Friday, 11 April 2014

Crag Martin!!!!!!

Today did not turn out as expected.
For I ended up spending a few hours sat here...

The cliffs at Flamborough South Landing

As I laid in bed enjoying a lazy morning and contemplating the idea of actually getting up, Sue appeared brandishing my pager. "Mega", she announced. A mega brings news of a very rare bird, one which just might give you reason to drop everything, abandon all plans and jump straight in the car. I don't get quite so excited by the mega message these days, as I have already seen many of the birds which would merit such treatment... "Crag Martin", she announced.

I sat bolt upright. "CRAG MARTIN!!!! Where?"
"Flamborough Head".

It didn't take me long to jump into my clothes, grab my wallet, phone and optics and I was gone. Sue shoved a few chocolate bars at me to keep me going.
The last twitchable Crag Martin was in 1999 - before I got serious. I'd never even had a chance at seeing one in Britain.

The SatNav said I would arrive in about three and a half hours. Now that's a long time for a Crag Martin to hang around over a headland. But past experience has taught me to just go for hirundines (the collective term for swallows and martins, but swifts tend to get lumped in too). The best hope would be that it found the cliff face to its liking and there were enough insects around to keep it busy.

As I headed north, I half expected the pager to go silent until the dreaded "no sign" message. Or worse still, to get two thirds of the way there and then to receive said message.

So I was encouraged to see this message - Crag Martin still 9.38am

I kept driving, negotiating twisty roads, slow lorries, tractors and a couple of those silly little cars shaped somewhat like the box in which the driver will most likely soon be carried off! But almost exactly half way into my journey the news came through that I feared.

10:31  - Crag Martin till 9.40am then flew SW and no further sign
A quick calculation told me that this was very bad news. I felt deflated. I felt like turning back. But no! I mustn't forget the hirundine rule - keep going!

And thirteen minutes later I got my reward for persistence.

10:44 - Crag Martin still 10:36
and at 10:46 Crag Martin still 10:41

11:14 - Crag Martin still 11:03
11:37 - Crag Martin still 11:17

I couldn't quite believe it. I was speeding (when I wasn't frustratedly attempting to overtake lines of traffic who insisted on sitting behind farm tractors) toward a Crag Martin and it was still there. Ten minutes to get through Beverley town centre did my blood pressure no good whatsoever.
But I was now within half an hour and my heart was pounding.

Then the killer message.
11:41 - No further sign of Crag Martin by 11:41

This journey was developing into a rollercoaster of emotions. But there was no turning back now. My faith in The Hirundine Rule was being tested to the limit, but I was so close now I might as well just put my foot down and get there.

11:47 - Crag Martin still 11:43

Hope again! I was now just a quarter of an hour away from a lifer. I had brought the SatNav arrival time down to 12:01, despite the last thirty miles being interminably slow.

Along the final stretch of road out to the headland, for some reason I took a turn to the South Landing instead of continuing to the lighthouse car park. I don't know why. I put it down to my birder's sixth sense.
As I pulled into the car park several car loads of birders were headed toward the clifftop. I asked one whether I was better off here or at the lighthouse and they informed me that they'd been at the lighthouse with no luck. This didn't sound like great news. I followed them along the path, yomping to catch up. What I didn't know was that I had missed a message while yomping

12:10 - Crag Martin still 12:03 over gully east of South Landing

If I'd seen this, I probably would have attempted to run a bit faster than my aging body could withstand. As we approached the clifftop I could see about twenty birders ahead, all looking and pointing down into the gully just below them. I cracked and ran the last bit.
Surely they were watching the bird. I would have to be really unlucky to miss it now.

Stopping short of the other birders, I looked down into the gully and the second bird I saw, just below me, was the Crag Martin! For maybe thirty seconds it flew around right in front of me, rising above the clifftop and calling just over my head, along with a few sand martins. By now my heart had calmed down and I could hold my binoculars steady enough to watch it gradually drift off, higher and higher, towards Bridlington.

And that was that. Apart from one sighting reported by a single observer (though a reliable one) at 12:36, not another glimpse. Diddly Squat.

Three hours since Sue had made her initial announcement, I had a Crag Martin under my belt. I would have liked to have watched it for longer, but just imagine if I'd have had to stop for petrol, or if I'd gone to the lighthouse car park first!

12:21 - Crag Martin still 12:14   And that's the message that really mattered.

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