It was turning out to be quite a good autumn with almost continuous stream of mega's turning up on a daily basis. It started on Monday 12th Sept with a GREATER YELLOWLEGS in Cornwall, but typically with this species of late, it didn't hang around long enough. Mega's then became daily as the week went on, with a SOLITARY SANDPIPER turning up on the Scillies on Wednesday 14th, a FEA'S off Suffolk on the Thursday and another FEA'S past Norfolk on Friday 17th.
Then it all kicked off big style. During the evening of Friday 17th, news broke from the Scillies about a probable NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH on Lower Moors. Luckily, I wasn't in the position to dash down for a probable, but it was still a bit of a choker standing on the bank at Westport on Saturday morning when the mega came through confirming the presence of the NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH. It was to get even worse when during the morning, another mega from Scilly, this time a long awaited return visit from a BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER. Both birds continued to show all weekend, and they were joined on the Tuesday by a BALTIMORE ORIOLE. The question was, what else was out there?
September sunrise at Westport - put in just to break the text up so you don't get bored
With all the other Clayheads unavailable (either working, in Kenya on safari or still in plaster), I was in touch with SR about a possible trip to the Scillies on Saturday if everything was still present. I was keeping an eye on the flight availabilities but by Tuesday a lot of the slots were selling out. We planned to fly out on the chopper, and the first flight out, at 0730hrs was still alright, but the return flights were selling out fast, and the lastest flight back was now 1600hrs. On Tuesday evening, I suggested that we took the plunge and book the flights. I got in touch with RB; SR got in touch with AA and all four of us were on the same flight. It was all systems go, and now all we had to hope for was that the birds stayed.
The mega's continued, with a LESSER KESTREL on Orkney on Tuesday 20th, but then the week became even more complicated with the identification of a Stint sp in East Sussex. Originally a Temminck's, it briefly became a LEAST SANDPIPER, then it was mega'd on Wednesday 21st as a LONG-TOED STINT, the first in Britain since 1982. With the trip planned to Scilly on Saturday, there was no alternative but to go to East Sussex on Thursday.
Unfortunately, I was due in work, and with no spare holidays available, there was no alternative but to ring in sick. I woke up early on Thursday and was on the road by 0315hrs, arriving at Weir Wood Resv just after 0700hrs and joined the 100+ birders already on site. We all stood and waited, scanning what few distant waders there were. We watched the three Dunlin and several Ringies work their way backwards and forwards, and then two Green Sands and a Greenshank came in, and then a flock of eight Ringies made us take note, but then a few hours later, everyone began to realise there was no movement taking place and no new waders appearing. Despite being present for the seven previous days, as soon as it became available to the masses, it had buggered off. A great day indeed.
The day was made even worse when another mega came through (not forgetting the SWAINSON'S mega'd on Shetland on Weds 21st as well). This time, it was a SANDHILL CRANE at Loch of Strathbeg. We were unable to go to Orkney for the only weekend it was present due to work commitments, and it had flown off by the time we would have been able to get up there. There was no way of having another day off, so this mega would just have to wait.
So Friday night came and RB picked me up at 2220hrs, and we joined up with SR in Cannock and picked AA up on the M5. SR did a sterling job driving down to Penzance through the night, stopping at Exeter services and then on Bodmin Moor just to scare everyone. We parked up at the heliport at 0600hrs, and we were all feeling rather knackered. The mood was quite positive though, as there had been quite a few reports of the NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH the previous day, and it usually stayed at Higgo's Pool until 0830hrs, giving us plenty of time to see it, we hoped. Our flight was due off at 0730hrs, but luck was on our side and we took off earlier at 0725hrs. Shortly into the flight, SR gave us the news we hoped for - the NW was showing already. We hurtled off the chopper as soon as it landed (the blades were even still going round!), gathered our bags together and managed to get quite a group of us from the flight into a minibus. The driver knew exactly where to take us (he'd been doing it all week) and we were soon running (well some of us) towards the Dump Clump and the pool. AA and SR, being sprightly young lads sprinted off, leaving me and RB to sort of walk fastly behind. The path was well worn through the moors, but I did once nearly go head over heels as I misjudged my step. All the birders we passed said it was still showing, and we arrived at the pool with quite a few birders still in attendance. I walked up to SR and Mr Higgo, got directions but the NW had only just walked out of view. We stood and waited, but it didn't reappear. I wasn't sure who had seen it and who hadn't, but I knew I'd missed it. I found out later AA had been watching it from near the hide, but as SR ran up, Mr Higgo beckoned him to stand next to him. If SR had stood with AA, he would have seen it. It then started to rain, and we decided to head over to the Lower Moors hide - the general direction apparently the NW was seen to fly.
