A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Monday, 16 November 2015

Crag Martin in the bag - Crooked Spire, Chesterfield

Crag Martin! What a bird, what an agonising week in work and what a roller coaster ride of emotion - all thanks to one tiny Mediterranean Hirundine taking to the skies in a Derbyshire town!
Crag Martin - Crooked Spire, Chesterfield
After missing the well twitched Crag Martin at Flamborough in April last year due to flying out to Spain the same weekend it arrived, me and Alex were sure it would be a considerable wait until we got another opportunity to see this mega bird in Britain again – if ever. Even though we had seen plenty during our trip to Spain, it wasn’t quite the same as seeing one in the UK, and the Flamborough Crag Martin definitely fell in the category of one that got away….

Fast forward a year and a half to last Sunday morning when the alert on my phone came through detailing the incredible report of a Crag Martin flying around the crooked spire in Chesterfield! This was an opportunity we simply couldn’t miss! Leaving on first news and despite the bird disappearing on several occasions, it reassuringly kept returning to the spire throughout the afternoon, obviously favouring the tall structure as a point of interest in the Chesterfield landscape.  I had a good feeling – it felt like we would connect.

However, at 13:50 news came out that the bird had flown off and not yet returned, and despite a vigil at the spire with another hundred or so birders in the hope that it would come in to roost, there was sadly no sign through to dusk.
Chesterfield's Crooked Spire
Several birders were convinced it would be back in the morning, with Crag Martins on the continent often returning to the same structure or spot once they have taken a liking to it, and were staking out the crooked spire from dawn. The mega alert noise on my phone while walking through the door at work on Monday morning therefore stopped me in my tracks and my heart sank – it had to be the Crag Martin back. Phew – false alarm, it was only the Hudsonian Whimbrel in Cornwall. A second alert 10 minutes later however wasn’t so welcome – the Crag Martin was indeed back and flying around the spire! Gutted was an understatement.

An agonising work in week then ensued, before the dreaded news on Wednesday came though that there had been no sign at the church all day – this mega visitor had apparently departed without us managing to connect.

However, searching for ‘Crag Martin’ on twitter late on Thursday night, I came across a tweet from the same day by a birder saying he had enjoyed views of it flying around the spire that very morning! What on earth?! Sending the photo to Alex he sent the news in to Birdguides in case the bird had been remarkably refound – we still weren’t sure if this was a mistake or even a wind up after all the local publicity the bird had been receiving. Regardless, the report being publicised the next day worked, and sure enough (despite the sighting at one point being renounced as a hoax/plane) at half 9 that morning the few birders present confirmed the unbelievable – the Crag Martin was back for more! Every weekday worker/twitcher unable to get time off breathed a collective sigh of relief across the country. The Crag Martin twitch was back on!
Crag Martin Tweet

Arriving at ten past 7 just as it was starting to get light, we took up position in the car park overlooking the spire and waited. It was surely only a matter of time…. 8:15 came and went – plenty of time yet, it was probably only just waking up. 8:30am – thoughts turned to the Peregrine on the roof - hopefully the prey it was busy tucking into wasn’t a Crag Martin….. 9:00am – still hope (it was seen at half 9 the day before after all). 10:00am – the rain had luckily held off but still no sign, where was it?! 10:30am – morale was low and we were in disbelief – surely it couldn’t be so cruel as to do a Friday night bunk?!

Then, at 10:42am I spotted it – a dark, thin, hirundine-like shape rising above the roof tops opposite before quickly dipping down again. Turning to Alex’s friend Jason next to me and excitedly drawing the attention of the birders around me to the roof, it flew up high again for all to see. Crag Martin! We shouted it out so everyone could connect, and the assembled crowd watched on as this tiny hirundine sped across the road and around its favourite church, giving great views to everyone assembled. Finally!!

A huge collective cheer erupted around the car park (I’ve never seen anything like it on a twitch!) with arms punching the air as ecstatic birders relieved that it had finally made an appearance celebrated – remarkable how one tiny bird can make so many people so happy!
Crag Martin, Chesterfield
The cold now forgotten, rushing towards the road I joined Alex (who had walked over to the park opposite just before it arrived) and we headed directly under the spire to get better views as it whizzed over our heads and around the tower. Fantastic! Exceptionally difficult to photograph due to the sheer speed (it was hard enough to keep it in bins never mind photograph!) none of my shots were of any use (hats off to all the photographers getting show stopping images of it) but it was brilliant to just stand and watch as it went about its business round the clock.
Crag Martin, Chesterfield
Crag Martin, Chesterfield
Crag Martin, Chesterfield
The diagnostic white windows in the tail were only visible when the feathers were spread
Disappearing for periods of time but always returning, we were treated to a show for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon before the rain came – thankfully 2 hours later than predicted!

With the roost site finally nailed down that day as the Proact Football Stadium (thanks to a birder’s brother who spotted it flying around during a game!) the Crag Martin was observed going to roost that evening, and with better views, was aged as a first winter bird thanks to the buff colouring on the wings. 

Remarkably found when a local birder went to check the Peregrines that frequent the crooked spire, this is the first November record in Britain, following on from two wintering birds that have appeared in the Netherlands in recent times. With both of these individuals sticking around at their chosen location for over a week each and proving to be incredibly twitchable, the Chesterfield bird seems to have followed the same pattern. With an initial bird in Hoorn present from the 14th – 25th November 2006 ranging in a small area little more than 2.5 miles, and another present from the 30th November through to the 12th December 2009 over a chalk quarry in Maastricht, both birds rose early and roosted early (often before 3pm) and stayed in one area to feed just as the Chesterfield Crag Martin has done.

Being only the 12th record for the UK and without doubt taking the crown as the most accessible and successfully twitched Crag Martin of all time here in Britain, it was great to FINALLY see the bird in person after it had tormented us all week - having worked so hard to see it made the end result so much sweeter! Huge thanks to Alex for driving TWICE, enabling us to catch up with what is a notoriously difficult bird to twitch.

An incredible record, only time will tell how long it decides to stick around in Chesterfield before moving on! What a cracker! 
Crag Martin, Chesterfield


  1. Well done on seeing and capturing this stunning rare bird,not seen one in the UK.
    Top notch.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...