Sunday, 16 June 2013

PACIFIC SWIFT!

Yesterday did not go quite as I had planned when I woke up in the morning.

For, as I was sorting out tree stakes at the bottom of the land, a text on my phone informed me that a Pacific Swift was present over a marsh in Suffolk. Pacific Swift is very, very rare in this country and usually hangs around for about 5 minutes. Famously, one in Cley in 1993 was the only one to be seen by more than a handful of birders. Tales abound of speeding along country lanes, getting stuck in traffic jams on the one narrow road through the middle of Cley village, abandoning cars... then there are the tales of those who missed it by minutes.

At the same time as I was pondering what course of action to take, Sue came running down the land waving my pager in the air to let me know there was a mega. Seconds later my phone rang. My friend who lives in Scotland, just in case I'd missed the messages in this communications backwater. Given the fleeting nature of most Pacific Swifts, he resolved to do the same as me, that is to wait for a second message. If it was still there in 15 minutes then the chances of connecting with it would be greatly improved.

And so I carried on hammering in stakes and clearing grass from the base of young saplings until the next message. Still there at 10:59!

That was it. There was just a 100 mile drive to the far corner of Suffolk then a 3 mile 'walk'.
The SatNav said it would take 2 hours and the dashboard said I had 67 miles of petrol left - at normal driving speed.
What ensued was a somewhat fraught journey across country until I hit the A14 and really put my foot down. An hour away from a Pacific Swift...Half an hour away...Fifteen minutes to go...And all the time I reined in the arrival time on the SatNav.
And so it was that after an hour and thirty five minutes I was parking up in a congested country lane. I decided to leave the scope so I could run most of the 3 miles. Now I'm no Olympic athlete but I do keep reasonably fit so a combination of jogging and resting to chat with others heading the same way had me within sight of the crowd in about half an hour.
Along the way I had been reassured by those leaving site "Don't worry, it's still there." Famous last words.
But even with just a couple of hundred yards to go, I was fully aware that those people I could see watching the bird might just be watching it head high into the sky and over the horizon. That can happen with swifts and I wasn't going to be the one telling the tale, in 20 years time, of missing a Pacific Swift by one minute.

As I jogged along the base of the seawall, someone beckoned me and a couple of others just arriving into the hide. I knelt on the ground and raised my bins to my eyes, desperately trying to control my breathing and stop my hands from shaking. Instructions were coming thick and fast about which way the bird was flying, how high it was, which birds it was flying over... And after what seemed like an eternity (in truth about ten seconds of frantic searching) there it was.

PACIFIC SWIFT

Skimming low over the marsh.

Elation. Relief. Joy. Success.

There are some birds which I know I'll see in Britain at some point in my life - provided I live long enough! But Pacific Swift was one that I suspected I may not.

I left the hide and spent the next hour or so on the seawall watching the swift as it kept loyal to one small area of the marsh. I caught up with a few old friends too.
For some reason, everyone seemed in a good mood.

Then storm clouds loomed and I decided to head back to the car with some friends. I just made it in time before the heavens opened.
Good news for the veg plot back on the farm. But bad news for those still on their way.

The downpour was the cue for the Pacifc Swift, in the company of our own Common Swifts, to depart. Fortunately for my friend from Scotland it came back late in the afternoon and he connected too.

He popped into the farm on his way back later in the evening, just for a brief catch up before making his way back to Scotland.

This morning I finished those tree stakes. Roll on the next lifer.

It's been a good year so far. Four already and there's still the autumn to come. But before that I'm hoping for a Bridled Tern, preferably somewhere near.

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