Wednesday, 5 October 2011

What goes around ...

Far adrift from its North American migration route, this much-travelled Sandhill Crane made landfall in Scotland and was subsequently tracked southwards along the east coast, eventually arriving at Boyton Marshes, Suffolk.
Had the Sandhill Crane lingered in Aberdeenshire, I might well have spent last weekend in Scotland rather than Iceland. It didn’t so I didn’t, and that, by rights, should have been that.

Come Monday, however, the extraordinary Sandhill saga resumed with the news that the bird was lingering at Boyton Marshes, Suffolk, having turned up there the previous day after being tracked along much of the English east coast. My flight from Reykjavik hit the tarmac at Gatwick around 1 pm, and an hour later I was heading north on the M23. The family were expecting me home in north London, but I knew they would understand … all it would take was a 150-mile detour and an extra three hours at the wheel (plus a couple more on foot) before I made it home.

Preparing for departure - the restless crane gets itchy feet.
So at about 5 pm, after an unexpectedly long walk from the village of Boyton, I reached a small crowd on the seawall overlooking an area of rough pasture. And there in a distant ditch was a red crown patch on a long grey neck, occasionally poking upwards into view. As soon as I set the scope up the bird jumped up out of the ditch and stood in full view on the bank, an amazing and incongruous sight in this remote Suffolk setting.

We have lift-off - but it proves to be only a temporary relocation northwards.
As I started to take photos, the crane began running along the bank of the ditch, beating its wings to gain lift, and flew in a tight circle before heading north – a brief but spectacular encounter. It came down almost a mile to the north, but close enough for a few more scope views on the walk back to the car. I was shattered after the early start, flight, long drive and foot slog, but had enough adrenaline in the system to keep me going for the drive home. What a finale to the weekend’s birding.

* Thanks to David Callahan, Bob Watts and Stuart Piner of Rare Bird Alert for the updates and directions that made this impromptu homecoming twitch possible.

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