Friday, 8 October 2010

Twitching: It's a Disease! - St. Austell, Cornwall - 7th Octover 2010

At the Yellow Browed Warbler twitch, Chris Bridge and I had decided that on Thursday, we would get the train to Hartlepool and see the Woodchat Shrike. This turned into Woodchat Shrike and American Golden Plover (Great Heck) as I needed the plover for my life list, and felt this was the only way that the train ticket would pay for itself. As result, I went round to Chris’s on Wednesday night at 8pm to discuss train times and how to get to specific sites for the birds. We checked Rare Bird Alert and the American Golden Plover had gone from ‘no sign’ to ‘still no further sign’ which is never good!
Woodchat Shrike would only be a year tick, so I began to have to doubts about the trip. We came across Green Heron on RBA which is a bird that I have always wanted to see and Chris’ No3 bird to see in the UK. Jokingly I said, ‘shall we go?’ and some 30 minutes later, we were buying a train ticket on Bangor Station for St. Austell in Cornwall!
1st winter Green Heron - Lost Gardens of Heligan
Leaving Bangor at 21.06, we arrived at Crewe for 22.47 and had a VERY long wait until 05.00 where we would get a train to Birmingham New Street. The plan was to have a few hours sleep in the station waiting room, but this is easier said than done when there are several bright LED lights illuminating the waiting room; a man sleeping 2 feet from my head snoring like a whale, a drunken/hiccuping man making a hell of a lot of noise; cleaning staff mopping and cleaning tables at 02.30 and Sleeper Trains screaming through the station and giving me the fright of my life throughout the night! I therefore had maybe 10 minutes light dosing all night meaning I had been up since 07.45 on the Wednesday morning. (It was an interesting prospect to work out how many hours I would eventually stay awake for without collapsing!)
Passing through Stafford and Wolverhampton, we arrived at Birmingham New Street just as it was about to get light. This started the agonising wait for news from the Bird News networks and local birding friends. We had one more change at Exeter where there was still no news either way from the Heron. It wasn’t until Plymouth at 10am when Chris got a text from Alan Davies (one of North Wales’ finest) saying ‘Heron Still’. This was sufficient information for us to clearly freak out the elderly couple who joined us at the train table. We were over the moon, and literally words cannot describe the sense of relief I got as I had spent the whole night at Crewe thinking over in my head ‘My gosh, what will we do if it’s not there!?!?!?!?!’

It was then an agonising 1hr 47 minutes before we arrived at St. Austell station in lovely Cornwall, where we got a taxi to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. These gardens are amazing, but I have to ask the question, ‘what on earth is a Green Heron doing here???’ Paying the £10 entrance fee, we began the c1 mile walk to the ‘Lost Valley’ where the Heron had been seen. It was a maze in there, but we were confident that the 90 Birdwatchers with Telescopes were in the right place.
How the bird found it to this part of the world, I will never know! It is a narrow strip of muddy pond in the middle of a dense forest, with a small supply of fish to keep it there. There were surely several places for it to land before it found it's way to Heligan, but then again, the bird in Kent last year was content in a ditch for 22 days!
There's a Green Heron in there....
The bird had been showing well in the morning, but it favoured the near bank which was very tricky to look down on so it was proving very elusive, even if it was probably out in the open the whole time! I horribly missed the bird in flight as it relocated and it was a further 20 minutes before I caught sight of movement in the weeds by the bank. It was so frustrating to know that there was a Green Heron about 25ft away, probably sitting perfectly in the sub, but there was just no way of seeing it!A small adjustment to my location allowed to view a dagger like bill and a staring yellow eye. It was the GREEN HERON. I was so relieved that it hadn’t been a waste of time that I wasn’t even excited that I was viewing one of my biggest targets on my British ‘to-do’ list! The Heron proved rather elusive throughout the majority of our stay, as it could be visible from very few spots.

It began to wander into the weeds and then a gasp came from the crowd as it wandered out right into the open and appeared to just sit there for 3 minutes or so before it wandered into the weeds again. It was at this point that it soon became apparent just how small the bird is. It must have only been the size of a coot. It also proved just how beautiful the bird was and how much it stood out as a top class American Mega! The streaking on its breast made it awesome; never mind the green wings and purple head and breast.
The light was sadly quite poor, and as you can imagine, my heart was racing, so I was shaking frantically! The photos therefore are quite grainy and dark, but you can see what it is, and the memory of the bird will never be lost!
After this, the bird appeared to disappear, so Chris and I were contemplating twitching a long staying Spotted Sandpiper at Exminster Marsh, 6 miles from Exeter. As we were discussing what to do, a birder announced the he had it again. Putting my bins up, I could see it out in the open on the far side feeding! My jaw dropped as I got some footage of it fishing and then, I was so shocked when it walked up onto a log (like a classic yank heron) that I didn’t even bother getting any photos of it!

The open patch where the heron pleased the crowds

This bird was a very educational first winter bird and the moult was certainly very obvious in the wings. The adult type colouration was quite washed out, especially on the head, but when the bird was on the log, the streaking on the breast and the purple breast, were very very striking. I would love to have been the person to find it, as you can imagine scanning the edge for a rail or snipe or something and then seeing movement in the weeds that reveal a Green Heron... wow!

We were well and truly finished as it was now 3.30 and I had been up for 31 hours with 10 minutes sleep! We got the bus back to the station and caught the 4.58 train from St Austell, changing at Plymouth and Birmingham New Street. 9 tortuous hours and several power naps later, we arrived at Bangor Station at 01.56. (42 hours since I woke up, and 29 hours since we had set off from Bangor.
Close inspection will reveal two very very tired young train twitchers!

The Green Heron was my first long distance twitch, and despite the fact that I will have to proof read this many times as I am truly beat, I certainly am hooked on twitching and have truly caught the bug!


Ashley Hugo said...

Great post Zac!!
I still havent had it !!
glad your trip was worth it

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Exceptionally intrepid twitch - well done!



Liam Curson said...

nice one mate!! One of the nicest birds its possible to get on ya british list!

Zac Hinchcliffe said...

I think you might be about right there! I think American Warblers and Siberian Rubythroat might attract me more if im honest. If a Rubythroat turns up this autumn. i don't care where it going for it!

Colin Bushell said...

Bad habitat to get into .... do some studying - you know it makes sense.

Colin Bushell said...

"habitat" = habit. I should do some study.

Zac Hinchcliffe said...

haha it is a bad habit Colin...I will be in debt before you can say 'MEGA ALERT'!