Saturday, 15 June 2013


It was a lovely, fresh summer morning in North Warwickshire and my intention was to potter around the garden tending to my rose bushes and reseeding the lawn. Don't laugh, I am getting on a bit you know? Anyway, the peace and tranquility was shattered as I glanced down at my phone. There was a PACIFIC SWIFT in Suffolk! I needed to move quickly and a series of Facebook postings and text messages were distributed in order to summon a crew for the trip east. As seems to be the case these days though, there was a pretty apathetic reaction to the bird from some quarters. Other folks I know were pissed up on cheap wine, were working hard, were physically disabled or were head-banging away to Iron Maiden at the Download Music Festival.

Eventually though I tracked down a couple of birders with balls big enough to twitch this usually, highly mobile Apus from far and distant lands. Step forward Jules Allen and Dave Hutton. We departed around 12.30pm to make the straightforward journey down the A14, carefully braking at strategic points occasionally as I approached speed cameras and potential unmarked Police cars. Talking of the fuzz, as we got to the village of Trimley St Mary our path was blocked by the law. Access to the lane was being refused due to safety reasons. I abandoned the car on the main road and we commenced the three mile hike down to Trimley Marshes nature reserve. As we made our way down at pace there were several familiar faces waddling back in the opposite direction, all understandably equipped with 'lazy lob ons' after seeing the bird perform well for the past hour or two.

The closer we got to the River Orwell though the nastier the weather was beginning to look.  The sight of several dispersing Common Swifts was also making me quite nervous. As we clambered up the bank to gain a better vantage point we were advised by those present that the rarity had gained height and disappeared a few minutes before we arrived. Then the birding Gods turned on us completely as a rain storm closed in. Despite the downpour we sat it out and continued to scan the area. As cold water trickled down the back of my jean and filled my jacket pockets all I could see was the odd House Martin and Barn Swallow swirling amongst 500 or so Common Swifts in the distance.        

Trimley Marshes with Felixstowe Docks in the background.
Photo by Adam Archer

After about twenty minutes the rain finally eased off and more damp birders we recognised started to arrive. One of those was Staffordshire birder Steve Nuttall, or as we call him around my neck of the woods 'Golden Balls'. I just knew that the presence of Steve would lure the bird back into view, if he fell into a barrel of thumbs he would come up sucking a tit. To prove my theory correct around ten minutes later a shout went up further along the line of birders. Someone had relocated the rarity feeding distantly over the nearby fields. We all ran westwards along the sea wall to the where it had last been seen. There then followed a few minutes of panic as once again it disappeared. Everyone stood in silence to recommence the search. As I scanned the nearest lagoon a bird whizzed past my field of view, it was no House Martin but I glimpsed a definite white rump. The bird banked left and then right again. It was the PACIFIC SWIFT. I shouted out directions as best as I could and eventually every birder one by one managed to get a fix on the target. 

PACIFIC SWIFT - Trimley Marshes, Suffolk
Photo by Steve Nuttall

The bird then started to fly closer and closer until eventually it passed within about ten feet of where I was standing. To enjoy such views of such a tricky and highly mobile rarity from the far east was a real privilege and everyone on site felt exactly the same way. Shouts of joy and relief reverberated amongst the crowd that was more akin to a terrace full of football fans than a collection of rain soaked bird watchers. I have not experienced such an electric atmosphere at a twitch since 2005 when the infamous BELTED KINGFISHER shocked everyone by turning up in Staffordshire. The bird continued to perform well on and off for the next forty five minutes as we all enjoyed the show and celebrated the occasion with our mates. 

PACIFIC SWIFT - Trimley Marshes, Suffolk
Photo by Steve Nuttall

The bird then disappeared and as it did so a huge mass of Common Swifts then began to swarm together. They could obviously sense another change in the weather. There then followed a rubble of thunder and as we looked westwards a huge wall of rain could be seen heading directly towards us from further along the River Orwell. It was now every man for himself and I quickly clambered down the bank and to the shelter of a nearby hide. I was literally the last birder to make it inside before the most violent of rain storms hit and the hide filled to capacity. As I stood shivering inside, shoulder to shoulder with my fellow twitchers the water was hitting the side of the structure with such force it was pouring through the wooden panels. 

PACIFIC SWIFT - Trimley Marshes, Suffolk
Photo by Steve Nuttall

After a further fifteen minutes of dithering and with a real risk of hypothermia developing, the monsoon subsided enough for us to make our escape. It was tempting to hang around in the hope that the prize swift returned but with drenched jeans, soaked undergarments and with a case of foot rot setting in we decided to make the long trek back up to the car. About half way back the rain eventually stopped, the clouds parted and out came the sun, drying us off a little in the process. After a celebratory meal of fish and chips I then drove back up to the Midlands, uncomfortable and bare-footed but with a broad grim on my cheeky, little face.

PACIFIC SWIFT in Britain  

This is a species of the Eastern Palearctic region. The nominate race pacificus is a long distance migrant and breeds in the north from Siberia east to Kamchatka and Japan and then southwards to Central Annam, Vietnam and to Thailand and Burma. This population migrates south to winter in Malaysia, the Sundas, New Guinea and Australia.

There have been just six accepted records of this species in Britain as follows:

2011 - Spurn, East Yorkshire - 9th July
2008 - Kilnsea/Spurn, East Yorkshire - 22nd & 26th June
2005 - Spurn, East Yorkshire - 1st July
1995 - Daventry Reservoir, Northamptonshire - 16th July
1993 - Cley, Norfolk - 30th May
1981 - Sea Area Humber - 19th June

The first record involved a bird that was picked up on an North Sea gas platform about 45km ENE of Happisburgh, Norfolk. It was released at Beccles, Suffolk on the 19th June and then spotted in Shadingfield, Suffolk on the 20th June.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you all had a great time ! Some Pacific Swift shots here..