As I sat at my computer late on Monday night, I decided to check my e-mails one last time before bed. An e-mail from LGR Evans entitled "Oriental Turtle Dove Refound in Oxfordshire" set my heart beating a bit faster. This bird had been seen in a garden in Chipping Norton in December but was then lost to science for a bit. The news seemed to be that a birder in Chipping Norton had refound it feeding on his lawn. Sheesh and I thought my Brambling record this winter had been great up until then. He was prepared to let people into his kitchen to watch the bird as long as they followed the rules: no shoes in the house, no more than ten at a time, no more than ten minutes per group, a five pounds donation to Birdlife International per person, viewing only between 10 am and 4 pm. These rules all seemed fair so I then considered the weather forecast. Hmmmm not too good there, with rain expected early morning and continuing most of the day. I then checked out the street the house was on using Google maps. Those residents were sure in for a shock when daylight broke. The next question was when to arrive on site. I opted for the old maxim "if you have to queue make sure you are first in line" so gathered together my binoculars and several layers of warm clothing.
I then went upstairs to gently wake my wife and tell her I would be doing without sleep for a bit. She has a lot of practice of living with a birder so didn't turn a hair. By 0200 I was on the road and by 0515 was in Chipping Norton free long-stay car park, eating the sandwiches I had bought on the way there. Always a good idea to carb load early as you never know how the day will pan out or if you will get to a food outlet later on. I then stood in the dark for a bit listening to the dawn chorus and marvelling at the number of people who turned up in their cars at that time and wandered off to bed I presume. At about 0630 the second birder showed up and by 0700 I set off to find the house and see if the bird was visible in the neighbourhood. I was the second birder at the house and over the next hour we were joined by about fifty others who formed a loose queue and scanned every passing Collared Dove in case it was not one.
Just before 0830, the owner of the house saw the bird on his back lawn and decided to let people in earlier than advertised. So it was shoes off, pay your fiver and wander through to the kitchen. By the time we got inside the bird had flown to a tree and we watched it through binoculars that kept fogging up because of the warmth inside after the cold outside. Our group all got onto the bird and had acceptable views of it. It suddenly turned on its branch and flew slightly left, landing again then shortly afterwards flew onto the garden fence and dropped into the garden next-door. We dutifully trooped back outside to let the second group in, warning everyone to keep their binoculars inside their coats to keep them warm. We needn't have bothered because the bird wasn't seen again all day. By the time i left at lunchtime the rain had started in earnest and I didn't hold out much hope for those at the back of the now lengthy queue of around 400-500 that wound up the street even if the bird reappeared in the garden. I just thanked my lucky stars for my decision to get there early.