Sunday 9 September 2012

Dowitcher at the Crake of Dawn

Not a lesser-known Pink Floyd album, but rather a description of a long, tiring and excellent day. A relatively crazy day if the truth be told, but the sort that I am partial too now and again. In a stunning show of fortitude and immense will-power, as you know I did not twitch the Short-billed Dowitcher in Dorset on Thursday when I could easily have gone. Dowitchers, I reasoned, stayed a long time, and even if did the Friday night bunk, really that was win-win as then I wouldn't have to go. I have an admittedly somewhat strange approach to UK listing. So, on Friday evening plans were hatched in the event it was still there, and at the monthly birders drinks in Hornchurch the usual accusations of filth were levelled.

Midway through about pint two, Hawky's phone rang, and threw all the plans out the window. There was a Baillon's Crake at Rainham Marshes. A visitor to the reserve had photographed it from the new Butts Hide (and thus has now justified every penny of its immense cost), and knowing it was something unusual but not quite sure what, had taken her camera into the visitor centre. I'm amazed that Howard is still alive. H was opening up at 6 the next morning. Plans were hastily changed - Tim would now drive Nick and I to Rainham, and we would return in convoy with Rich and John back to Wanstead when Mrs L had finished with the car, and proceed to Dorset. Easy. I carried on boozing.

That might have been a mistake, I surmised when I woke up in a dry-mouthed fug at 4:18am the next day. Somehow I got my shit together and made it to Tim's - all of about fifty yards - and then immediately fell asleep again in the back of his car. I woke up again about 20 seconds later at Rainham, Tim is a very fast driver, and staggered to the hide. A few people were already there, but I think I ignored them all and went and found a seat, there to lay my head on some woodwork. Suddenly Dom was on it! How, I have no idea, it was still dark, but sure enough as the light improved a bit, there it was pottering about just in front of the hide. It paraded around for about twenty minutes from 6am, and then disappeared off to the right. Two very brief flight views (I missed both) at 7am, and that was it for the day; thereafter those in the hide were known as 'dippers'. Crake safely under the belt - including for Prof W, his 300th bird in London - and with the Dowitcher still preset, we were now good to proceed with part two of the plan, though unfortunately Rich had schoolboyed and arrived just that little bit late. Given that he's seen about 800 species in the UK, including Baillon's, he is thus fairly chilled about these minor inconveniences, which was a good thing as it was the right call to leave. Hawky and the Dipmonkey stayed for a further ten hours and saw nothing.

ISO 10000!!

The journey down to Dorset was pretty painful, but that's what you get for leaving mid-morning. It's not as bad as Cornwall though, and Rich and John's stories of mammoth drives for various birds made the trip seem almost local. We got down there for early afternoon and happily the juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher was showing well on arrival. Two tick day - not often I get to say that! It didn't do much, and then went to sleep, and showing no signs of waking up we thought the best option would be to twitch the Monarch butterfly at Portland. I'm glad we did, it was spectacular! I don't yet keep a butterfly list, but if I did this would definitely be on it. A bit ragged, but think where it's come from! I'd be in terrible shape if I'd just been blown across the Atlantic, so this was miraculous.

Butterfly duly papped, we returned for another crack at the Dowitcher but this time there was no sign of it, we had been pretty lucky earlier by the looks of it. SB Dowitcher is a mega mega - only the second ever in the UK, although there have been a few more in Ireland. They migrate before the Atlantic storms really kick in, and so very rarely get blown off course. Long-billed Dowitchers leave a few weeks later, and so are much more susceptible to encounter various hurricane systems. They look very very similar, but those in the know can do them - Rich in fact was one of the first people to suggest that people keep a close eye on this bird having seen just a blurry photo online, which probably explains why he was so keen to see it in the flesh. It was too far away for the puny lens I decided to take with me to be of any use, but there are some photos on Josh's blog here which show what you need to see.

Some celebratory fish and chips, and thankfully a better drive home, during which I only nearly crashed twice, in contrast to some wonderful stories from the big league boys in the back seat about really crashing, totalling cars, and coming close to becoming ex-twitchers. Note to self: if planning immense twitching days, stay in rather than going to the pub, and go to sleep early rather than in the small hours. It never really happens like that though, does it? A great day, a two tick mega day, an exhausting day, but a day now in the past. Silly season has well and truly started, what more will it bring?


  1. You are one lucky b*****d! Went up to Rainham this morning - arrived at the hide by 5.45am. Stayed till about 9am - work this afternoon. Bird seen 9.50am

  2. Top twitching. Very jealous about the Monarch, what a stunner.