On Tuesday 6th July 2011 I tweeted about going on a plane from Gatwick. Chris Galvin asked if I was going to France to see the Red-footed Booby…I fell about laughing and quickly confirmed I was on a business trip to Newcastle and certainly had no intention to start Euro Twitching.
Every day I got reminders from the awfully nice people from RBA that the Red-footed Booby was still present and similar tweets were received from WPNewsByNetfugl.
Seeing Josh Jones swimming in the nude (well almost), in touching distance of the Booby, certainly got me thinking about going for it.
I departed Newcastle on Thursday 8th July 2011 at 2:30pm and got back to Gatwick at around 4pm. When I got home all I could think about was the bloody Booby. I tested the water to see if John and Kevin fancied a bit of Euro Twitching and sadly they both did.
I knew the biggest obstacle in going was getting permission from Kim. When Kim and I got married I promised her a couple of things. Which is also known romantically as the “The Deal”. The Deal is very simple, I agreed to it verbally 9 years ago which includes a few conditions like being faithful (intact), not spend every waking hour talking about birdwatching (almost achieved),not chartering planes to see birds (ooops broke that one a few times) and that I wouldn’t go Twitching abroad (broke only a couple of times).
Lee Evans also wanted to go and he had to back in Little Chalfont by 7am Sunday 11th July . I almost agreed to go with him… but I just need to ask Kim first.
Kim got home about 6pm. It took me 30 minutes to pluck up enough courage to ask her about going to France. She said “No, you’ve got to baby sit Georgie on Saturday!!!!”. I phoned back Lee to tell him I couldn’t go. I also informed John that I couldn’t go and told Kevin McCoy that I couldn’t go unless I got a baby sitter.
After a couple of hours of discussing potential baby sitters, it appeared that we only have one baby sitter approved by Kim....which is infact her MUM and I was forbidden to ask her to baby sit on this occassion.
OK let’s think about this for a second……
....... yep, I'm not going. It's going to upset Kim too much, this one is sadly out of bounds.
Whilst munching my dinner, I got a phone call from Kevin and he said “What are you going to do then?” I said “You better go with John and Lee, I just can’t go” I added “Kim won’t be back home on Saturday to after 3pm and……wait a minute……if we leave at 3pm, and get back home by 9am Monday morning we have roughly 42 hours to make this trip work”. Eureka, Kim finally agreed to let me go, as long I bring her something nice back. John rang me back late on Thursday night and I said Kevin & I we going for it late on Thursday. All of a sudden, the idea of him getting a lift…and not having to wear his car out become an immediate hit.
Getting to France
The distance from Calais to Lac de Sainte-Croix is 1060 kilometres each way. Therefore you need 24 hours return driving time, and a couple of hours for locating, watching, sketching, painting or giving the bird a stroke.
The Channel Tunnel was about £160 return for a period greater than 24 hours. This would be £42 return if you see the bird within a 24 hour period. OK for owners of Lamborghini Countach and not bothered about getting a few speeding fines on route.
Sea France Ferry was priced at £50 return for a flexible 36 hour period.
Cheque Book Birders might prefer booking a Last minute flights to Marseille, Nice or Toulon all costing in the region of £600 return.
We opted for Sea France. Kevin booked the Sea France Ferry for his car Thursday night. Booking the 3:30pm departure from Dover to Calais on Saturday at 3:30pm and returning to Calais on Sunday at 8:30pm.
Adverts to RBA yielded a couple of phone calls on Thursday and Friday night. On Friday night Hugh the Price is Right took the last car seat.
On Saturday morning I took my daughter bowling. She got a strike and got a score of 87, most of my bowls missed the skittles but I did manage to get 81 points. So my SEVEN year old daughter wins again.
Then we headed home, within an hour John Lees and Kevin McCoy arrived at my abode. I made then both a cup of Coffee and begged them not to smash up the house whilst I drove Georgie to Kim’s workplace. With Georgie in safe hands I made my way back home for about 1:15pm.
For those of you thinking about taking the car to France, there are a few items that need to be taken. Items include:- Fire Extingisher, GB Car sticker, Warning Triangle, spare car bulbs, fluorescent waist coats, head lamp deflector, rope and loads of bloody money. You will need at least 174 euros for the tolls alone.
We picked up Hugh and his bag of tricks at Three Bridges Railway Station.
The journey to Dover was relatively straightforward apart from a sign saying that some junctions on the M20 were down to one line. We came off before Folkestone and made our way on the Coastal A259 to Dover.
The Ferry departed on time and John, Kev & I made our way to the restaurant. I opted for Beef sloop-og-anoff. Initially I was a bit pissed off as the pretty girl (yes she did have big tits), directly in front of me in the queue was given 3-4 big spoonfuls of beefy sloop from admiring male Chef. When I got served, I gave him a big smile and he only gave me 1 spoonful of Beefy sloop….maybe he thought I was a fat bastard who needed to lose a few pounds….I will never know. Just before I paid for the food, I grabbed a cup of Cappuccino from the self-service dispensing machine. These 2 items cost me about 12 euros and you’ve guessed it….the food tasted like shit and the cappuccino was cold.
