Monday 22 July 2013

Almost the biggest dip EVER

So, the other day, here, I was talking about twitching and how I wasn't up for it in the slightest. Well. Err. I lied. A bit. Well, not lied so much as changed my mind, as I am wont to do. The last few weekends have been very nice. They have involved barbeques, chilled wine, cricket, dozing, and general relaxation. In other words I developed cabin fever. After a somewhat trying week I had made up my mind by Friday morning that a change of scene was in order, mandatory in fact, and so plans were hatched during the day that involved Northumberland.


In the post I linked to above, Bridled Tern was mentioned. A monumentally rare bird, it had done the decent thing and disappeared. I like birds that do this, that take the pressure off entirely of their own volition. Many a twitcher has no doubt felt the same way - the need to make the killer decision of whether to go or not, whether to commit the time, money and brownie points, is taken away. Twitchy or not, you breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe you only need to be slightly twitchy, like I am. Oh thank God for that, meanwhile the die-hards would probably be apoplectic with rage at the disappearance of a possible tick. Not me, I much prefer it when they bugger off never to be seen again.

Except this one came back. And then developed a routine. Fishing in the morning, sat on Inner Farne during the afternoon. A week of this, and frankly how could we fail? You will have guessed who the "we" is. Yes, you are entirely correct - my good twitching buddy, the incorrigible Bradders. Bradders who in fact had already spent a weekend wantonly burning precious BPs up in Northumberland dipping it by a quarter of an hour here, a quarter of an hour there. He is nothing but tenacious though, and was up for it again. Fool. Not that I needed a whole lot of convincing, and so Saturday morning early doors we found ourselves on the A1 heading north.

A miniscule amount of time later we arrived at Seahouses, gateway to the Farnes. The Tern was showing well, and had been all morning. It never showed in the morning ever. Ever. Not to worry though, our afternoon boat had been pre-booked by DB - Serenity Tours, and the proprieter was apparently a bit of a birder, and the Tern always followed his boat in. Right. So we stood patiently on the quayside whilst birder after birder got on the other boat, the one that left fifteen minutes earlier, with the skipper promising to take them straight to the bird on Inner Farne jetty. No problem, our boat is run by a birder, thus we cannot fail. The boat filled with birders departed, and we stood on the quay. A short ten minutes later we got on a boat filled with old grannies and Tilley-clad numpties. I remained calm, this was the boat to be on, not a problem. And we were off! About 20 metres into the inner harbour, there to circle slowly whilst some more grannies and numpties faffed on the quayside having missed the boat, so to speak. Not problem, the bird is still there. Finally, 20 minutes later, and five more grockles to the good we set off to Inner Farne the island furthest away from Inner Farne.

During our tour, we learned that:

- Gannets are quite big
- Puffins are smaller and called Sea Parrots by idiots
- A lighthouse was built
- Despite this, some ships sank
- Staple Sound is a mile wide and only takes a few minutes to cross.

Delightful. Whilst learning that some bird called Great Starling (now extinct) had saved some sailors about a hundred years ago, the boatload of birders were in the present day enjoying unrivalled views of the Bridled Tern on Inner Farne. As we crossed Staple Sound, about a mile wide, the Tern upped and left.


We arrived on the jetty to the boatload of birders high-fiving each other and gathering excitedly around camera screens. You can guess what happened next can't you?

Nothing. Nothing at all. The Tern did not come back. Our boat however did, and we enjoyed a glum ride back to Seahouses with our chipper skipper thanking us very much for our  custom and hoping we had enjoyed the cruise. Almost. We had missed it by ten minutes whilst having some irrelevant local history rammed down our throats. Missed it by ten minutes whilst some incompetent sheisters has been pissing about parking their car. Missed it by ten minutes whilst stood next to a boat whose passengers hadn't missed it. To say we felt let down was an understatement. And to make it even worse, I hadn't even been able to enjoy the spectacle of the Farnes as I'd been glued to the jetty waiting for the bird, whilst 40,000 extremely photogenic Puffins strutted their stuff a hundred meters way.

Happily there was beer. Accomodation was hard to find at such short notice, but thankfully a cancellation at a bunkhouse in Rothbury saved the day. And to make it even better, a traditional music festival was in full swing. Excitedly we pointed the car south and together with Justin L and Andy W, always good company and compatriots from the Shetland Grozzer twitch earlier in the year, off we went. The festival was somewhat unstructured. Glastonbury it wasn't. Essentially it involved old blokes with magnificent facial hair playing fiddles if they could be arsed, which mainly they couldn't, as drinking beer was much easier. So we had a night out in a pub whilst occasionally somebody strummed on a guitar before passing out with boredom. Whereas on the MV Hrossey we had been toasting our fabulous fortune and the presence of a massive finch on our lists, in Rothbury it was all a little flat, with various phone calls home to fan the flames the only form of real entertainment.

The following morning we were stood on the quayside at Inner Farne with all the dippers from the previous day. The skipper, generously but somewhat sheepishly had offered us all a free morning trip. Steely, head warden of the Farnes, top bloke, and spookily enough another member of the MV Hrossey Grozzer massive, had kindly agreed to make the jetty available in the morning, which was not usually the case. Perhaps the bird had settled into a new routine, one which involved parading to all comers in the morning, i.e. us, and then buggering off pelagically in the afternoon.

It hadn't. We stood there for three hours, it wasn't there and didn't come in. It was around this time that I concluded (again) that twitching was shit. We sailed back to Seahouses in a miserable mood. At a low ebb, and with the bird having now been gone for 24 hours, we half-heartedly booked to go on again in the afternoon, this time with the other operator, Billy Shiels. You know, the one whose boat sailed (on time) straight to the Tern, rather than via a million boring facts 20 minutes late.

I think it's the darker one.....

And we scored!!! An hour passed during which I spent 59 minutes photographing Arctic Terns and one minute scanning for the bird. And then somebody said they had it! Wooooo!!!! And then it flew immediately and was lost to view over the island, with none of us having seen it! Oooooo! Happily it came back, and the relief was palpable. I spent all of five minutes looking at it, and then legged it over to the Puffins, which is what I had been itching to do since Saturday morning. Thank Christ. I am not a good dipper. As I have no doubt mentioned many times, my non-dipping record is amazingly good, and this would have been a massive blow to my stats and my ego. But all is well, and I now have twitching out of my system again for the next few weeks days.

The Puffins were great, the Farnes are a brilliant place. Without the nonsense that is twitching, I would go back every year. So, another successful trip, victory snatched from the jaws of defeat as someone once nearly said. Slightly stressful but ultimately deeply satisfyingly, and a proper mega under the belt for another meaningless statistic. The messages of congratulation are of course flowing in. Such courage, such perseverance etc etc. Yeah yeah. Easy.

Kind of.