Thursday, 24 May 2012

Its a Fairway to Hereford 24th May 2012



I went to bed early on Sunday 20th May trying to be excited about a day trip to France the next day with Chris. The star attraction apparently was breeding Stone Curlews. This sounds good but as there are at least ten breeding pairs in Oxfordshire you will understand if my enthusiasm was not as great as it should be. Still it was a day out birding and not working. My enthusiasm was not aided by the fact I had to get up very early at 1am in the morning to be in Seaford, East Sussex for 4am in order to meet Chris and my fellow Francophile birders, so it was an early bedtime for me.

I do not know why I bother going to bed in such situations as usually I do not sleep due to a combination of being too excited and worrying the alarm will not go off,  which nine times out of ten puts paid to any slumber. It’s sad really but that’s life in the slow lane for you. Lying in bed and trying to convince myself that I was going to sleep, my Blackberry alerted me to a text message. It was from Badger. A mega alert! At 11pm in the evening? It must be an Owl? Three magic words which immediately banished any ideas of sleep appeared on the phone's screen. Cream Coloured Courser

I looked in trepidation at where it was. Scillies, Cornwall, Outer Hebrides or some other location requiring a long drive and heroic logistics? Nope, it was in Hereford, on a golf course at a place called Kington. This was just over two hours drive from me and consequently irresistible. Now wide awake, France was consigned to oblivion. Zoot Alors! Who wants to see breeding Stone Curlews especially French ones!  I sent a text back to Badger. 'Are you going?' 'Yes, tomorrow.' 'Do you want company?' 'Yes.' 

It was now 1130pm and I sent a text to Chris informing him I cannot come to France. Racked by doubt as to whether Chris gets the text in time I lie awake worrying about this whilst at the same time getting increasingly excited at the prospect of getting to see a Cream Coloured Courser. I hope Chris gets the text and even more important I see a Cream Coloured Courser. I call Badger to finalise arrangements and am pleasantly surprised to find we will not be heading off on a dawn patrol of a golf course but will wait until definite news comes through tomorrow morning. Badger will call me at 7am and provided the bird is still there we would head west.

I went into a light sleep. The phone alarm went off half an hour later at 1am. Darn. In my excited state I had forgotten to turn it off. My wife is not very happy. Back to semi sleep. Two hours later my text alarm goes off at 3.00 am with Chris telling me he is OK about me cancelling France. My wife becomes even more unhappy about the disturbance. The bedclothes go west! I cannot get back to sleep and read a crime fiction novel that does not include birds. I wake up having fallen asleep reading and see the time is 6am. Groans from the other side of the bed. I staggered upstairs and turned on the computer, risking even further wrath from my wife, to consult Birdguides and saw to my amazement that the bird was still present but even more amazing, some poor unfortunate who also obviously had problems sleeping and was not married had seen it at 4.45am that morning and posted the news! 

I called Badger at 6.30am and told him the bird was still there. We arrange to meet at Burford at 7am and a little woozy from lack of sleep on a cold, grey and windy morning in the Little Chef car park – nice - I make a rendezvous with Badger. I pile my stuff in Badger’s Skoda and off we go down the A40. It’s all a bit surreal, what with the lack of sleep and driving on roads normally traversed in the middle of the night but now become unfamiliar in the rush hour. Slowly, as we go west the weather improves and by the time we get to the M5 Motorway it is sunny and the wind has dropped. It’s looking good. We turn off the Motorway and head west on what seems a never ending road heading for the Land of Leeks and we stop for some sustenance at a garage near Worcester. Badger stocks up on E numbers and I overdose on self righteousness and buy only a bottle of low calorie juice.

Eventually we got to Kington and found the very narrow road leading uphill to the Golf Course. We meet cars coming down a road only wide enough for one vehicle. Reversing and polite waves come into play and finally we get to the Clubhouse and driving uphill beyond it we find the designated parking area and proceed over a hilly and hazardous route through gorse, golfers and flying golf balls. I note how other birders abandon their wives as they allow adrenalin and anxiety to overtake courtesy and forty years of marriage. We reach the brow of a hill and there arraigned before us is a line of around fifty birders.



We get to the top and join the end of the line and an upright, pale sandy bird parades up and down before us on the eighth Fairway. A birdy on the eighth Fairway, how appropriate! Hah hah! A Cream Coloured Courser at last. I should have seen the one on Scilly but by the time we got our act together it had died. This was my second chance, I had seized it and got the desired result. This made life very sweet indeed.

The object of our pilgrimage was bigger than I expected, close to a Golden Plover in size. I had assumed it would be the same size as the various species of coursers I had seen in Africa which are smaller and more delicate. It was a real charmer with black and white chevrons on the back of its neck and a dove grey skull cap. The rest of the body was orangy buff, all set off with incongruous white legs with Norah Batty wrinkles at the tarsi/tibia joints. All of those present worshipping this star from distant lands kept a discreet and tolerable distance from it although given half a chance I am sure there were many who would have gone closer, only being deterred by the possible approbation of the crowd if they strayed too close. It showed no real fear of the regular groups of golfers coming down the Fairway discreetly running into the rough to let them pass and then re-emerging onto the Fairway to strut its stuff. It fed by bending down on stiff legs to pick prey from the ground and quickly running short distances between feeding. Up and down it went on the Fairway always remaining within a section of a couple of hundred metres. An absolute beauty, we watched it for two hours with the awesome scenery of Hergest Ridge, incidentally the title to Mike Oldfield’s second album after the enormously popular Tubular Bells (for those of you who were children of the eighties) and the Welsh border in the background. The highest golf course in England and just about the most suitable and beautiful venue for such a star bird.

And of France? Well apparently fog put paid to any birding until lunchtime and nothing good was seen apart from eighty seven species of bird. There was only one species of bird for me and that was not in France!





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