Collared Pratincole. Cliffe. Been there a week or so. A suitable gap appeared in my schedule so I set off and arrived in sunshine just after 10 to find loads of cars already on site but the car park just opened, largely empty.
The walk down to the pools was to a soundtrack of Lesser Whitethroats and Nightingales and a pair of noisy Mediterranean Gulls high overhead, Returning birders recommended good if intermittent views from the path by the Flamingo pool so I headed down there and found myself alone looking north towards the black barns where through the scope I could see a couple of throngs of birders, mainly on their phones. The target bird clearly not showing yet.
Whomever was going on about disappearing insects on the radio recently clearly hasn't been to Cliffe. Swarms of flies were all over the place. If Kent is the garden of England, The Cliffe peninsular is the messy bit behind the garden shed. Clearly more insects were out over the pools and estuary as Swifts were present in number.
A scan of the opposite crowds revealed a change in their behaviour, all were looking west, so I tracked back west and there it was, all swept back wings and pointed tail, like a large brown swallow hawking over the pools, a bird of considerable grace and style. A species I haven't seen since sometime last millennium in Kos.
It disappeared. By that time a few birders had assembled, and we chatted as birders do, exchanging local information (Yellowhammers disappearing in east Kent apparently. Like Hen's teeth. Still common on my side of the Thames). Then it was back, and we watched it perform again. It favoured the far bank of the pool and whatever it was that was just over the hedge. I suspect the crowds at the Black Barn didn't get much better views. We filled our boots with prolonged if distant views of the bird in flight hawking over the pools.
It was very relaxed overall. Most people seemed to be back for their second views. Nice easy birding, and when it eventually disappeared out of view I'd had my fill and it was time to go. One said 'When we saw it we thought - well that's not a wood pigeon!' which tickled us all, particularly me given the number of times I've seen distant rarities that eventually turned out to be wood pigeons, or Stock Doves'
On returning home I got the spreadsheet up to add the Pratincole to my British list which now stands at ... well, I'm not going to put that out here, with you lot reading it. It is embarrassingly low. Looking through the list of recent additions I was surprised at how little the birds meant emotionally. Good days out, but not much more. I mean I'm glad I went and saw it, but that Lisbon trip a couple of years ago definitely knocked my perceptions - because there are bucket loads of UK rarities available in number on just one morning's trip out from any southern European city or town.
Us men need a stage, a place where we do our thing and say "This is me, this is what I do, if you are going to judge me, judge me on this." For some it is twitching. See how many birds I can tick if I put all my effort into it! But my subconscious seems to have decided twitching is not the place I make my stand. I can take it or leave it. I had a nice morning, but if I hadn't seen it I'm not sure I'd have lost much sleep over it.