Consolation prizes for our efforts were a Tawny Pipit, a decent fry up and the privilege of spending 10 minutes in the company of birding legend Martin Garner. Truly saddened to hear recently of his health problems. As nice a man as you'd ever meet.
So when the extraordinary news broke on a recent Sunday afternoon, of one such Crag Martin putting on an aerial display around Chesterfield's crooked spire, I was struck with a mixture of emotions. Could I get there before dark without further speeding fines? Realistically not. Would it stick until the following weekend? Highly unlikely. How soon could I get a day off work? The diary said Wednesday at the earliest. Would it still be there then? How long's a piece of string? How much did I want to see this bird? A lot. Quite frustrating.
However, the bird was still entertaining crowds of birders and intrigued locals on Tuesday afternoon. A quick phone call to beg for a short notice day off on Wednesday (thanks boss) and arrangements were made with Sharpy, Bren and Dave.
We were heading North on the M1 by 6.00am and hopes were high. We were slightly concerned but not alarmed when the bird hadn't been seen by the time we arrived, as it's behaviour had been predictably unpredictable. And so the waiting game began. And we waited and waited. Some of the team were on deadlines so we had to be away by midday-ish. Not a sign. A skein of Pink Foots over was as exciting as it got.
|Pink Foots over the crooked but not so craggy spire.|
The Martin never appeared all day so we could only conclude that it had expired or set off back south from whence it came. This was becoming a bogey bird for me, and for Dave for that matter.
When I received a phone call from Bren the next morning saying "you won't believe this but the Martin's there", well he was right, I didn't believe it. But I soon realised he wasn't on a wind up. Regular reports throughout Thursday and Friday meant that arrangements needed making for Saturday. But I had a lot of stuff I needed to do on Saturday and the forecast said a storm would sweep across the country early morning. If it weren't for the forecast I would have said "stuff the chores, I'm owed a Crag Martin" but weighing up the odds of actually seeing the bird in such conditions and a number of things I really needed to get done, I took the sensible decision to opt out.
I woke early on Saturday morning. Around 4.45am, so I made a cuppa and went into the garden for a smoke. I looked up at a completely cloudless starlit sky. Not a sign of a storm brewing, so I decided to check the latest forecast for Chesterfield area on line. The storm had been held up over the Pennines and wouldn't hit that side of Derbyshire until 10.00am earliest. I knew the boys were meeting at 6.00am which would give a window of maybe a couple of hours for the bird to feed before the weather struck. It would also give a window for me to text Sharpy saying "wait for me, I'm coming. See you at 6". Oh dear, what about all that sensibility? Well sod the sensibility. How much did I want see a Crag Martin? A lot.
So 5 of us squeezed into my car. Myself, Sharpy, Bren, Ian B and Ephraim. Ephraim had taken the precaution of setting 2 alarms to avoid a repeat of the previous week's no show. Belts and braces! I take back everything I said.
Again there was no sightings by the time we arrived but we remained at least semi-confident. But once again the hands on the crooked spire clock ticked round and round and round to no avail. The weather seemed to be closing in and the last sparks of hope were dying out rapidly. The vast majority of the decent assemblage of twitchers seemed resigned to failure but like ourselves decided to stick it out until the imminent storm extinguished all hope. The local Gregs bakery quickly became very popular as a long queue of despondent looking binocular clad people began to spread down the street, seeking comfort in some good hot unhealthy nosh.
While enjoying our unhealthy nosh in the square overlooking the churchyard, we attempted morale boosting conversations with fellow birders. Things like, "if we saw the bird every time it would be boring. We might as well take up train spotting. It's the uncertainty that makes it exciting". As we were desperately trying to convince ourselves that we weren't gutted that we weren't going to see a Crag Martin, again for some, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Ian Bennell gesticulating furiously from the churchyard. What's up with him I thought. He can't have the Martin. He was beckoning excitedly and pointing skywards. He bloody had got the Martin. For a nanosecond I saw it disappear round the back of the church. As I shouted something like "it's here" I was already running back to the church. Suddenly everyone was running from every direction. The queue outside Gregs became a churchbound stampede in an instant. People were audibly cheering with excitement. Myself and Ephraim ran round the back of the church where it seemed to be favouring and readied our cameras. Well that was a laugh. Anyone who managed good shots of this bird I salute you. It was faster than slippery shit off a shovel smothered in shitproof grease. This thing was incredible. Like most photographers, a mix of profanities and laughter was pouring from my mouth as we tried in vain to focus and get a shot away on this avian bullet. In fact a bullet would be easier as at least it goes straight. A couple of my feeble attempts below.
Wow how the mood had changed. From despondent resignation to sheer jubilation, en mass, in an instant. Myself and Ephraim high-fived each other with such enthusiasm that I'm sure I saw Ephraim wince with pain and I'm not sure I managed to conceal my own. This is why we suffer the disappointments. Moments like this. So I'm still not tempted to take up train spotting anytime soon.
I'm happy to say that although Dave wasn't able to join us on the Saturday, he took a train up on the Monday and after an equally painful wait he eventually got his just reward as well.