It’s Saturday morning, the Met Office’s forecast of no rain was a lie so I’m doing house chores. At 11:30 I re-check the weather – supposedly clearing, but that’s not what the pitter-patter on my window panes is telling me – and I have a quick look at the birding hashtag used by local birders on Twitter to see if anything’s happening. It is! At 11:41, local birder Mat had posted that another local Ian had spotted a Great northern diver at Barry Docks.
Action stations. My backpack is packed, rain jacket, hat, scarf and gloves are on, and I’m out the door in record time. I stride the 20-minute walk to Cogan Station in record time and wait impatiently for the next train, due in 7 minutes. Why am I in such a rush to twitch this bird? Because, although there was a Great northern diver – the same bird? – at Barry Docks for several weeks earlier this year, I didn’t manage to spot it on the two occasions I went looking. So, I’m determined not to dip this time.
The slowest train ride ever, another rapid stride from the station to the edge of the dock and, as soon as I get there, my heart sinks – as well as the drizzly rain, it’s windy and the water in the dock is incredibly choppy, making it difficult to see anything. I put my backpack on a bench, get out my bins and turn to start scanning the water. And there is the bird, no more than 20 metres in front of me!
I can hardly believe my luck and get my camera out as quickly as I can to record the moment. I fire off half a dozen shots, then the bird dives. Knowing it could go quite a distance underwater, I put my backpack on, move to the edge of the dock and wait, scanning constantly from left to right as if I’m watching a tennis match.
It’s up again, not too far away and I move closer, grabbing more photos. For some reason, it’s got its eye on the sky so I look to see what it might be looking at – only gulls wheeling on the wind – but when I look back, the diver has disappeared again.
I move over to where a lone fisherman is packing up his gear and he asks me if I’ve come specially to see this bird. He says he’s been watching it for about 15 minutes, working its way along the dock and then returning. As the fisherman heads off, I look again for the bird and realise I’ve lost it. I walk further west along the dock edge, stopping to scan the water every couple of minutes, but the rain is heavier now and it’s become very dull and gloomy. I thank my lucky stars that I’ve managed to see the bird at all and decide to head back to the station. And when I turn, there’s the diver again – it has doubled back and is quite close in, so I grab a few more photos.
The diver looks sleepy now, is closing its eyes as it rocks up and down on the waves, and is drifting further and further away from me. I call it a day and head home, smiling all the way.