On Monday 28th May I arrived at Grantham for a 3 day work visit. I had a feeling in my water that a tick could be on the cards anyday now, so along with the work clothes I packed my scope, tripod, bins and credit card. I checked into the Angel & Royal Hotel (according to the literature this is the oldest hotel in Britain), which is only a 10 minute walk to work and after a hard days graft I celebrated by visiting the breeding Ospreys at Rutland Water.
Next morning whilst tucking into my full English Breakfast the mega alert went off. I picked up the pager and almost collapsed in a heap while holding my rectangular block of vibrating delight. It read "MEGA Cleveland ORPHEAN WBLR Hartlepool Headland trapped + ringed + will be released at bowling green at c8:45am"
Holy Bible. The waitress just brought over some Coffee and I said to her "Can you believe it, a rare bird has just turned up and i've got a busy day at work today". Why did I tell her that? She doesn't know me, she doesn't need to know what I do in my spare time. Anyway what do I do??!! I got a phonecall from a famous birder with one eye, who was in Suffolk and kindly offered to pick me up on route to Cleveland. I had to decline, there was no way I was prepared to let work down. On route to work Liz Costa rang me up and offered me a space with John Lees. I refused again.
I got to work at 8:45am and declared to my boss that a rare bird has just been found in Cleveland and then I proceded to start working. A few more phonecalls were received by the gentleman in Suffolk and he confirmed that Chris Bell has seen the Western Orphean Warbler(WOW). Ok maybe I should consider going after work today, AA route master suggested it would take 2 hours and 45 minutes to get there. So if I finish work at 4pm (work through lunch), I should be at Hartlepool around 6:45pm. The Warbler wouldn't have gone to roost by then and I should get a couple of hours to connect.
Hour by hour....the news kept coming through on the vibrating rectangular block that the WOW was still present. At 1pm enough was enough, my important work for the day was done and my vibrating toy was becoming a nuisance. I asked the boss if I could go, he said "Yeah ok, but do you want to tuck into the buffet food first?" I said "No, I'd prefer to go now, you know birds have got wings and they can fly off at any point".
Off I went. I arrived at Hartlepool at 3:30pm and the WOW had left the bowling green at 3:20pm. Jeeeessssssussss. I felt terrible. All the effort I've put into gettng here and the Warbler decides to fly off into a vast housing estate with impenetrable gardens where approx. 2000 people have enjoyed it over the last 6.5 hours. The last thing you want to do know...is talk to fellow birders about a bird you have possibly just dipped. I did bump into Tony Ford and his wife. She felt I looked hungry and needed a Snickers bar more than her, so I accepted her kind offer. Wow what a nice lady. I tucked into the Snickers bar immediately and then someone started shouting, many birders started running, so I joined in the mob run. The run was in completely the wrong direction to where the WOW had just been seen. The running turned into walking and heavy breathing and before we knew it, the WOW was claimed by someone else and the sight of running men happened all over again. Again the song "Talking Heads, I'm on the road to nowhere" sprung to mind.
This pursuit become fruitless and what was becoming apparent is that the WOW was infact making it's way back in the general direction of the bowling green. When I was within 10 meters of the bowling green at around 4:45pm the WOW was apparently back. At this stage over hundred birders were back at the green. Dave Holman was watching the WOW on arrival and he was shouting out directions. I never managed to connect mainly because I don't the difference between a holly, privet or rose bush. No problems I thought, I'm sure I will get another chance to see it in a few minutes time. Well these few minutes actually turned into more than an hour. The WOW was mega elusive. The view I finally got was through somebody elses scope. All I could see was its head. I repositioned my scope on a different edge of the bowling green and eventually found the correct closed rose bud and the bill of the WOW a few inches below it. The WOW sat largely obscured for the next hour. Then it hopped to the right. This time I could see it's mantle, wings and flanks (no head or feet). It moved a couple more times then vanished. Some managed to get full side on views as it moved quickly through the assorted hedge. I did see the whole bird with my naked eyes. The next prolonged viewing occured around 7pm when it sat in the holly with it vent, primaries, and buffish underparts on constant view for an hour. Every now and then it would turn its head to the left and you could see all the salient features.I hung around to 8pm....just wearing a T-shirt I started to shiver and then decided to head back to my car. On the way back to the car it was really nice to meet Jason Stannage finally. Jason has been very kind and friendly towards me since we become friends on Facebook, and I really appreciate the package of goodies you sent my family and me. You're a top guy.
Fantastic to see such a sexy warbler. But with a fat score of 0 and a muscle score of 1 and not seen feeding during the whole of Tuesday, I felt it was not going to move on that night.
Got back to the Angel & Royal Hotel at 10:15pm and all the restaurants in Grantham were closed. I had a doner kebab and ate it back at the hotel and washed it down with a pint of Stella.
Sadly the bird was not seen the next day.