Wednesday, 3 May 2017

A less than average Tuesday morning

It's funny how life works out sometimes; how the smallest decisions can lead to big changes or, in the context of birding, big ticks.

After a pretty solid weekend's birding I'd woken up rather too late on Tuesday (2nd May) to head to the patch before work. Besides, the pretty thick mist over the fields around our house in Chilworth didn't fill me with confidence I'd be able to see much down at the water meadows anyway. So I eased myself into the new working week gently with a leisurely start. Having made my breakfast I noticed one of the cats loitering by the back door so I let it out. It was a pleasant morning so I picked up my bins and strolled out into the garden, the usual soundtrack of Song Thrush, Robin, Blackcap filling the air, the mist glowing golden over the fields.

After barely a minute my eyes were drawn to two large birds that had just flown into view over the trees a couple of hundred metres to the west. Beyond these trees there is a large lake so it's not uncommon to see Canada Geese, Mute Swans and Cormorants taking off and coming into land. Even through the mist though something about these birds immediately looked a little different. Raising my bins to my eyes I was instantly greeted by the unmistakeable silhouette of two COMMON CRANES in profile, flying purposefully south in the graceful yet powerful way that is so distinctive for this species, their legs and neck trailing long and slender in front of and to the rear of their long, slim and fingered wings. I watched in dumbstruck awe until they disappeared over the trees to the south, I knew if I'd gone back inside to get my camera I would have missed them and wasted precious viewing time. One of those birding moments when time just seems to stand still and yet the whole thing was probably over in a matter of seconds. I ran back inside to tell my girlfriend before firing off texts and tweets. Absolutely unreal. Strangely, I'd paid particular attention to the Cranes at Slimbridge a few weeks ago, thinking it'd be useful to be familiar with their flight action at some point in the future - I just didn't expect it to be so soon!
Cranes at Slimbridge a couple of weeks ago

A little imagination required here...
It seems the same birds were seen flying south over Slinfold Country Club, c15 miles to the south-east, just 25 minutes later then over Small Dole at 0930hrs where they turned east to follow the South Downs. If they continued on this flight path it seems almost certain that the same two birds were the ones that dropped into Sandwich Bay late afternoon and were present in that area until nightfall. Doing a bit more detective work I discovered the BBC wildlife presenter Steve Backshall tweeted he'd just seen two flying south out of Little Marlow GPs in Bucks the previous evening (1st May) at 1900hrs. Assuming these records all relate to the same birds I've thrown together this rather slapdash map showing their approximate flight path. Where they went after that is anyone's guess!*
You may remember my blog post from a few weeks ago where I speculated about what my next garden tick might be - well, I think it's fair to say Crane was pretty much one of the last things I expected to take the house list to 89. Now the big question is: what will number 90 be and will it make an appearance before we move in a couple of months?

*note: I should point out I obviously didn't think they'd flown through the night and only got as far as Surrey. I hadn't particularly given much thought though to where the birds may have roosted until the excitement died down and I replayed the moment again in my head today (4th May) - when I picked the birds up coming over the trees they were definitely ascending and then banked slightly as I got bins on them, suggesting in fact that they had perhaps roosted very nearby - maybe even in the large lake itself! I had a Great White Egret fly out of there last year so clearly the habitat is pretty good for birds of that ilk.

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