It is time to dip into the past, mainly as there is nothing happening in the present. I have never really been one for reliving past glories, but I suppose there must come a time. Also everyone else is doing it. As has probably been clear from my most recent posts, I have entirely given up on twitching. No Elegant Tern, Needletail or Amur Falcon for me, nor any of the other stonking birds that have graced our shores recently. I am amazed at the commitment and drive (the operative word here in more ways than one) that hardcore twitchers have – even at the height of my interest in chasing far-flung waifs I couldn’t keep it up. I have not twitched a bird now since the Forster’s Tern in Essex last November and the good news is that I’m not really missing it very much if at all. When Britain’s second Amur Falcon came up recently I just knew I didn’t want to be part of the skiving procession to Cornwall the following day, nor join the long line of green-clad middle-aged road warriors who would no doubt encircle the bird in the dark on Saturday morning. I’ve phased, which is somewhat de rigeur these days. Or grown up. Part of me feels foolish that I burned so many hours and days on seeing all those rare birds only to subsequently completely give up on the list. A much larger part of me is relieved that there is no longer any anxiety associated with not being able to go for birds. Or dipping!
Seven years ago it was all so different. I’m aware that other bloggers have the ability to go back decades, and whilst I really enjoy those stories of yesteryear complete with brass telescopes and cars without seatbelts, I just don’t have anything that historic. Yet. My time will come. Still, from my perspective 2009 seems an age ago - I had lost my job in February that year as a result of the financial crisis that had started the previous year, and so was kicking back as a trainee house husband and domestic goddess. In between ferocious bouts of cleaning and cooking there was just the teensiest bit of birding. Now that I am desk-bound again I can fully appreciate how annoying this must have been to so many of my birding acquaintances, but in the spring of 2009 I enjoyed a purple patch lasting a month and a day, the likes of which I am not sure will ever come again. Let us revisit it just in case there are any NGBs reading.
It is early May and only a couple of weeks have passed since I reached the landmark count of 300 BOU with a Hoopoe at Landguard that I twitched with all three children – back then a five year old, a three year old and a one year old. Heroic doesn’t even begin to describe it. Saturday morning comes, no different really to Friday morning for me in many respects, and there is a Crested Lark at Dungeness. My plan had been to go to Portland with Bradders for a Collared Flycatcher, but he had got so twitchy that he had skived off work on the Friday with Howard and seen it already. So instead I was off to Portland by myself, until the Lark turned up that was. So a quick change of plan and instead I’m off to Dungeness, again with Bradders, where I got excellent views on the shingle of what is a dirt bird almost everywhere but here. Flush with this success we returned to London whereupon I got into my own car and drove to Dorset for the Flycatcher. Looking back I must have spent the entire day in the car, something that would be inconceivable now but back then seemed entirely normal. Tick and run!
The following week was quite quiet but by the weekend I was on the road again, this time for a Red-rumped Swallow at Cley. I hadn’t thought that hirundines were even twitchable, but I made it up there in a couple of hours and the birds (yes, there were two!) were still there hawking above a field near the windmill. The following day I missed a Black-winged Pratincole in the afternoon in north Kent. I had been in Cambridge meeting old friends but was so consumed by twitching that I behaved really badly and curtailed what was a lovely picnic only to then go and dip at Reculver. It was relocated the next day at Grove Ferry and I was able to dip it again there on a quick Monday foray.
Undeterred I returned for a third time with Charlotte for what turned out be an epic twitch. What I hadn’t realised about Stodmarsh was quite how many ditches and fences there were between the car park and the hides, and after a mile or so my decision to take the buggy was beginning to look more than a little suspect. Various birders helped me hoik the pram over the various stiles, and finally I reached the hide from where the bird was showing to be greeted with my first, glorious, Pratincole. What a bird, I had quite literally never seen anything like it. Much of the time it was hidden from view on the ground below the horizon of vegetation, but every now and again it would take flight and treat those watching to its superbly elegant mastery of flight. The journey back from the hide was somewhat harder with no birders to assist me, and at one stage my hat blew off into a ditch and in retrieving it I fell in up to my waist and thus had to drive back to London in my underpants, quickly change, and then rush to the nursery and school for the pickup – those days my birding was only between 9 and 3.30 – frequently 9.01 to 3.29…….
The next day, Wednesday I think, I returned to Dungeness in the evening to twitch a Melodious Warbler at Southview followed by an Icterine 20 minutes later at the lighthouse. Or the other way around, I can't remember. Good to be able to compare these two very similar species in short order ahem. I also dipped a Subalpine Warbler that same evening, but since the start of the month I had had six lifers so I could hardly complain. I was on a roll!
The rest of the week was relatively quiet as I grafted a few Brownie points but on Saturday I found myself at Salthouse on the north Norfolk coast successfully twitching a Collared Pratincole only four days after I had first seen the genus. Amazing! This was a bird that had just missed my catching of the bug, most people I knew had seen a bird at Rainham before I became hooked, and whilst Norfolk isn't as convenient it can hardly be said that I was caring about miles at this point. If I add up the petrol, good grief...
I couldn't let a trip up to Scotland to see my parents pass by without some more crazy ticking, so I used a day to manically drive all over the highlands. Whilst Scottish Crossbill and Wood Warbler may seem a bit pedestrian in the context of the rest of the line-up, you have to remember that this was just what happened back in those days. Most birds were probably new, and whether it was an eastern Mega or a breeding bird didn't really matter. A numbers game.
Remarkably my next tick was also a Pratincole! Just over a week later rumours began to swirl that a Pratincole at Dungeness might not be a Collared. Which meant it was probably a…… I zipped down there late in the day once Mrs L was back from work and managed twenty minutes with the bird at dusk as it flew around a few final times before settling down to roost on a small island. Sure enough, it was an Oriental. I can’t think that there are many people who ticked all three UK Pratincole species within the space of about three weeks.
So there you have it, a section of my past life as a filthy twitcher. Those were 302-311 respectively, and given I am now on (and likely staying on) 437 there was clearly a lot more twitching to come, but I picked this period because it covered 10 ticks starting and ending at Dungeness in almost exactly a month, about half of which were truly mega, and of which three were all the UK species of Pratincole. Those were the days! Then there was July of course, but nobody needs to know about that. Or at least, not today...