Sunday, 27 July 2014

Nomadic nordmanii

Pratincoles are enigmatic birds that really get the birding pulse racing. So when the Black-winged variety turned up at Cley, Norfolk on Tuesday 15th July I decided my chance to finally connect with this bird had come. I had planned to leave the office at 4pm which would get me there before 6pm and with enough daylight to enjoy the bird and perhaps grab a photo or two. My boss and the bird had other ideas. A 4pm meeting was called lasting 1 hour. I was already behind schedule but checking my birdguide app along the trip showed the bird still present so I felt pretty relaxed I would tick the Prat after all it had been on the scrapes all afternoon and looked settled.

On arrival at Cley I passed several birders coming the other way all with the news I wanted to hear. Bird still showing in front of the hides with lapwing. Great! On arrival at the hide you can guess what happened next. Birders outside the hide looking south with Bins and Scopes made my heart sink. The bird had flown 2 minutes ago I was told. I had a choice - sit it out till dusk and hope the bird returned  or go for the Great Knot an hour away at Breydon. I decided that although the BWP was not as rare in British terms as the Knot the latter just didn’t hold the same appeal as the Pratincole. Whilst I waited I collected some good birds, Wood Sands, Green Sands, Spoonbills and a 1CY Little Gull but no Pratincole. I left cursing my luck. Wednesday the bird had appeared at Stiffkey and by Thursday the bird had flown west from there. 

Where would it turn up next? My hunch was that it could well turn up in Cambs and what better place than the Ouse Washes. I manged to finish work early on Friday and headed to the Washes not expecting to see the BWP but with that hope you always set out with that maybe this time you will stumble across a rarity. I spent until dusk at the reserve walking from the car park north to past the railway bridge including an hour spent at a particularly attractive looking pool just south of the rail bridge. A lovely evening with Garganey, Spotshank and plenty of Ruff and Blackwits but not the hoped for BWP. Ah well that was always a long shot wasn’t it.

Saturday arrived and I knew Ade Cooper usually does the washes so I decide I would at least get some Pratincole action in Suffolk and try and collect the Collared Pratincole that was residing in front of the east hide. 4pm just arriving at the hide and a message on my phone. Ade Cooper had just found a BWP on the pool south of the rail bridge. Gob smacked! Gutted I hadn’t been fortunate enough to connect the evening before but in a way pleased my instinct of the bird turning up there had been correct and if anybody else apart from me should find the bird then I was pleased it was Ade who puts plenty of effort into the reserve.

I decide to collect the Collared Prat having travelled the 85 miles or so from my home to get there. By 4.30 I had seen the bird well on the scrape and was on my way to Cambs to hopefully finally see the BWP. I was 2 hours away but I was hopeful. I kept in touch with Ade. 4.30pm preening looks settled, 5pm still there 17.34 the text I didn’t want. Bird had flown NW across the fields. I’d missed the bird again. I decided that walking the 4 KM to the bridge was not the best option but instead to check somewhere N of the washes reserve. Welney seemed the obvious choice. Duncan and Ben had had the same thought. After collecting the obligatory Glossy ibis I left them to head to March Farmers, the next most obvious place. Whilst there Mike Weedon turned up with the same thought. But alas still no BWP. Compensation was in the form of a Wood Sand, 3 Cranes flying overhead and a singing Corncrake and capped off with a couple of beautiful Barn Owls hunting the washes.

Sunday arrived. Maybe the bird would be a bird of habit and come back to its pool at the south of the railway at the washes. I arrived at the pool where Rob Palmer was waiting. Rob was on site Saturday but had left as Ade had headed back North to check the Lapwing flock that had dropped on the pool whilst they were in Cadbury hide. Rob also had some unfinished business. We both were amazed that no other birders were present. We waited patiently for 1.5hrs seeing Garganey, LRP, Ruff and Godwits but no BWP. It was 3.30pm I decided to walk 500M or so N of the bridge to check the pools there. After 15 mins or so of checking the lapwing flock with no sight or sound of the BWP I became aware of Rob screaming my name and waving his arms. It could only mean one thing! I started to run as fast as I could. The humidity and heat and general lack of fitness didn’t help and by the time I arrived with Rob for him to confirm the news that the bird was indeed back on the pool, picked up by the other birder who had turned up Hugh Venables.

I was sweating like a pig in a thunderstorm (an old saying from my Grandmother I have no reason to believe pigs do sweat in thunderstorms!) I then quickly and carefully made my way onto the bank erected scope and bang there the bird was on the pool standing on a spit of mud with lapwing! Brilliant finally I had caught up with the bird and it was all the more special for the runaround it had given me! I had little time to take in these emotions however as literally 10 seconds after watching the bird through the scope the Lapwings got up followed by the Prat. However the show was not over and it spent the next few minutes hawking above with hirundines and finally coming right over our heads on the bank before going N toward Welney. 

Phew I had come close to missing the bird again. Missing the bird and being on site would have been a very bitter pill to swallow but the nomadic nordmanii had finally given itself up to me. So the weekend had finished with 2 Pratincole sp in the UK. Magic!

Brendan Doe