car load arrived, but despite an offer to stand with me, they all nobly joined the back of the queue.
My view for nearly three hours
The rain got heavier, and despite quite a few neighbours and the first few birders being let into the house, it was clear there was no sign of the DOVE at first. The rain got heavier, and we gradually became wetter and colder. Then, at 08-45hrs, someone on the opposite side of the street spotted the dove in the trees in between the two houses. All hell broke loose, and the treasured place in the queue was lost. We all dived into whatever space we could find to try and see the dove. I gently lent on another birder and just managed to get the right angle and saw the Oriental Turtle Dove. It was all too easy and we had our tick in the bag..............ah, if life was that simple.
The Oriental Turtle Dove had virtually taken over my life this week, and I was getting to know the street quite well. This was my third attempt this week. On Tuesday, the first big full day, I suddenly felt unwell at work, and at 0900hrs I was heading south to join the queue, the plan being that the DOVE was showing and the queue had died down. I arrived at 11-35hrs with no sign of the dove since first thing and the queue was not moving. I only had two hours on site before I had to return for the school run, and needless to say, I dipped.
The queue on Tuesday
Then, on Thursday, there were frequent sightings of it in the morning. I finished work at 12-00hrs, and we again headed south. We had two sightings come on the pager while we were driving, and we were starting to feel confident we would nail it this time. The last report was at 13-10, and we arrived at 14-00hrs. At first there were just a few birders walking around, then we were joined by the successful twitchers of the SLATY-BACKED GULL returning from the south. We walked around for three hours, and again, there was no further sign.
But there's more. In December 2002, I travelled to Orkney for the long staying RUFOUS TURTLE DOVE. We planned to go on the Saturday 21st, but there had been no news on the Friday. We decided to risk it (probably they had got bored of phoning it in we thought) and anyway, with Christmas looming, it would be well into the new year before we could come up again. We drove through the night and caught the 05-00hrs ferry across. It was a nightmare crossing, and the only way I coped was to sit outside and stare at the island on the horizon. Unfortunately, I sat directly into the oncoming wind, and in my half sleep/boat sickness condition I realised I was becoming quite numb with cold. I forced myself back inside, but I completed the voyage intact. We walked over to the roosting Collared Doves, and even while it was still dark, we couldn't see the RTD, and we feared the worse. The one thing I remember about the dreadful dip was the first road sign we passed once we were back on the mainland - 100 miles to Inverness.
So back to the Oriental in Chipping Norton. It flew from the tree, and was then showing in the garden. Birders were slowly going in the house. There were only two birders in front of us - the dove was on the bird table - we would finally get in the house - and then it flew.
Eventually it was relocated down at the bottom of the street, and we all hurtled down. Now on the Bird Forum, one person who was there said he was embarrassed by the sight of grown men running down the street, jumping over the gate, jostling for position. Well pal, I've travelled 1655miles in my quest to add ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE to my British list. I think I just about deserve to run and climb after that effort!
Grown men crouching in a field after jumping over a gate - Shocking
Record shot Oriental Turtle Dove at Chipping Norton
And so despite being soaked, optically steamed up and cold, we were rather pleased at our mornings success. We decided to head off to see the AMERICAN WIGEON. We hadn't been driving for long when PJ rang me to say the SLATY-BACKED GULL had been seen at Rainham (only nine birders on site!). We made a quick decision, reset the sat nav and headed for London town. Despite torrential rain all the way, we made fairly good progress and we were about 30 mins away when we received news that it had now gone to Pitsea. We headed for South Mimms services and decided that was pretty much that for the day. The gull will just have to wait.