Saturday, 19 April 2014

Persistence pays off!

Crag Martin, North Landing, Flamborough Head, (c) Scott Reid

After a hectic February which saw me successfully twitch Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ross's Gull, Red-flanked Bluetail and the somewhat Chinese Pond Heron in Kent, university life stepped up another gear and suddenly I had no time to twitch and only occasionally managed to get down to Port Meadow to get my birding fix. Eventually the Easter holidays rolled around and although I still had a strenuous workload with exam revision, I had a bit more flexibility and thanks to the always-appreciated lifts from Scott, I would be able to get around the country with relative ease. All I needed were some decent birds and on the 11th of April the twitching gods provided me with a stunner, a Crag Martin feeding over the cliffs south of the lighthouse at Flamborough Head. Galvanised by the fact that I didn't bother to twitch the Suffolk Pacific Swift thinking that it wouldn't hang around I knew that the only option here was to head straight to Flamborough and hope that the bird hung around long enough for us to get there. After a short delay, Scott and I were Yorkshire bound and despite making good time we pulled in to the car park at South Landing 5 minutes before the bird was seen to gain height and circle off to the southwest. As the day was warm and clear it seemed likely that the bird has well and truly moved off. Despondent, we decided to hang around anyway  to see if the bird reappeared but it wasn't to be and our depression was further compounded by failing to catch up with an extremely mobile Tawny Pipit, a difficult bird in Britain nowadays.

The drive back to Stockport was not a pleasant one and I was soon drowning my sorrows in my favourite pub. One casual remark that stuck in the mind from the journey home was something along the lines of "I doubt we've seen the last of this bird." As it turned out this was to be prophetic as while I was lying worse for wear on the sofa the following afternoon, an unconfirmed report came through that the Crag Martin had been relocated feeding along the cliffs on the north side of the great white cape at Thornwick Bay. Soon the report was confirmed and after some persuasion Scott picked me up at 4 and for the second time in two days we were steaming towards Flamborough. I was a nervous wreck on the drive across as the prospect of dipping twice in as many days on such a mythical bird loomed large in my mind. Fortunately I needn't have worried as positive news came through just as we pulled into the car Park at North Landing. I wasn't leaving anything to chance and leapt out of the car, covering the short distance along the clifftop to the assembled crowd at breakneck speed. Some desperate fumbling for my bins ensued and then suddenly there infront of me was Britain's 8th CRAG MARTIN! BOOM indeed! 

The bird was favouring a spot on the other side of a deep gorge and after soaking in the stunning white tail markings and gorgeous velvet brown underside we decided to walk round to try and get better views. This proved to be one of the best decisions I've ever made as I was soon enjoying point blank views of the bird scything past me at eye level. If I'm completely honest, I wasn't expecting great things from what I had assumed to be a rather dull brown bird but in the field it had that touch of magic typical of a rare swift or hirundine. As it flicked past us an arms length away I could really drink in the striking dark underwing coverts and subtle gradations of chocolate brown which for me where strongly reminiscent of a dark Balearic Shearwater. If this wasn't good enough the bird would periodically spread its tail as it banked revealing the blinding flash of white markings, a feature which I was previously unaware of and one which for me gives the species a bit of extra magic Watching this almost mythical bird in such a stunning setting was a euphoric experience and provided a perfect example of what makes this hobby so rewarding at its best. After enjoying the bird for around half an hour we decided to have a quick search for the Tawny Pipit around the lighthouse. Once again we were unsuccessful however a cracking Short-eared Owl quartering over the fields by the lighthouse was more than sufficient consolation. A fitting end to an incredible day that I certainly won't forget in a hurry!

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