Monday, 17 June 2013

15th June 2013 - Riding on the Bolton to Felixstowe Express

June is normally the quiet summer month, when most birders resort to chasing moths and eating Dragonflies. I like to stick to birding, so it was business as normal. June started with a bang and a trip to Spurn, where a THRUSH NIGHTINGALE had been found late on Friday 31st May. As soon as news broke on the Saturday morning, we headed up there, arriving at about 10:00hrs. The Thrush Nightingale sang twice during the morning, mainly egged on by the Marsh Warbler that was singing away in the next bush.

Several glimpses were had by birders during the time we stood there, but by afternoon all had gone quiet. We realised we would be in for a long wait, pinning our hopes on an evening showing. By 18:00hrs, with the Marsh Warbler still singing we all stood waiting. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of everyone still present, we only had flight views; and this was all following ten hours stood waiting.

The following Saturday, 8th June, was spent visiting various local sites, seeing various bits and bobs, and missing a few target species. It was forecast for a still, calm night, and so we made a visit to see some Nightjars. An excellent visit saw three or four birds being seen plus a Woodcock made several passes over us.

We started to make our usual plans for Saturday 15th June, but there didn't appear too much around. It finally looked as though spring had ended and summer had finally arrived. Then a singing GREENISH WARBLER turned up in Lancashire and PJ suggested we paid it a visit on the Saturday morning. Afer all, there wasn't anything else around, although a Sedge Warbler was new in to Westport on the 12th June, and a third singing Reed Warbler was also a late arrival this week, suggesting a bit of summer movement was taking place.

We decided to wait for news before setting off for Lancashire (the access had changed as well due to a pre-arranged golf tournament) and the plan was to drive up to Lancs, and then head back to Staffs for the afternoon - PJ declined our offer of joining us in Coot-counting at the gravel pits and so we would head off alone. The day started off at Westport as per usual. We met up with Karl, but most of the visit was spent counting the Canada Geese flock (it makes a dull visit good in the summer!). Then just after 07:30hrs, we received the confirmation that it was still singing away and we set off. PJ insisted this time that he was driving and it was a pleasant experience to be chauffeured. We arrived at Egerton, just north of Bolton just after 09:00hrs, and immediately met up with Brocton Ian, Gladwyn and Tony Jackson. We walked up the bridle way and then found some excellent handmade signs directing us to the viewing area. There was a small crowd present plus a member of the golf course on hand to look after us.

A well organised twitch by the golf club. Nice to see such efforts!

Soon an unfamiliar song started in the wood below us, and we all assumed it was the Greenish Warbler. At first we couldn’t find it, but when it slightly moved along the wood, I suddenly found it in my scope perched on a dead branch. It was then a case of keeping your eye on its favourite perches and then when it started singing we, rather surprisingly, kept relocating it. Views were good if a little distant.

At about 10:00hrs, satisfied with the views we had, we headed back down the M6. There was nothing in the NW to see, so we headed back to Stoke to drop PJ off.

We had only been driving a short time when news came via Birdnet of a PACIFIC SWIFT in Suffolk at 10:40hrs. We carried on heading south only for another message to come on saying it was still present at 10:59hrs. We had expected it to be a fly over sighting like they usually are. PJ asked my opinion on the bird, but I replied that we were technically heading in the right direction for it anyway (on the M6 going south from Bolton!). As we carried on heading for Stoke, the messages kept coming on. Decision time came at J16. We knew it was a 3hr journey to Suffolk, and all three of us were available to go. I made the decision to head along the A50. That way, we would pass home (if it then flew off), or head to Blithfield or Branston along the A50. It was just a case of seeing how far we could travel before it flew off. But the PACIFIC SWIFT didn’t fly off, and we kept heading towards Suffolk. In Cambridgeshire, PJ did make the comment that it would be a wasted journey now if it flew, but we started to think that maybe this bird was twitchable after all. PLo and CS were just a bit further in front of us, but the mesasages from Trimley started getting less frequent. I’d also checked the forecast and I felt we might just make it before a large band of showers moved through the area (but I thought it was going to be a close run thing!).

We arrived in Trimley at 14:50hrs. We already knew there was a parking issue, but we had located a possible area on the map. In the end, the police politely told us where to go and parking wasn’t a problem. We set off for the gruelling three mile walk. It was just the same as walking out to Blakeney Point (Alder Fly style), except this time on a solid path through fields. We passed plenty of smiling happy birders walking back to their cars. At first they told us it was not far to go, then they told us another 15 mins walk. Then they said it was another two miles. We just kept plodding on. As we neared the reserve, one birder told us to start looking overhead, and then the next two told us it was last seen heading our way. Straight away, the heavens opened and we all ran into the nearest hide. There were loads of Swifts in front of us, and we all frantically scanned away. The only problem was that there were 100’s high up in the air over the trees. We started to panic and the dreaded dark thoughts started to appear in our minds.
The rain eased off and to our left we could see birders appearing back on the bank. As we watched them, we suddenly sensed they were watching something. The sight of a birder running towards then made it quite obvious to us. The hide emptied and we were soon standing on the bank. Directions were being mumbled softly from further down the line, but then it transpired they had lost the PACIFIC SWIFT again.

Trimley Marshes, Suffolk
Soon though, it was picked up again in the field at the back, flying over the cows. I scanned and scanned and then I suddenly clapped eyes on it. I shouted out directions, PL was watching it too. PJ was struggling slightly at first due to the fact that he’d left his prescription sunglasses on! We watched the Pacific Swift but the views were only brief as you soon lost it again against the dark background. With the large crowd though it wasn’t long before it was refound. When it fed over the lagoon in front of us the views were pretty amazing. It had started to rain again, and my trousers were starting to cling to me.

Charlie (nearest the camera), Phill L and PJ battling in the rain

With thunder rumbling overhead, I knew this was the second band of showers coming. I looked upstream and you could see the storm racing towards us. We were in for an absolute soaking. We hurtled down the wet, grassy bank (me and pops managed to get down without falling over but…) but the rain was soon hammering down. For virtually all of the three mile hike back it poured down. Then, as we neared the car, the sun was out and the sky was blue.
The gamble had paid off. It was 17:30hrs, we’d a three hours journey back home and we were all drenched – proper Blakeney style all over again. But we had a Pacific Swift on our list now. Get in there!

PJ produced this CGI to commenorate the Suffolk Pacific Swift

On Sunday afternoon we went to visit CJW who has spent the week in hospital. It was good to see him looking a lot better and hopefully he'll be back home again soon. If he hadn't have been in hospital though, the Pacific Swift would surely have left a lasting impression on him as well. A different impression to us though as he was due to be working all weekend! Get well soon Chrissy. We all miss you!