Family business meant I had to drive from Hertfordshire to Ilkley. A quick look at a map shows Teesside, currently home to a Brown Booby, is practical on the way! So I find myself at 2 in the afternoon driving along the desolate Road of Destruction that is the road to South Gare, a place I have known of for years since as a student on occasion I went birding the other side of the estuary, but before today have never been.
First stop is a crowd of birders looking the wrong way. They are scouring a desolate rock-strewn plane and within seconds they are putting me on to a Wryneck perched on a bush. Tremendous stuff, but just a brief view before onto the target bird.
Parked, picking my way down the rubble between buildings to the men with cameras, and I am put onto the target bird sat on a buoy mid-estuary. Fantastic.
Target duly ticked, I start to scour the estuary and it is full of birds. Gannets, hundreds of Auks, some Kittiwakes, and amongst them some Sandwich Terns, Common/Arctic Terns, an Eider, and a couple of skuas. One of them is obviously an Arctic Skua, very agile and busy, but that other one, a pale bird with vivid flashes, well that seems a different beast all together. I should note, at this point, that the Tees off South Gare is but a narrow stream compared to the wide ocean that is the Thames off Canvey. All the birds on the far side are pretty easy to see and identify too if you have more skills than I possess.
I'd become aware the Booby had flown off, and I was annoyed with myself. Ticked but not much more; I had no idea what it looked like in flight, how it ate, etc. I spent a couple of hours looking for it and also in a break went back for the Wryneck which was once again co-operating as it quietly picked its way round boulders and small bushes, close enough to fill a scope view. It's easy to see why in cover even just slightly thicker and higher these birds can disappear for hours.
Most of all, I just talked to other birders. To a woman down from Northumberland, exchanging children-at-university stories, and with a local birder as we looked for the Booby. During one of these chats the pale juvenile skua reappeared and satisfied us that its lazy lumbering heavy-bellied approach was consistent only with Pomarine Skua.
Finally the Booby reappeared off North Gare, flying back and forth in the wind with some light harassment from gulls. An elegant flyer with a longer tail than I expected. Then it started tacking across the estuary, flying west into the gale, drifting back, flying west again, until it was on our side and it flew round the Pilots Pier a couple of times and landed. Great views of this bird, its big yellowish feet, its subtle blue hints round the eye. Fantastic views unlikely ever to be repeated by me.
A smashing trip, with the Booby being a MacGuffin. A MacGuffins is a plot device, believed to be named by Alfred Hitchcock, which serves as a driver or central theme for the plot but enables the real drama, the characters and other plots to take centre stage. Here the Booby was excellent, but the other birds and the chats with local birders made the day complete. Rarities so often seem to be the excuse for a day out, not the main reason.