Surprisingly by Thursday afternoon I had forgotten all about the Blue Cheeked one that had got away and was busying myself in the garden whilst looking after the kids (Jamie 9) and Sophie (11). Both myself and my patient wife, Julia, work full time so looking after them over the summer holidays has to be planned like a military operation. This week I had Thursday and Fri off.
Around 5pm I receive a call from Wanstead Birder "The Leth" to tell me a Great Spotted Cuckoo was in Salthouse, Norfolk. Much debate was had about whether we should go together etc in the morning with offspring in tow.
Now a tick is a tick and some ticks are better than others. In the big scheme of things a Great Spotted Cuckoo is not a Blue Cheeked Bee eater, an Oriental Pratincol or a Collared Flycatcher but it is smart and therefore on a hit list of birds I really want to see. Also on this list is Alpine Swift and European Bee eater. To me not just rare, not just a tick, but has a bit of a wow factor. Anyway.....
My 9 year old Jamie is actually showing some interest in birding. Not as much as he shows in Doctor Who, Ben 10, computer games, Lego or cheese and marmite sandwiches (yuk!) He actually has an good little list going with such rarities on it as Barrow's Goldeneye; Snowy Owl and more recently Oriental Practincole. Sophie on the other hand has less than no interest in birding, so when I tempted her with a 2.5 hour drive to north Norfolk in the morning she was not impressed. To be honest I can't blame her. After some arranging and Julia reminding me 5 times that I was supposed to be off work looking after the kids and not arranging for them to be looked after by her Mum, who she quite rightly pointed out has actually looked after them for 2 days this week already, it was arranged to drop Sophie on route. I could have done without driving myself as I have done more than my fair share of driving on birding/twitching jaunts this year (please note Hawky, Shaun et al) The previously mentioned Leth offered a lift but wanted to stay out all day, the unemployed can do that as they have nothing else to do apart from birding, blogging and eating Double Deckers, but I had to be back by 3pm as Sophie had a birthday party to go to and I had to pick her up on route.
7.30am The Leth was already on the phone gripping me off and I still had to get both kids up and ready. Amazingly I was out by 8.00am, a minor achievement bearing in mind Sophie is in that turning into a teenager zone and usually gets up after 10am on a day off, and she was duly at her grandparents by 8.20am. I should have known that today was not going to turn out quite as planned. Road works on the M25 between the A12 and the M11 meant we crept along so slow I was surprised we didn't leave a silvery trail behind us on the tarmac. Once on the M11 we made good time.
This where things started to really slow down. 3, yes 3 bloody tractor type farm vehicles delayed our journey over the next hour. I was sure I could see the farmers p*ssing themselves laughing. One in particular was an over wide load blocking the road which meant no over taking until it pulled off. That one alone delayed us by around 20 minutes. I was starting to get anxious but a call from Hawky to confirm still showing well calmed me down. Less than 30 minutes to go.
We arrived at Salthouse and I could see a gathering of 30+ birders on the hill looking back
in-land towards where the bird must be. We quickly parked in the road leading up to the beach car park and asked for directions. A fellow birder pointed to a sycamore tree about 1/2 mile away and said to park here and walk.
Grabbing the bins, scope and camera we speed walked 9/10s of the half a mile, passing a much closer parking spot (aaarrrgggh), to the bird checking with the smiley birders walking back past us that it is still there. Yes it is we are told every time, showing well!
At the bottom of the slope to the field where to view the bird just 100 yards away from it we get the final confirmation, it's still there, phew. The line of birders is now just 30 yards in front, I have the scope legs down in preparation. Slightly out of breath through a mixture of the speed walking and excitement,
Me - "Where am I looking?"
Birder "It's just flown mate, about 30 seconds ago, lost to sight"
Me - "You're having a laugh?"
Birder - "No"
Me - " For ****s sake"
Jamie - "Daaaaaaaaad. Can we go now? "
I knew that was it. Everyone there had seen it. Most people left slapping each other on the back and doing high fives, popping open bottles of champagne, deliberately rubbing it in! I spent 2.5 hours searching every field, every bush and every tree, not for the cuckoo, I knew that had gone, I just wanted to find a farmer to and stick his combined harvester up his arse. And I couldn't even find one of them!
Should we have ticked the cuckoo immediately we had planned to head to Breydon to see the American Golden Plover as Jamie has not seen one. Pity it wasn't a Pacific as I need that too!!!!!
We headed home disappointed, the 2nd dip in 3 days and Jamie's 1st ever dip. Unfortunately the only dips Jamie knew where the ones he sticks carrots and curly wurlys in and smears all over the kitchen table, floor, walls, cat etc. My advise that he better get used to it didn't help. Birding with Dad has officially slipped down the list of thing he likes to do to just below homework and tidying his room. Oh well until the next time.
That's the 2nd Great Spotted Cuckoo I have dipped. The 1st one by less than 5 minutes in Dungeness a couple of years ago, so at least I am getting closer! Or so I thought.