Thursday 11 July 2013

Hopeless optimists

Me and about 100 others had an excellent day's birding in the north east on Saturday. Unfortunately it was an awful day's twitching as well. At any other time a dozen summer plumaged Red-throated Divers, four Arctic Skuas, flocks of Common Scoter, beach-dwelling Tree Sparrows, dozens of Arctic and a single Roseate Tern, plus a bay-full of Puffins and other auks would have been a satisfying haul.

Red-throated Diver, Druridge Bay
But in truth that's not why we were there. We had all concluded that a Bridled Tern, which had spent a few days on the Farne Islands, then gone awol before reappearing on the mainland, the first twitchable bird for 25 years, had to be worth a shot. We put in a good shift, but it didn't appear, and when it was relocated in Cleveland at lunchtime, a major traffic jam prevented us from getting there quickly enough to catch up with it. As a final insult, later that evening it returned to the area where we had spent the morning, but by then most of us were well on the way home.
Common Scoter flock, Druridge Bay
After a day or two brooding over it, though, I'm already looking back almost fondly on a comically unsuccessful day, especially catching up with old friends, making some new ones, and even bumping into a fellow wandering vagrant from Dorset.

Arctic Skua harrying terns, Druridge Bay
Most of the above were present when the sun rose over the Northumberland coast at 0400, and still there as it baked us in Cleveland 12 hours later, so there was plenty of time for chat. Our conversations and those of others overheard chronicle the spiral of delusion to which hopeless optimists are given on such occasions:

Saturday, Cresswell Ponds, just after dawn. No sign:
'It was in and out last night so it's only a matter of time'.

10:00. No sign:
'The terns don't come in here until the afternoon apparently'.

11:00. No sign:
'Well it was lunchtime before it turned up yesterday'.

Lunchtime. No sign:
'Perhaps we have to wait for the tide. It's an hour later today.'

12:50. Bird relocated at Saltholme RSPB, Cleveland, 50 miles to the south:
'Told you it was still around!'

13:50. Bird reported flying off:
'It'll be back. Probably just fishing on the estuary.'

14:15. Twitchers arrive en masse from Cresswell. Still no sign:
'It's done this before and come back, apparently'.

16:00. Still no sign. Edifice of denial begins to crumble:
'Not looking good'.

17:00. Still no sign. Close to admitting defeat:
'We'll get another chance - it's obviously heading south.'

18:00: Still no sign:
'Could have been worse, we could have gone to Islay for the Ascension Frigatebird'.

18:30: Bird relocated back in Northumberland:
'You've got to be *%*?*! joking'.

On Sunday morning, the bird was back at Cresswell, perched on the same fence that we were leaning on 24 hours earlier. That's just taking the mick.
Tree Sparrow, Druridge Bay
So another mega-dip to put down to experience. I find that going for a rare bird is always fine - anticipation and adrenaline keep me going. It's the coming back tired and empty handed that's hard, when it just becomes a question of who is going to break down first: me or the car.
Roseate Tern, Saltholme RSPB
Fortunately I pulled through, developing mental toughness of which Andy Murray would have been proud. The Bridled Tern really needed a weekend devoted to it, and had I had one, I probably would have seen it. But we had commitments in Dorset on the Sunday. After Murray's win at Wimbledon, I felt a bit better - after all, occurrences of Brits winning the Men's Singles are rarer than occurrences of Bridled Tern. The same bird was seen at Flamorough Head yesterday so may be heading south in earnest. If it waits until the weekend before turning up in East Anglia, I'm sure we'll all toddle off again, full of hope and coffee, ready to forgive and forget the cruelty of Saturday's dip.

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