Thought this would be a bit of fun. I admit that I’m not a hardened twitcher but over the last couple of years I have made a bit more of an effort to plug a few of the cavenous gaps in my British list. Over a period of 23 years, I have been for one or two things, and have along the way missed a few (a lot) too. I think this is normal – you can’t see everything you go for otherwise it wouldn’t be a challenge, but like most, find it extremely gauling when high expectations are swamped by abject disappointment.
So the thought came into my head to create a list and document the birds I have failed to see as I blundered into another Frank Spencer-esque twitch, failing to anticipate the possibility of a no show, totally mis-interpreting weather conditions, arriving too late, or frankly, just being a bit unlucky. I have heard anecdotes of monumentous failures such as twitches from London to Tiree via Bristol for Parula, London to Shetland for Snowy Owl, and many fruitless trips to the outer isles for mega vagrants. Mine are somewhat less exciting than those.
However, here is the list of my epic failures thus far:
31st January 2016 - Franklins Gull – Fen Drayton RSPB
This is what inspired my tormented malaise as I stood in the wind and light rain watching a gull roost in the hope that the Franklins Gull that had been present the night before, might have favoured this spot, and make a return visit. It didn’t which I was half-expecting might happen but still, we live in hope. The whole afternoon was a farce apart from connecting with a smart adult winter Slavonian Grebe, at least twenty Goldeneye and a flyover Redpoll, I missed the Iceland and Med Gull. Ok it was difficult to pick anything out in the gloom, but having put my ID skills to the absolute test, I returned with a massive fail. This was my second dip for this species so am hoping I might be 3rd time lucky. Somehow I feel the torment will continue.
VERDICT: Poor decision, poor craftmanship
20th October 2015 - Isabelline Shrike - Wells Wood
Pretty much ditto of the above. An overnight clearout of the Shrike and the Warblers (Blyth’s Reed, Hume’s). Bluetail, Olive-backed Pipit, and Pallas’s Warbler saved the day on this occasion.
17th October 2015 - Isabelline Shrike - South Huish Devon
This was a long shot, but the percentages I felt worked in my favour. Having just come off the Scillies, I made headway towards South Devon. It was a battle against time, but I was determined to get there. The journey was longer than I thought, my Sat Nav directed me down windy country lanes that I couldn’t fathom at the time but how could I argue with that silky voice. TomTom is just too masculine a name for it. Anyway, despite my trusted NavAids, I missed a turning adding another 15 minutes to the journey. I arrived in a bit of a panic. There was only probably another hours worth of daylight left but on arriving, a couple of birders directed me to the exact location with a caveat. Apparantly the Issy had been harassed by a cow and had possibly done a bunk. It had. I collapsed in a heap. I did console myself with the six lifers I had picked off the week before.
12th October 2015 - Arctic Warbler – St Marys Scilly
Having just arrived on the islands, the Arctic Warbler was reported on The Garrison. I headed up there (gingerly as I was still recovering from illness) but in the fading light, the Warbler was not seen and was not reported since.
22nd September 2015 - Acadian Flycatcher – Dungeness
I didn’t go for this so maybe it doesn’t count, but I had an opportunity. To be fair I wasn’t very well but was so desperate to get out of the house. It was a filthy day, grey and the sky full of rain. I sat in the car with the aim of heading to Vange Marsh for the Wilsons Phalarope when news came through of an empid at Dungeness. I sat there and thought about it. My health wasn’t great, it was a decent drive down there, so I decided against it. I admit to slightly regretting my decision not to go for a day or two afterwards but the decision to err on the sensible side was probably the correct one. I did luck in on the Cornwall Alder Fly a few years back so no regrets.
VERDICT: sensible decision given the circumstances
29th August 2015 - Black Stork – Cooden
Urrrgghh. This was one I wanted simply because I felt sorry for myself. I was ill, actually I really wasn’t well but Kat and I had headed down to Eastbourne for a few days just for a change of scenery. We headed over to Cooden Park where the Black Stork had been seen intermittently over the preceding days so I would have to have had an enormous slice of luck. The weather was great, it was the end of August and the sun was beating down. I stayed for as long as I could bear, but clinging onto the faintest hope of an appearance of this wayward migrant didn’t materialise. I’m not sure I really cared at the time.
VERDICT: Clinging onto hope
14th August 2014 - Franklins Gull – Cley NWT
My first Franklins failure came at Cley, on a warm evening in Norfolk. The scene was immaculate, what you expect from Norfolk really. The Gull had roosted the previous night and believe from memory had come into roost on previous nights too. However, this particular evening it failed to return. In fact it had been present 3 nights out of 5. I happened upon the blank day. I had spent a couple days in the area, so it wasn’t a wasted trip. Just a tad disappointing.
11th October 2014 - Little Crake – Minsmere
This was one of those annoying ones. I recall the Little Crake having been present for a few days. I had just been up for the Steppe Grey Shrike and wanted to get two ticks in a day so boldered across to Minsmere where the Crake had been present the same morning. Having arrived, I sat in the elevated Bittern hide and waited in growing expectation at a rather modest reedbed. I waited some more, for five hours I sat there, nothing, absolutely nothing. Oh well.
VERDICT: A bit unlucky
18th October 2014 - Isabelline Shrike - Warham Greens
This is turning into my bogey bird. Three failures so far and all by not very much. Timing is everything, and I as always get to these things a bit too late. Just not reactive enough for twitching I think. This is a problem. Warham Greens was a day too late. There were some great birds on show the day before, I recall Bluetail being present and a couple of rare phylloscs but an overnight clear-out left me once again walking dejectedly alongside the freshmarsh lamenting my inability to get to these things on time.
VERDICT: Poor timing, need to be a more reactive.
17th June 2014 - Honey Buzzard – Ashdown Forest
My number one bogey bird. Just can’t seem to connect with it whilst on trips abroad, and I can’t miss them. I have probably seen around 700 individuals around Europe so just one in the UK would be rather nice. Incapacitated during the influx of 2006, wrong place right time when local birds have drifted through, but Ashdown Forest was one opportunity that springs to mind. Enjoying great views of the Short-toed Eagle, The Prof and I decided to stay put while the majority of the assembled group headed over to the Gills Lap Car Park. Realising the STE was not going to appear, we eventually meandered over to the group who had enjoying fantastic views of a HB that drifted right over the car park. It will happen one day – hopefully this year!!
VERDICT: Wrong place. Right time.
3rd September 2008 - Semi-palmated Sandpiper – Dawlish Warren RSPB
This was one of those instances where I just wanted to be lucky. The bird had been present I believe for a couple of days and had been seen that morning. When I arrived, there was no sign of it but of a few muted whispers of it still being present. As it happens, it wasn’t seen again but the consolation was that I was in the area anyway so no harm done.
VERDICT: Hoping for the long shot but went miles wide
28th July 2002 - Stilt Sandpiper – Pennington Marshes
Another ‘nearly bird’. I was at Bournemouth Airport having a flying lesson of all things, and thought I would head over to Pennington afterwards to hopefully connect with this rare wader. It wasn’t there. Not much else I can say about that.
Long-tailed Skua – Cley
A regular bird that I haven’t yet seen. I was in Norfolk and there was a report of an individual lingering off coastguards at Cley. Needless to say that by the time I arrived, it had drifted further along the coast. I headed over to Salthouse but no sign. Think the full English Breakfast did for me.
VERDICT: Just pure tardiness
18th September 2013 - Ortolan – Dungeness
I add this, but it was one of those that would have required an enormous slice of luck. One was reported while on site, but whilst the skies were clear, it was blowing a gale and felt that it would have been a really lucky moment to have caught up with it.