The Autumn suddenly burst into life during the week, and by Friday there were two ticks waiting for me. One was a SEMIPALMATED PLOVER up on South Uist - a very nice part of the world, but not a place I would shoot off to at the drop of a hat. It's also at best a two day trip. The other tick was a long awaited return visit by a SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, another catch up tick from the 90's when I had my birding sabbatical. It was conveniently placed down in Dorset, and was showing on and off during the week, but it did on occasions disappear for hours at a time.
So a straight forward day was on the cards. Not exactly. GAS had decided, as it was an Autumn Saturday and three months since a tick, to book a dinner date for 19-30hrs. With a four hour journey to Weymouth, we only had until 14-30hrs to see the DOWITCHER. If the bird decided not to play ball, we could have problems.
PJ, having already seen the 1999 SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, decided to stay in Staffordshire and get a few mammal ticks. We arranged to pick up "Lucky" CJW at 02-30hrs. However, as has happened previously with Lucky, a late change in circumstances meant we had to bid him farewell as he stood in his street, sweeping up the glass from his front window that some t*** had put through.
The journey down was quite quiet, apart from large areas of fog as we headed south. As we drove down into Weymouth, the sky cleared and we were met by the beautiful sight of a superb clear morning. We parked up in the wrong car park and faced quite a walk. A quick check of my phone reveal the news that the SBD was already showing (Well done Birdguides for such an early posting). We eventually reached the reserve and made our way along the path. At first, it had walked out of view, but we didn't have to wait long for the juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher to walk out into view. It fed in view for about twenty minutes before it moved again out of view.
Britain's 2nd Short-billed Dowitcher in the early morning sun
The RSPB warden at Lodmoor keeps a careful watch on those present.....
Now, although we were extremely pleased at being able to walk up and get our tick minutes after our arrival, we had yet another problem looming. During the previous evening, news of yet another mega broke. A juv BAILLON'S CRAKE had been photographed at Rainham, Essex. As we stood at Lodmoor, news came through that it had been seen at 06-30hrs and again briefly at 07-06hrs. It was a tough decision to leave the SBD, but we knew we had to go across to Rainham for a possible second tick of the day. We headed off at 07-30hrs.
It was about a three hour journey, and we lost a bit of time due to one car being parked on the hard shoulder on the M25 following a shunt earlier. All the time we were driving, there had been no further sign of the crake at Rainham. We parked up, stripped off several layers (22C already) and made the half hour walk round to the Shooting Butts hide. It was standing room only, and it was clear most birders had been sat here for hours.
Due to GAS's dinner date, we only had until 15-00hrs, just over three hours, for the crake to show. We started the vigil. There were a few birds on show to pass the time. We had a distant Marsh Harrier, and excellent views of up to three Hobby as they whizzed past the hide. Then we had the moment of excitement. A birder to the left spotted movement in the reeds. We all latched onto it, and soon it was clear we were watching a Water Rail. It slowly moved into view and then flew to the edge of the reeds to feed. Next moment, those in the right hand side of the hide were jumping up and down shouting that the BAILLON'S was on view. We started scanning frantically, following directions, only to realise it was the Water Rail we'd been watching. A comical moment and at least it all ended in smiles and laughter.
Inside the Shooting Butts hide - very similar to the Parrinder at Titchwell
We were fast approaching departure time, and hours previously I'd predicted that as per usual, it would probably show as we were heading back up the motorway. With heavy hearts, we walked out of the hide and headed for home. Every message on the journey home was read, but, surprisingly, it wasn't seen again all day.
So one tick, one dip, but at least we hadn't messed up on missing the BAILLON's by leaving early. That was until the following day when it showed on and off all day! Oh well. There's always next Saturday when the Clayheads ride again.