On Sunday, I was definitely going out birding. Definitely. After being stuck indoors all on Saturday, I was going out, end of. I woke up just before nine, and looked out of the window. A bit grey. Hmm. I was out by ten, but only as far as the car - destination Southend Pier to take lots of point blank photographs of Turnstones and stuff. By 10:30 I had got as far as Pitsea, by which time it was greyer still and raining. I abandoned the Southend Plan, and instead went shopping for outdoor gear that would be ideal in this kind of weather, and which is, as I type, still lying in a bag on my bed, as outside the rain lashes against the window and I feel nothing but happiness that I am inside, dry and warm.
I love buying outdoor stuff, I just go through periods when I have little or no inclination to go outdoors and actually use it. I'm in the middle of one right now, though the end of it is surely less than a few weeks away. Typically today has been nice and sunny again. I did look out of the window a couple of times and wish for my old life back, but then the phone rang or something and I had to get back to it. So instead of actual birding, let's just reflect on a couple of favourite moments from this past year. Yup, you got it, a filler, pure and simple. Usually I do this in one post on the cusp of the New Year; this year I may not get time, so perhaps best to spread it out a bit...
It has been a struggle to know what has been my favourite bird this year. There have been more than a few candidates: the magical moment as Bradders, Nick and I stood underneath the tangle of branches in Lower Moors looking up a Black-and-white Warbler mere feet away, it has to be said that was pretty special. We had come over for a Green Sandpiper lookalike, never dreaming that instead we would gazing at one of my favourite of all American wood warblers. Then, on the same island a few weeks later, the hectic sprint from Higgo's Project Pool to Shooters Pool, followed by twenty minutes of lapping up a Northern Waterthrush in the company of perhaps three other people. That too will live long in the memory. They might both be rare, but can they compete with rounding a corner to find a couple of guys looking over an old stone wall. What'ya looking at? Oh, just a Bee-eater. There is no such thing as just a Bee-eater. A Bee-eater!!!! And there it was, not an invisible call, not a distant flight view, not a soggy miserable-looking bird on a wire, but a glorious riot of colour sat in bright sunshine in a bare sapling about twenty feet away. A bird I had wanted to see for simply ages, falling in the best possible of circumstances. Utterly superb, but can it be trumped?
It can, by a far commoner bird, and another I had wanted to see for ages. Years, in fact. A bird which had dragged me down to Cornwall many times, but with which I had never connected. A bird which I had just seen six of, but distantly, and a bird which I thought probably only occured distantly. Then a shout from along the Lighthouse wall. "Cory's in the close Manx line!....coming over right rock....now!" And by golly it did, and by golly it was magnificent. None of this lolloping, lazy bowed-wing flight jizz, instead a Cory's that was serioulsy motoring. Dwarfing the Maxies, it absolutely sped past, leaving me and the rest of the crowd at Pendeen that day enthralled. God only knows quite how much I like sea-watching, and though I never spurn opportunities to mention Fea's Petrels, this was right up there..... but better. What a bird! What. A. Bird. In case I have not been clear, WHAT A BIRD!! If I had to vote for just one of these four top birding experiences, top moments of complete elation, I would have to hand it to that Cory's Shearwater. It, of course, has no idea quite how happy it made me, nor quite how often I think about it, wonder where in the vast ocean it now is, where it has been, and where it will go.