Last Sunday lunchtime while I was in the Brands Bay hide, the pager mega'd for a Craggy Island Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris fatherjacki) at Chesterfield. A quick look at the map, showed it wasn't that much further North than where I met up with Chris Gooddie for the Chestnut Bunting twitch & therefore should be just about possible to reach by dusk. Normally, I will wait for an update or two to say the new mega is still there before leaving, but that would have left me arriving after dark. So knowing how Craggy Island Martins don't like to hang around, I decided to leave immediately & hope for updates as I travelled. I had only gone halfway to Poole, when the next update came through saying it had gone. I carried on as far as the Poole Tesco store, where I abandoned the twitch in favour of the weekly food shop. I was worried I had made the wrong choice when I had another positive update while still shopping. It was too late to do anything by then, as I certainly would struggle to have got there before dark. A final update said there were no more sightings that day: phew. That evening I half made a plan with Peter Moore for a combined twitch for the Monday, if there was positive news the following morning. First light saw me out at South Haven, but the winds weren't brilliant & little was on the move. Then the pager mega'd again, almost immediately following by it has gone again. Peter was doing his week on call as Dorset Country Council's Major Emergency Man. He had noted his pager had gone off & it was a Birding emergency & not the other pager indicating a major disaster in Dorset. He made some final arrangements to take the day off, took great care to hand over the DCC pager (& keep the RBA pager), while I went back to looking for Birds at South Haven, until the next positive sighting. That soon came through & we both headed off to meet up at Wimborne. We had a good journey up & arrived into the car park at 13:15. Walking up to the nearest Birders, I checked the news of the latest sighting about 25 minutes before. The response was grumbles of 'Well some people saw it, but not me'. In hindsight, I could point out the particular Birder was standing in a daft place, well back in the car park, with a poor view of the church. Crossing the car park to the road, a shout went up & I saw it flight across the road to the church. Then almost immediately back again. I half wondered if Grumbling Man saw it: probably not. On both times, it was clearly the Crag Martin (although to be honest without getting the bins on it, I wasn't going to rule out Rock Martin (aka Pale Crag Martin)). We found a good vantage point on the road & expected it to appear again within a few minutes. Two hours later, the car park meter was topped up for another two hours, but in vain as it failed to show again that day. Easily, the worst seen tick on my UK List. ARSE.
The Crooked Spire: It is an impressive church (9 Nov 15)After a slower drive back that night, I opted for a lie in the following morning. So I hadn't had breakfast when the pager alerted to say it was still there. I worked out I wouldn't get there until early afternoon, i.e. the time it had disappeared on the first two days. So it was doing to be tight to get there in time before it disappeared. I didn't bother leaving & settled to lots of cups of tea. DRINK.
The Crooked Spire: It is believed that it might of been the combination of unskilled craftsmen (as it was added soon after the Black Death would have decimated the population), use of unseasoned timber & uneven heating of the lead on the spire which caused the unusual shape (9 Nov 15)Having decided not to go Tuesday, frustratingly, it showed most of the day & would have been easily twitchable (hindsight's great isn't it). So I was leaving at 04:30 on the Wednesday morning & on site at the church by 08:30. After two hours, I gave up & started exploring Chesterfield. I found another old church with lots of trees that looked an ideal feeding place, but it wasn't there. After two hours of driving & looking, I gave up & went to sleep in the Chesterfield Tesco's car park. Ironically, right next to the football ground where it was seen on Sat pm. I did look around the Tesco's car park & a prominent hotel opposite. But only looked along one side of the footie ground & that was only a quick scan as I was tired. After some valuable sleep & a bit more looking, I decided it had gone & started for home before it got dark. FECK.
The Crooked Spire: It is pretty impressive that it is still standing, 650 years after it was built (11 Nov 15)
Confusion seemed to occur the next day when it was reported again. This was followed by a contender for the most bizarre Twitter message of the year, that the Crag Martin sighting had been confused with an aeroplane. Perhaps one of the Red Bull pilots was exercising his plane around the Crooked Spire. The following day, another report, followed by confirmation it was back at the Crooked Spire. Could I really fancy a third attempt. FECK.
Part of the crowd on the Monday afternoon: Many more people were watching from poorer watch point in the car park, but most had gone by this point (9 Nov 15)This morning, I was awake before 06:00. Deciding to take advantage of waking up early, I had a quick breakfast & decided to get on the road North. I still wasn't sure if I should be going, as the forecast was for rain most of the day (& it didn't perform in the rain on Monday pm). I was hoping there would be news before 09:00 as on most days it had been seen, there was news before 09:00. Warwick (09:45) came & went & still no positive news. I stopped for a loo break about twenty miles before the turnoff to Chesterfield. Well I might as well stop, as there was still no positive news. Back at the car five minutes later & the pager was ringing to say it was still there. Lots of frustrating 50mph roadworks to get through & then I was turning off to Chesterfield. Having had plenty of practice, I was quickly in the car park. I could see it was still there from the car park, but carried straight onto the main road, as I knew there were better views of the Crooked Spire from the road. It was circling the spire at great speed & making some very rapid manoeuvres in flight. I can now see why it was confused with a Red Bull pilot. MARTIN.
Crag Martin: A decent view at last
Crag Martin: Remarkable hard to photograph in flight, due to its rapid turns, but with Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Merlin & Peregrine all being seen passing the church, then perhaps that is why it is still alive
Crag Martin: It was a very similar colouration to the colour of the steeple towerTen minutes later it was gone. Twenty minutes later, it reappeared for another ten minutes of racing around the Crooked Spire, before vanishing just as quickly. I topped up the meter for another hour & returned to natter with some friends. Then the rain set in & didn't look like it would clear. I gave it another thirty minutes & decided that it probably wasn't going to show again & heading off to get some food, fuel & started to head home. When we were flying back from the Chestnut Bunting, I said I reckoned there was still time for one last mega this Autumn, but I was less certain if it was going to be a Tick for me. I really can't see much chance of any more Ticks for me now, unless we get a Northern Isles Brunnich's Guillemot in December. Perhaps the Autumn is almost over now.