Sunday 1 June 2014

Dorset Downs - and Ups

My last post chronicled some minor ups and downs in my birding week but those were as nothing compared with the ones I experienced today. The morning started as several others have recently, with an early report of Bee-eaters at Portland Bill. We had friends coming over and they were kind enough to delay their departure to allow me an attempted smash and grab. I knew the chances were slim, but having dipped one earlier in the week I had the hump and sometimes I would rather have a go than sit at home and wonder if I could have made it. En route the phone rang but I couldn't take the call from Steve Smith as I was driving. Having reached the Bill and found precisely no Bee-eaters, I made my way back to high ground to return the call.
Short-toed Eagle, Morden Bog: possibly my worst record shot ever. But am I bovvered?
At this point it emerged that our mutual friend Paul Morton had reported a Short-toed Eagle at Morden Bog, less than 10 minutes from my house in Wareham. There was talk of photos, which Steve hadn't yet seen, and of the bird flying off to the east. Over the course of the next half-hour, Paul's photos were circulated and I received one text and one email from Steve. These contained a total of 9 words, 5 of which were just four letters long and began with an 'F'. I repeated the same word several times myself as I tortured myself with the thought that, had I stayed at home, and taken Steve's call at 0958, I might just have made it to Morden Bog in time to see the Eagle before it flew, never to be seen again.

We had a family walk to Dancing Ledge planned with our non-birding friends, who had now arrived, so I did my best to put thoughts of Short-toed Eagle out of my head, and prepared to knuckle down to some hard-core Puffin-spotting. Four birds were present and this calmed my mood considerably as all cooed at them appreciatively. At least until some character in a rib flushed the Puffins and all the Guillemots off the cliffs by going in for too close a look.

Just as we got back to the car, the pager wailed a mega-alert for the second time today, which could only mean one thing: Short-toed Eagle re-found. I imagined it would be somewhere in the New Forest by now but no - it was back up the road at Morden Bog. More potty-mouth action ensued. Steve lives near where we were parked so I arranged to meet him at his place, having secured permission to bale out on family and friends - I say permission, well, I certainly asked, but I've been informed since I didn't exactly wait for an answer. I underestimated the distance to Steve's, but ran it anyway, with camera, scope, rucksack etc swinging inelegantly off my back. But this was no time for dignity.
Puffins at their traditional site off Dancing Ledge
A rapid scuttle through Purbeck followed, past the tourist buses doing three point turns in Corfe Castle and the Nissan Micra drivers doing what Nissan Micra drivers do at times like this, until, released from the thraldom of traffic, we reached Lawson's Clump where the Eagle was last reported. The high ground at Oven's Hill gave us a good vantage point, but all I could see was a distant Andy Mears, last spied when we shared a car for the Gull of Kintyre twitch. We made our way over to him and were joined by Nick Hopper and Claire. Scanning forlornly, we speculated about the remoteness of the chance of picking this bird up sat in a tree in the tree-filled landscape which lay before us. Steve then took a call from George Green, author of the wonderful Birds of Dorset, a scholarly work which after today will need a little update. George had called to say he thought he had the bird: sat in a tree.
Adonis Blue: a classic species of Dorset coastal downland, seen on our coastal walk before things all got a bit crazy, Eagle-wise
After more cursing, a short drive and a wheezy jog we were hauling ourselves up on the high ridge above Morden Bog's Old Decoy Pond, to find George, God forever bless him, alone but with his scope trained on a Short-toed Eagle! Cue more swearing, this time with added backslapping and then some frantic phone calls to get news out to all and sundry. At this point, around 1700, just seven of us were watching the bird. By the time I left at 1930, the crowd had swelled to over 100. My own selfish need for a tick met, it was then a question of talking in friends who were in transit.

Ian was just down the road in Wareham. Brett was on the way from Weymouth. Jol, Joe and Caroline Mitchell were on the way back from London, somewhere in the New Forest. Paul was legging it from Surrey. They arrived in roughly that order, in varying stages of hyper-ventilation. Brett confessed to some stressful and moderately aggressive driving, Jol had fallen over and sustained a nasty cut, and Paul phoned in a panic from a place called the The Gurkha Restaurant pleading for directions. Fortunately it was The Gurkha in Wareham not the one in Weymouth or that would have been seriously off course. Ian works for Natural England, so as well as seeing the bird he was able to organise some off-road parking, and keep good order on this, his employer's excellent National Nature Reserve (if you go tomorrow, please stick to the paths to protect the ground-nesting birds). Happily, everyone connected: I counted them in, and I counted them out.

An unbelievable day. Unbelievable. So glad we decided to holiday at home this week. Well done Paul for the find - even though it ruins my chances of claiming the Dorset raptor of the year award, it couldn't happen to a nicer bloke. And a big thank you to George for sticking it out on at Morden Bog when myself and others had given up hope.

Lesser Whitethroat near Langton Matravers - a ringed bird

1 comment:

  1. Hi Peter, I am happy to confirm your pretty Auks this lunchtime, because by the time you got to my place for the Eagle twitch you were definitely PUFFING....

    Surely it St George now.