Friday, March 23, 2007

Weedon's World, March 2007

Here is an extract from Mike Weedon's monthly column, Weedon's World, from Bird Watching Magazine, March 2007.
(All photos by Mike Weedon. Click each image for a larger version).

Bedraggled but happy.
(From left) Graham Catley, David Jenkins and Kevin Du Rose.

Hercules on BBC3 featured super-human blokes who on consecutive days carried out super-human challenges, like rowing two English Channels or climbing ladders to the height of Everest.

Last weekend, I attempted the podgy twitcher’s weekend equivalent of Hercules, pushing the boundaries of strength and stamina to seek out two long-staying Scottish rarities: Barrow’s Goldeneye and Ross’s Gull.

I was picked up in Peterborough at midnight by Kevin Du Rose, who then drove to Lincoln to pick up David Jenkins. By 2am Saturday, we had just about squeezed all our stuff and ourselves into the hire car and we were off to Barton-on-Humber, where Graham Catley occupied all remaining micro-spaces in the sardine tin.

It was 3am when we went north, David driving and the 6ft 6in Kevin entertaining him with ‘banter’. Graham and I attempted to find a position where blood could still flow in our legs and settled for the first Herculean task – surviving a night of no sleep, listening to drivel and, worse, the greatest hits of Deacon Blue, and trying to ignore some unignorable aromas.
At about 6.30am, after a brief coffee break, Kevin took over the driving and I lost all feeling in my legs as his seat came back even further.

By 9am, none of us had slept a wink, but we were at our first locality, Loch Venachar, just outside Callander, Forth. The sun’s attemps to light the world were impeded by endless cloud, releasing drizzle and rain, reducing visibility to 100m or so.
The odd Raven went by, laughing at us, but what we could see of the loch was devoid of birdlife. I took over the driving and we slowly went up and down the loch pushing one or two Goldeneyes and Goosanders out from the edges. After four painfully fruitless hours of straining and scanning we decided to check the area nearer the town. Recent rain had turned the river to a raging torrent and the fields were so flooded that canoeists were canoeing in the car-park in the middle of town.

Sleep deprivation, exhaustion and ‘dip fever’ were bringing waves of depression to the team, and with the latest downpour we withdrew to a cafĂ© for a cup of tea and some lunch. At 1.30pm the rain was as hard as ever, and despite full stomachs and cheery tea, we knew in a moment of Zen-like clarity and ‘letting go’ that the goldeneye had escaped us. We had enough energy, though, for one last look before we went west for the gull.

From my position in the back, I noted hundreds of metres away a tiny glimpse of the top of a duck’s ‘black’ head. But it remained hidden. Then it emerged and I dug my scope from the back and grilled it. It was asleep, but surely there was too little white on the back for Goldeneye. It’s the hope that kills, so I refused to get excited. Then I saw its white facial crescent: “It’s it!” I shouted and everyone else piled instantly out to grab scopes.

Kevin Du Rose improvises a new digiscoping technique for the distant Barrow's Goldeneye.

Barrow's Goldeneye, Callander, Forth.

Ah, how the mood changed for that distant view of a Barrow’s Goldeneye flirting outrageously with a female Goldeneye! Somehow, the following sodden drive over to Kintyre, the six hours standing in a marsh solidly photographing a gorgeous Ross’s Gull in the gloom and rain, the seven-hour night-drive back to Barton, and the further three back to Peterborough to arrive home at 1.30am all seemed a breeze, a doddle.

OK, it’s not quite walking up Everest in a day, but if anyone tells you twitching is easy…

The Ross's site, at the outflow from Eilean Traighe fish farm, Ormsary.

The first-winter Ross's Gull pecks at outlfow from the fish farm.

The Ross's Gull bags a juicy worm.

[*Mike would like to point out that none of the drivers involved were driving without sleep. He himself had 11 hours sleep prior to his only extensive driving on the sunday afternoon.]

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