Monday, 10 March 2014

Pond dipping

Swept along by the collective conviction/delusion that Chinese Pond Heron could be a genuine vagrant to Britain, three-quarters of a carload of us headed off to Kent yesterday for a look at the long-staying one near Hythe. Needing to re-acquaint myself with parenting duties after last weekend away, I declined the offer of a lift on Saturday with Steve and Marcus (who both saw the bird), but expressions of interest in a Sunday jaunt were subsequently rustled up from Brett and Ken. After sub-optimal amounts of sleep, off we set. Ken had been to a late night soiree and not even gone to bed before we picked him up, so was looking dapper in jacket and slacks. Definitely the best dressed birder in Kent yesterday. Though among the fleecewear, Bermuda shorts and T-shirts revealing an impressive array of guttage, the competition wasn't exactly stiff.

On the journey there we discussed our firm belief in the vagrancy potential of the species, and the many factors which pointed to it being a truly wild bird. Returning eight hours later empty handed, we were forced to conclude that it was obviously plastic, a travesty if admitted to the British list, and that having gorged all the goldfish in Saltwood, it had presumably now returned to the carp farm where it previously lived as an eccentric's pet. OK, an unringed, unheard of in captivity kind of pet, but a pet nonetheless. A conclusion not borne out of bitterness, you understand, we just had our eyes opened by the power of not seeing the bird. You know, like how it works on Birdforum.

Arriving as day broke, we parked up next to half a dozen other cars, and, taking our cue from their occupants, remained in the vehicle in case the noise and movement reduced the chances of the Heron coming in to land in its favoured tree nearby. The scene looked like the Keystone Cops on a stake-out, complete with coffee and doughnuts on dashboards. A few too many doughnuts in the case of some later arrivals, who proceeded to get out, stretch their legs, play with their loose change, chat, guffaw, smoke and break wind in full view of this apparently shy bird's preferred perch. So much for the subtle approach.

Firecrest was the only bird worth trying to photograph all day. I screwed that up too so here's one I prepared earlier.

So we amused ourselves by cruelly mocking our fellow twitchers and their ridiculous hobby from the comfort of the car until it became clear the bird was going to break its recent morning routine. At that point we concluded that scouring the area was probably more use than standing around guffing and generally making a racket under a tree to which no Chinese Pond Heron in its right mind was ever likely to return.

We checked all the sites where Steve and Marcus had seen the bird the day before, sniffed out every pond within a mile radius, and tried a likely looking stretch of the Royal Military Canal, all to no avail. And in the process of searching we encountered the usual mixed reaction from local residents subjected to a twitch. Some were clearly enjoying the celebrity of their avian visitor. Others seem to have concluded that strangers hanging around could only mean what suburban folk fear most: child abduction, or, worse, inconsiderate parking.
A dip is always disappointing of course, especially as the bird looked nailed on (literally to a shed roof, judging by some of the photos). But the gallows humour of my travelling companions lightened the load to such an extent that by the time I got home I can honestly say I felt comprehensively over it. And despite not seeing it, I wish the Pond Heron well in its journey onto the British list. Let's hope we're not all dead before it makes it, or indeed before another one turns up.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent write up buddy and a great read.