Monday, 6 February 2017

The best laid plans

'Fail to plan, plan to fail' say the text books, an aphorism I sometimes find myself using when being unnecessarily pompous at work. Then when my own plans come crashing to the ground, I am reminded of the alternative philosophy posited by the well known management guru, Mike Tyson: 'Everyone has a plan - until they get punched in the face'.
Distant Pacific Diver at East Chevington: incapable of sticking to a perfectly good plan
Pacific Diver shows a vent strap, part of which is visible here
These conflicting truisms rather sum up my weekend before last. The plan was as follows: drive through the night to see the sun rise at Druridge Bay Country Park in Northumberland, where a Pacific Diver had been giving the definition of crippling views on Ladyburn Lake. I have seen the returning Cornish bird several times so while it would not have been a new bird for me, the opportunity to photograph a confiding major rarity is what makes me tick these days, so it seemed worth the effort. If the Diver was present, I would fill my photographic boots and be on the road south by 1000 at the latest, get down to North Yorkshire for noon, tick my first British Pine Bunting, and then take a birder's detour on the way home via another long-staying, photogenic diver, the Lincolnshire White-billed, to complete a remarkable rare double-diver day. And with luck, I would still be home in time to tuck the children in to bed.
Pacific Diver lacks the white flank patch of the commoner Black-throated Diver, and is generally a dinkier bird - as comparison with a Coot shows
Pacific Diver has a paler grey hindneck compared to Black-throated Diver
The perfect plan, then: all I needed to do was execute it. Originally I was going to go on Saturday, but a poorly wife, and a glance at the weather forecast, persuaded me to leave it until Sunday. I drove part way up on Saturday evening and stayed at a motel to make Sunday's driving less tiring, and pulled into an icy car park at Druridge Bay as the sun was rising. Julian Thomas from Somerset, a familiar face from the Portland scene, pulled up next to me and with no-one else around, we strolled to the lake in anticipation of a close encounter with the Pacific Diver. It soon became apparent that the Diver had gone - the first day in nine that it had not graced Ladyburn Lake with its presence. I resolved to check the pool at East Chevington, where the diver had been seen before it relocated to Ladyburn, and concluded it wasn't there either after a cursory scan of the pool - too cursory as it turned out, as a call from Julian relayed that it had been found at the far end of the pool by a more diligent observer.
A mixed flock of White-fronted and Pink-footed Geese flying over Druridge Bay
Another skein of Pink-footed Geese over East Chevington
A breathy canter to the far end of the pool enabled a few record shots to be taken, and excellent telescope views to be had, and while it was bitterly disappointing that the Diver had chosen today to not perform at close range, at least I had seen it. By the time I left, I was half-an-hour behind my original plan - an imperfect, but recoverable situation, or so it seemed at the time. A relatively smooth journey to Dunnington near York saw me arrive just after 1230, and as I made the short walk from the car to the paddock near where the Pine Bunting was showing, birders leaving told me that it had been seen just minutes earlier.

I spent the next couple of hours grilling a large feeding flock with which the Pine Bunting had hooked up, as birds flew from a weedy field to the surrounding trees. Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings, Reed Buntings, Tree Sparrows, Bramblings, Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Bullfinches came and went but no Pine Bunting. It had been seen on and off in previous days either here or in a nearby sheepfield, so with enough daylight left to still go for the White-billed Diver, I tried the sheep field, where a seeded area was attracting plenty of Yellowhammers. While there, the Pine Bunting showed briefly back at the paddock - too briefly for me to get back in time to see it unfortunately. It didn't show again before I left at 4. So no Pine Bunting, and no time for the White-billed Diver either.
Tree Sparrows are much easier to see in the north of England - they were present at Druridge Bay and the Pine Bunting site
Close, but no cigar: Yellowhammer is a near relative of the Pine Bunting, another bird which hadn't read the script
Unbroken rain accompanied the long journey home. By the time I reached Dorset I had rationalised it quite well with the usual guff about how it would be no fun if rare birds always did what they were supposed to etc etc, and consoled myself with the thought that I had the best views of Pacific Diver I have enjoyed to date. Pine Bunting becomes officially my bogey bird, having now dipped a few, though with several being found this winter, perhaps I will get another opportunity to see one before long. A Plan B, if you will.

No comments:

Post a Comment