Monday, 2 May 2016

Durham Debacle

It was time to take Daughter 1 back up to Durham again for the start of her summer term. It's amazing how we're coming up to the end of her second year already - the time has just flown by. Anyway, as usual I'd been casting around for something interesting to see but in mid April in the North East there is precious little of interest. In fact, this time last year I decided to head on up to Scotland because there was so little on offer in the region. In the end this time I almost couldn't be bothered to try for anything and had suggested to my daughter that she might like to take the train instead but it turned out that she'd brought down too much stuff to do this so I resigned myself to another slog up north. To complicate matters further Daughter 2 had her martial arts (black belt!) exam that morning so we weren't going to be able to set off until the early afternoon anyway and there wasn't going to be as much time for birding as I'd usually have. In the end I decided that I would play it by ear and if nothing new came up then I'd drop in on the Iberian Chiffchaff at Telford on Sunday morning as it wasn't too far off off route though I'd already seen a couple here in the UK and quite frankly I was finding it difficult to summon up much enthusiasm for it. Things rather changed however on the night before our departure when news broke of a Broad-billed Sandpiper in Gwent near Newport. Now, it's hard to think of Gwent as being en route in any shape or form but my interest was certainly piqued. However, by the time we were due to head off on Saturday it was "no further sign" as it had flown out with all the other birds onto the estuary there. So unless it re-appeared again at the next high tide that evening then it was fairly academic anyway.

That morning, before taking Daughter 2 off for her grading, we got news from our housekeeper down in Cornwall that our neighbour there had taken it into his head to cut down one of our large trees in our garden. We were devastated and couldn't believe what he had done, it was so upsetting. There was no time to dwell on it now however as we had to get on. Anyway, Daughter 2 passed her exam (hurrah!) and Daughter 1 and I set off on the long slog northwards. I'd been suffering a bit from waking up too early the last few weeks so was feeling a little bit sleep-deprived but I found that this quietened my mind sufficiently to stave off the boredom of the long journey and the time passed surprisingly quickly. During the trip I kept my eye on RBA though there was nothing of note at all to sway me towards any particular plan. We duly arrived and unpacked the car and I settled down with a cup of tea to contemplate what to do next. My current thinking was to head back south and find a hotel not too far from Telford so that I could pass the next morning with the Iberian Chiffchaff as planned before heading on back home. 

Just as I was coming to the end of my tea news broke that the Broad-billed Sandpiper was back at Gwent. "Hmm, that could be a game changer" I thought and started to hatch what was quite frankly a crazy plan. I started to think about heading back down south, staying overnight in a hotel within striking distance of Newport and to head on there for around about 7 a.m. Since high tide wasn't until after 9 a.m. the bird should with any luck roost on it's favoured island once more enabling me to score on what would be a pretty epic twitch. I don't know if it was the lack of sleep which was fogging my mind but somehow this seemed a reasonable plan so I bade my daughter goodbye and headed back on the road again.

On the way back south I got a call from the Wickster (on the hands-free) who'd found a Wood Warbler at Farmoor, a good bird for the county of Oxfordshire. I told him of the county birders who I thought still needed it for their county lists and at the next petrol station I stopped to put the word out, this duty falling to me in the absence of Badger who normally does the honours. That done (fortunately I didn't need Oxon Wood Warbler myself) I resumed my journey and tried not to get too freaked out by the stupidity of what I was attempting. As darkness fell, I turned off onto the A42 and stopped in a layby to plan where to stay. In the end I picked a hotel in Droitwich, booked it via my phone, put the address into the Sat Nav and headed onwards. I arrived there at around 9 p.m. only to discover that they were having a wedding reception there and that there was loud music and revelry in all directions. There then followed a Goldilocks-style room debacle whereby in the first room the heating was stuck full on and was unbearably hot, the second room had some enormous fan running directly underneath it and vibrating the whole floor and finally the third room was tucked right away in the far corner of the hotel so I couldn't hear any noise and was otherwise fine. I gave my VLW a call to find that she'd had a really rough day and couldn't stop thinking about our Cornish garden. Having her so upset and not being able to do anything about it was most stressful and this, coupled with all the driving, the stress of changing rooms and the fact that I was going to have to get up insanely early and really needed to rest all left me far too wound up to sleep. So in the end I headed down to the bar and ordered a triple whisky before going for a walk in the grounds to calm down. This did the trick and back in my room I was soon asleep.

I woke up at 4 a.m. to the sound of a blackbird singing right outside my window, welcoming the first hints of dawn. This was earlier than I'd wanted but I had a quick shower and headed off onto the deserted streets before 5 a.m. The journey southwards was uneventful though I took it steady as I'd had so little sleep. I arrived shortly before 7 a.m. to find a long line of cars along the road. Parking up, I hurried along to the first hide and stood before the door. This is what it all boiled down to: all this effort would either stand or fall according to what I found on the other side of the door. Which would it be?

The view from the hide of the first island
Sadly, it was not to be. There was no sign of the bird roosting in amongst the fifty plus Dunlin there though occasionally more birds were flying in so for a while there was a bit of interest still. I amused myself with a few year ticks in the form of Wheatear, Greenshank and Knot and went to try the other hide for a different perspective but in the end it was just a massive dip.

roosting Avocets and Dunlin
A clump of Cuckoo Flower

There was lots of the highly poisonous Hemlock Water-dropwort along the stream though it was not yet in flower

By way of a break from not seeing a Broad-billed Sandpiper I took a small detour to the RSPB centre at Newport Wetlands (to use the toilets there) where I got Reed Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat as additional year ticks and returned to Goldcliff to find no change in the situation. Finally at around 10 a.m. I climbed back into the Gnome mobile and headed for home. As I drove I contemplated the frustration of the weekend. Still, I wasn't going to see birds like Broad-billed Sandpiper by sitting at home in Oxford and the only consolation was the the Iberian Chiffchaff wasn't seen all morning at Telford either so I'd have dipped had I gone for that anyway. By now I was frankly too tired to care and just wanted to get back home and so I carefully guided the car back on what was thankfully an uneventful journey. Had it all worked out, it would have been a heroic effort duly rewarded but as it was, it was just a really stressful and tiring weekend with little to show for it other than my daughter safely back at her university. Sometimes birding can be a really frustrating hobby!

No comments: