Sunday 15 September 2013

MEGA ALERT: The GREAT SNIPE in East Yorkshire

GREAT SNIPE (juvenile) - Kilnsea, East Yorkshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

Last Monday afternoon I was lying splayed out in an operating theatre having my troublesome hernia sorted. I had therefore spent the past week tucked up in bed, writhing around with severe abdominal pain and bedecked in an uncomfortable pair of sexy support stockings. A birder confined to bed is like the proverbial bear with a sore head at the best of times but with the crucial autumn season simmering away it was not the ideal time to undergo surgery.

With plenty of time on my hands though I had at least managed to catch up with some ornithological and entomological based reading in order to keep my mind active whilst my pathetic, bloated body slowly recovered. Luckily the pager had remained pretty quiet with just a local Common Crane and an alleged Irish ELEGANT TERN to get the drug influenced pulse racing slightly. Then the inevitable happened. Late on Saturday afternoon news came through of a GREAT SNIPE in East Yorkshire. Remarkably it had showed well for over a hour as it fed along a ditch in Kilnsea before flying off and landing out of sight in a nearby field.

To be honest I was not too concerned. Due to the pain factor, I had already reluctantly cancelled a trip to Wembley to see an epic performance of The Wall by Pink Floyd legend Roger Waters. A pesky rare bird was the very least of my worries. I went to bed that night in a fairly relaxed state of mind..... but then again I had knocked back a double dose of Co-dydramol.

Then on Sunday morning I awoke with a start at 7.00am. It was the best night of sleep since the operation and at long last I felt some kind of improvement. I then sleepily lunged at the phone to check my Twitter account. Initially I did not know whether I was dreaming or whether I was hallucinating. The medication I was taking was not that powerful surely? I read one particular post again and then a third time just to make sure.... Premiership listing loon and YouTube crooner, Garry Bagnell had tweeted to say the GREAT SNIPE was showing well. The gutsy insaniac had driven up from Sussex overnight on the slim chance that it would still be present and relocated. Sometimes you have to give credit where it is due.

I texted Dave Hutton to let him know the bird was still there and within seconds he had called me back. Dave can be very pushy at times and he refused to take no for an answer. He said he would drive over to mine, throw me in the back of his car and take me up to Yorkshire to see the bird and return home as quickly as possible. It was far from ideal but it then again it could have been a lot worse. The journey up to Kilnsea was perfectly straight forward and there would be an absolute minimum amount of walking involved once we arrived. As the bird was showing so well I would not even need to lug around my heavy telescope and tripod. On paper it was a relatively comfortable twitch for a wimpy, temporary invalid like me.

On the way north I relaxed in luxury whilst reclined in the heated leather seats of Dave's high specification motor. All the while though folks were texting me to say that the bird was showing down to a few feet. I prayed to the birding Gods for it to remain on site for just a while longer.... and for all my stitches to remain intact.

'Spurn snipers'
There was no way I could get in such a position to see under the gate!
Photo by Adam Archer

Finally, at about 10.45am we arrived on site. After a steady, careful shuffle down Beacon Lane I was in position. John Hague gesticulated wildly towards a closed gate. Following a cheeky peek over a garden wall I nearly passed out in shock, the bird was probing along the edge of a someone's driveway just a few feet away. I could hardly believe my eyes. This is a species that is usually spotted as it rises up in flight following an organised flush or during a flukey exploratory search of the east coast of Britain during Autumn. The average GREAT SNIPE never shows this well on it's breeding grounds in Poland never mind around the perimeter of a holiday park in Yorkshire.  In order to obtain unrestricted and more comfortable views I then laboriously made my way around to view the bird from the driveway itself and I was glad I did.   

Can you 'spot the Great Snipe'?
Photo by Adam Archer

The GREAT SNIPE continued to show off like a star along the driveway. It would just snaffle around in the wet grass for a while, pull out a tasty earthworm or two and then have a quick nap before following the same routine again. At one stage the bird even ran towards us as if attempting a daring escape between our legs. It was all quite incredible. Eventually though the bird became tired of all the attention, ran into cover and promptly disappeared. Whilst chatting away to John Hague the bird then flew low behind us only to land a short distance away and into a small grassy field. Once again it showed superbly as it ran up and down a garden fence attempting to squeeze itself through the gaps. Without being too unkind though it had obviously stuffed itself with too many juicy worms and struggled to slip through. It was reminiscent of a full-bladdered Bill Oddie attempting to enter a Portaloo at Birdfair after too many pints of Osprey Ale.

GREAT SNIPE (juvenile) - Kilnsea, East Yorkshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

GREAT SNIPE (juvenile) - Kilnsea, East Yorkshire
Check out those 'Great' features folks!
Photo by Dave Hutton

After a short while of clowning around the rarity again flew a short distance only to plonk itself down in the very same ditch that it was originally found in. Once more it continued to amaze everyone as it fed well totally unconcerned just a few feet away. In all we spent a good couple hours making the most of this experience of a lifetime with such an amazing bird. As the bird rested and the weather began to deteriorate I headed back to the car, popped a few more pills and reclined the seat. It was time to get back home, pull up my anti-DVT stockings and slip back into bed. All the excitement had worn me out.

STOP PRESS:  Unfortunately this trusting individual was found dead on the morning of the 17th September. It had allegedly been mauled to death by one of the local felines. RIP and thanks for the memories brave Gallinago!

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