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!
looked in trepidation at where it was. The 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
It was now 1130pm and I sent a text to Chris informing him I could not 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.
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!