I’m not exactly sure where Bilbo baggins went whilst we all tucked into this meal fit for a King. But when we did catch up with him, he managed to get a three course meal and a bottle of Champagne for less than a couple of Euros....lucky bugger.
Kevin drove off the ferry at just after 5:45pm French time, and headed south. The only item Kevin failed to obtain from the earlier list of goodies was the headlamp deflectors. I will tell you that the next 15 petrol stations shops don’t sell them; you can certainly buy them on the Ferry for £6.99, any Halfords or 5p plus £5.95 postage from Ebay.
Every stop on this long journey TWO things generally happened (1) John would buy an ice cream and (2) Mr Hughman Rucksack would weigh a few less pounds.
Driving on these French toll roads is an amazing experience. The roads are straight, smooth, well sign posted, litter free, little traffic and no road rage. I would say the whole journey to the south of France was totally stress-free and enjoyable.
At 5:30am Sunday morning we arrived at Lac de Sainte-Croix. It was just getting light. I was first to get out and start searching for the Booby. The first birds we encountered were Alpine Swifts swirling above our heads….but no sign of the Booby. In the distance we could see two others birders walking towards the Lac. I headed towards them and introduced myself, the guy who I first spoke to was in fact French but fluent in English. His name was Jean-Phillipe Siblet and he gave us a run down on the Booby and its whereabouts over the last few days. Jean was from Paris, but the bird knowledge he had of this particular area was second to none. Whilst Jean & I were chatting Kevin borrowed my scope and found the Booby sitting on a nearby boat.
A little after 6:30 am all four of us were admiring this beautiful bird. It allowed very close approach, I managed to get some hand held photos with my Samsung NV-4. Whilst watching it Jean pointed out some sub-song of a nearby male Golden Oriole. Another cracking bird in the notebook (Yes lee I have got a notebook). The lac is situated near a camp site and we had to keep our voices down as we didn’t want to wake the holiday makers up. One guy was sleeping right next to us on a wooden bench..he had nothing covering his sleepy body.
The BIG Twitch. (Left to right) Jean-Phillipe Siblet, Jeans friend, John Lees hiding behind my scope and Rucksack Ronny.
At 7:00am we decided to head back to the car and said our goodbyes to the two French birders. It was really nice to meet Jean, I will definitely take up his kind offer of doing some future birding with him in the Paris area.
A few very brief stops on the North bound journey home, gave us views of Serins, Bee-eaters, Black Kites, Turtle Dove etc etc.
We counted over 60 Black Kites on the way home, and John did well…he spotted a Woodpigeon flying over the motorway.
The entertainment in the car was amazing to be honest. Hugh can impersonate people’s voices with the greatest of ease; he impersonated Nelson Mandela, Rory Bremner, Tony Blair, Ian Botham, Nasser Hussain, Dickie Bird, Frank Bruno, Chris Ewbank, Richie Beno and hundreds more. Not only were the impersonations perfect but the various dialogue he gave were amazingly witty. Surely Britain’s Got Talent would love him. Kevin connected his phone to the car speakers and we had a mini competition of guessing pop songs. During all the fun and frolics I got a phone call from Ernie Davis (Devon) that a Belgium Birder Kris De Rouck (Top 10 Western Pal lister) had smashed his car up on approach to the Lac de Sainte-croix and Ernie wanted Lee Gregory’s phone number to see if he could aid Kris. I don’t know Kris, but I hope everybody is ok.
We all wanted to get back to Calais at 7:00pm to give us plenty of time for the 8:30pm. Everything was going well, until the Car broke down at 6:00pm.
This picture will hopefully remind everybody that there have two species of Booby in the Western Palearctic and its the sort of bird I will be talking about for years to come.
An antipollution fault warning flashed up on the dash and the car lost power and Kevin steered us onto the safety of the hard shoulder. Kevin tried to start the car again and we had a repeat performance of the car starting and then losing power and grinding to a halt.
Luckily Kevin took out European Breakdown Cover. After ringing the breakdown number, a recorded message indicated that the Police would have to get involved. We all thought that without the beam deflector being used, we were due to be locked up for a night at the nearest Gendarmerie.
Preparing ourselves all for the worse, Kevin thought he would try to start the car one more time. Bingo….the car started and no loss of power, Kevin decided to keep the car at low speed and keep all the optional extras off in the car just in case this was creating the problem.
We made the ferry in time for the 8:30pm crossing and I got home at 11:00pm Sunday night.
Great trip only costing 3 tank loads of petrol, 174 euros in tolls, £50 ferry, £20 breakdown four ways was £108.
Anybody thinking about in going for this bird, yes it can be done even if one of the passengers needs SIXTY THREE diarrhoea stops and another has an ice cream fetish. I would like to congratulate Kevin in being a top bloke and I certainly would want an advance warning if ever farts again…just enough time to get the ear defenders on. And lastly it was nice to have Hugh’s company again, not only is he an Encyclopaedia of who’s who in British Birding, but he’s all round bloody nice bloke who would enhance the enjoyment of any group of travelling birders.
Lastly but not least. a 125ml bottle of Marc Jacobs "Daisy" was presented to Kim the next morning, hopefully this will keep the door open for another affordable Europa League Twitching extravaganza.