Green Heron – Messingham Sand Quarry NR, Lincolnshire

The walk back from the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler to the car was painful, the shingle was like treacle and it slowed every move. My calves were heavy with pain but I knew that every minute saved now would be vital if we were to make it to the sand quarry near Scunthorpe before the Green Heron went to roost. Sundown would be at 6pm and it would be too dark to see anything by 6:30pm. This left us just 2½ hours and we still had 120 miles to go. The clock was against us.

Peter drove like a maniac and things began to look more hopeful. It became clear from the pager that we would have a ½ mile jog to the bird from the car park but even so we appeared to be ahead of track. At first I had been reluctant to go for the heron because of the limited time available, the anxiety, the extra mileage and the late return home. The nearer we got, however, and with the good progress we were making I began to get more and more excited.

We hit problems in Lincoln where the one way system slowed us down. The weather had also turned and the heavy downpour seemed to speed up the onset of dusk. We were nearly there and so we pressed on. Our optimism was slightly dented but we still had a reasonable chance. We made it to the site and ran the ½ mile to the bird in virtual darkness, unfortunately the Green Heron had gone to roost.

Our race to the Gravel Pits near Scunthorpe had been in vain, it was an agonising way to miss a bird. Peter and I stood at the place where the bird had been seen just minutes before, it was dark and the heron had flown off to roost. We had run from the car park to the place of the last sighting and on the way we had passed large groups of smug birders gleefully telling us that we were too late. One lady also pleaded with us not to flush the bird. This was rather ironic as we had stood on Blakeney Point just 3 hours before and patiently waited for the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler to show when it would have been much easier to flush it out of the sueda bush.

There were several other birders stood with us in the darkness, they had also arrived slightly too late. They were all going to arrange accommodation locally and then get back to the site at first light. I had already said to Peter that this was a non-starter. This was the first time I can remember arriving too late at a bird, we knew the bird was still here and perhaps only a short distance away. After a few minutes we tore ourselves away and began the long journey home.

Peter drove me all the way back to Swindon then got back into his own car, headed back to Gloucester for 2 hours sleep before driving to Richard’s house for a 3am start back to Scunthorpe. He managed to see the bird later on Tuesday morning.

I arrived back in Poole at 12:40am and had a few fitful hours sleep before the alarm woke me for work at 6:30am.

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