Spirits were quite low, we were damp, and we sat in the ISBG hide and saw not a lot. There was a Kingfisher, a few Mallard but we just kept scanning the far bank. By 1000hrs, it had stopped raining, and we all decided to head off to look for the NW, and, we hoped to relocate the B&W WARBLER. We checked Shooters Pool, then we followed AA into the Jungle. This was the area we were told we needed wellies for, and its a good job we did. Most of the time, you didn't know how far up your boot the mud would come, and then there was the worry of getting your boot out as well. All it needed was a few scramble nets and tunnels to crawl through.
Then, at 1020hrs, SR received a message that the NW was showing from the hide. It was amazing how quickly we retraced our steps on hearing this news. We literally sprinted back out, and ran straight back into the hide. We then discovered that only five minutes after we left the hide, the NW had flown across in front of the hide and fed on the left hand side, before dropping over the back. We were gutted. We then sat in the hide for nearly four hours, getting colder and colder and stiffer as the hours went by. At least we did have a Greenshank to watch this time, and SR even managed to spot what he thought was the SOLITARY SAND fly over the hide towards Higgo's Pool (a quick call to divert someone to the pool revealed the SOLITARY SAND had flown in).
Our flight back was at 1600hrs, and we only had till 1530hrs. Time was rapidly running out and we had literally missed it twice by seconds. At 1400hrs, I decided to stand up and try and get the blood circulating again. A bloke immediately jumped into my seat but I said nothing, and took a stroll outside. The sun was out, and it was quite warm now. I wandered back in and started to face reality. Then, in a flash I was running back up to Shooters Pool. I was near the front, and I was determined this time not to stop. A pager message revealed that the NW had been seen to the east of the pool. Confusion set in as to which direction east was (good job I had a compass on me) and we realised we had to go in the jungle again. We were veterans at this and we were soon wading through the quagmire again. It was quite amusing to see some of the faces of the new boys who had just turned up when they realised what they had to walk through. We staked out a few pools, and AA thought he saw something at the back of one. But, again, the trail had gone cold and there was no further sign. We decided to call it a day and head up towards the airfield.
We had to wait for Archie to have a paddle in the sea
As we walked into Old Town Bay, SR phoned the Chopper people again to see if we could transfer onto a later flight. Earlier in the afternoon, they had said there were no cancellations, but this time there was a different story. Due to the mornings rain, flights had been delayed, and there was now a backlog. They were only too willing now to transfer us onto a later flight. We were now on the 1815hrs flight back. We were absolutely elated. This meant we could now return to Higgo's Pool and hope for the evening showing (on Friday it had returned by 1730hrs). We walked up to the airfield to look for the WOODCHAT SHRIKE, and we actually did a bit of birding. I found a strange Yellow Wagtail sp that resembled a Grey-headed type, and we had distant views of the BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER.
Distant shot of the Buff-breasted Sand
With a skip in our step, we walked in the glorious afternoon sun, full of optimism. We felt our luck was changing, and this time we would nail the little b@@@@@d once and for all. We joined a small crowd at Higgo's Pool and waited. We even managed to get three of us in the hide. It certainly was an interesting hide, but cosy, and with the Solitary Sandpiper literally feet away, it was quite an experience.
An attempt to take a picture in the hide, but I couldn't really turn round as I walked out to take it properly. One of these hides would go down a storm at Titchwell I think.
Time slowly ticked by, and still no sign. By 1715hrs, I was anxiously looking at my watch, but you knew any second it would appear.
Really awesome watching the Solitary Sand just feet away in the evening sun. Well, there wasn't actually much else to see - it was the only bird on view.
By 1730hrs, mild panic was setting in. SR again rang the airport. We had to be there by 1800hrs. We also rang a taxi to pick us up at 1755hrs. We were down to the last 15 minutes. We stood and scanned and waited. Finally, at 1750hrs, we reluctantly headed back. We knew it just wasn't going to be our day. As we walked to the taxi, we passed John Sutton walking towards the pool. "You are in luck, John" I said. "It hasn't appeared yet".
We were airbourne again by 1820hrs, and were soon back in Penzance. We headed to KFC and I sat outside with SR. I then received a text from Richard Sutton.His dad had seen the NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH just ten minutes after he had passed us. That news just about finished us all off once and for all.
What a bastard hobby it can be sometimes.