Friday 20 September 2013

A post mortem

After resisting the temptations of a showy Great Snipe at Spurn on Sunday, further positive news on Monday and gripping photos on-line proved too much, and I booked a day's leave on Tuesday. As I had to be back home by five p.m., waiting on news wasn't really an option. So the plan was: drive through the wee small ones to be at Kilnsea for first light, bag crippling views of the Great Snipe and be on the way home before elevenses.

I arrived with the first rays of the sun to find I was the only soul there, but by the time I had got my boots on and prepped my camera two local guys had turned up. One, a warden for the area, gave me a tantalising tour of all the locations where the bird had been feeding and roosting the previous day. The other walked through the caravan park where it was last seen to look for it there. My companion explained how tame it had been and how he was surprised a cat or fox hadn't taken it already.

The underwing pattern of the Great Snipe. If it was walking around your boots on Sunday or Monday, you may not have got to see this feature.
Then his CB radio bleeped into life and I hoped beyond hope that I mis-heard the words which crackled out from the speaker: 'Great', 'Snipe' and 'dead'. I hadn't, and then there it was: lying prone under the kids trampoline in the garden of Warrenby Cottage, on whose drive it had spent much of the previous two days. Not eaten, just mauled, almost certainly by a domestic feline as a wild predator surely would not have wasted the carcass. Had a cat crossed my path at this point I am not sure I would have been responsible for my actions.

If I have hit a lower ebb in fifteen years of pursuing rare birds my admittedly poor memory can't recall it. But before self-pity really took hold I had to remind myself that while I may have just voluntarily sacrificed a few hours sleep and a day's holiday, the poor old Snipe had paid a much heavier price for its unintentional appearance on these shores. Suddenly Spurn felt dismal and cold, and after a phone call home, which was met with a mixture of sympathy and mirth (mostly mirth), and more supportive calls from Steve and Paul, who knew I was thinking of going - thanks guys - I hit the road.
I'll spare you a picture of the front of the bird, which is where the cat really did the damage.
If I were more superstitious I might have taken more heed of the omens: before setting off I had a worse than usual bout of dip-somnia, the sleep disorder induced by fear of travelling for a rare bird but not seeing it. I also had a pretty uneasy feeling about the whole venture generally, but for no better reason, I told myself, than that I was retracing my steps to the scene of a mega-dip earlier in the year for a Rock Thrush.

The parallels were uneasy: both birds in their third day at Spurn and on both occasions I had to get back for late afternoon commitments so either had to go first thing and have a chance, or not go and have no chance. I even used the same parking space at the Bluebell car park. I have been consciously taking more risks to add to my British list as it grinds to a halt, but perhaps I'll rethink my twitching strategy, and revert to my previous policy of only going for sure things which have stuck around for ages where I can't possibly fail.
This was on my doormat when I got home. Probably for the best that Tiddles wasn't in my shed.
Looking on the bright side, which the therapist recommended, returning to work on Wednesday I found myself at the Staff Awards ceremony, where I received a certificate, on paper of a reasonable grammage as well, for completing a 2 year diploma. Regular readers may recall frequent references over the last 6 months to how birding became an essential displacement activity to avoid knuckling down to finish some assignment or other. It didn't seem to do me any harm, as they threw in a special medal for achievement in the process, a sort of 'best in breed' for my cohort, I think. This perked me up a bit: at least I got one thing right this week.

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