Sunday, 16 June 2013

Pacific Swift

Pacific Swift over the Suffolk countryside - a long way from home

Given the run of sightings, I guess I wasn't alone in thinking that 2013 might finally be the year in which Pacific Swift was 'unblocked'. But such belief still required the bird to do its bit and actually linger somewhere long enough for a large-scale vigil to take place. But, at last, [one of] the Pacific Swift[s] gave itself up in Suffolk yesterday (and still today as it happens).

I mentioned on Thursday that an animated call from Rich Bonser last weekend had me going for a bit, but alas it was regarding the Long-tailed Duck that he'd just found. That said, there was no mistaking the panicked tones in Rich's voice as he rang at 10:45 yesterday to tell me that "the Pacific Swift is at Trimley". As it happened, I was heading westwards on the M4 with my mate Chris - we'd planned to visit a couple of orchid sites in the Home Counties to get some fresh air and enjoy a stroll outside the capital. I'd just passed the M25 junction as it broke, but was able to pull a quick U-turn at junction 5. The M25 looked pretty clogged up so we tediously battled back in to London and around the North Circular before eventually getting a fairly clear run up the A12 towards Colchester.

We arrived on site about 12:40 and soon met up with Rich and various others tackling the three-mile walk to the reserve in brisk fashion. And, forty-five minutes later (after a nerve-wracking message about the bird flying off over the river!), there it was, hawking around low over the lagoon - a bloody Pacific Swift! Significantly different in structure to the Swifts by which it was surrounded, it was more elongated with an obviously forked tail, and had longer, slimmer and more scythe-shaped wings - not to mention to obvious pale scaling on the underparts and white rump and throat. Just look at that profile!

 The Pacific Swift displaying just about everything you'd need to identify it - note the deeply-forked tail, long, scythe-shaped wings and of course white rump

In the strong winds, the bird spent much of its time feeding low over the lagoon. We felt that the bird's flight pattern was different to Common Swift, being a little more Alpine Swift-like in many respects. It was also a paler shade of brown to Common Swift.

 Comparison between Pacific (right) and Common Swifts

Though more often than not on the distant side for photography, it would occasionally battle the wind towards the seaward side of the lagoon. This meant it did just about get within range for some half-decent record shots, several of which can be seen below. What. A. Bird.

It proved a fantastic few hours in Suffolk. The crowds were surprisingly small and there was a lack offensive behaviour or conflict, just huge swathes of relief and elation as those arriving connected. Great to see so many friends there too. All in all, a brilliant day, despite the almost biblical storm along the A12 on the way home - cars were pretty much at a standstill due to quantity of rain; aquaplaning was proving a real problem. We saw at least seven seperate car crashes (of varying severity) on the way back to W London, four of which were on the North Circular alone!

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