Sunday, September 12, 2004

Why twitching is a bad idea

or, How not to see a Sabine's Gull

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy seeing new birds as much as the next birder. But this evening was a great example of how twitching can be a frustrating waste of time.

The whole episode started this morning, when Kevin Du Rose phoned around to report a juvenile Sabine's Gull flying west from Prior's Fen. It looked as if it might follow the Mighty Nene westwards into town, and perhaps over Ferry Meadows, where the cream of Peterborough birding was at the Birdfest.

Normally, on a ringing morning that would be bad, bad news for me, but fortunately I was positioned right by the river in pole position to intercept the bird as it flew over. I was excused net rounds after the first two because there were so many interested people coming to see what we were up to.

So, it looked good. My eyes were on the skies, waiting for the chocolate-brown beauty to pass over. I'd be able to phone ahead to Will and Brian who were by the visitor centre, PBC-ticking it minutes before they did, and bask in the glory (but would it count as self-found?). Of course, the bird did no such thing and was not reported again. Ah well.

The afternoon passed without a hitch and I headed home. I was a bit tired after my early start so went upstairs for a snooze, leaving my mobile phone in my fleece pocket downstairs. This was my big mistake.

What I should have done was take the phone upstairs with me, like I do 99.9% of the time, so it would wake me up when it rang. Because at 17:15, Will phoned. I didn't answer (didn't hear it). Ten minutes later, I woke up of my own accord and wandered downstairs to forage for something to eat. I heard the phone go, and it was Will. Something's going on. The call went like this:

KF: Hello!
WB: Ah! You know the Sab's is at Star Pit, don't you?
KF: Er, no! Bye...

I left in a hurry and got there in roughly ten minutes. I could see no other cars and nobody was visible. So I parked up, phoned Brian to check I was at the right part of the site, then phoned Kevin:

KF: Kev! It's Katie. Where are you?
KDR: I'm at Star Pit. It's just flown off...
KF: You're joking?
KDR: No...

Brian turned up shortly afterwards. Kev, Trevor Williams, Martin Coates and Will emerged from the hawthorns by the road looking pleased with themselves. Smug, even. There can be no worse sight. Martin Coates, for pete's sake! He doesn't even go birding anymore, does he?

I just laughed because there's not much else to be done. Chasing rare birds around is a pretty stupid thing to do, and it's good to remember that.

The Sabine's Gull was last seen flying off east with some larger gulls. Kev reckoned they were heading for The Wash. But we tried a gull roost site near Hampton just in case. We waited until dark and there were plenty of birds there, but not the right one.

Brian was virtually inconsolable. WeedWorld was also there. He hadn't even gone to Star Pit because his mobile phone wasn't working. So he sat at the roost site for three hours, waiting for something to happen. It didn't. The Sab's hasn't been seen since.

What's in my CD player: Lifes Rich Pageant - R.E.M.