"Well, we're definitely not coming back this way," we said, after we'd sat in 20 minutes of stationary traffic near the Boothferry Bridge at Goole. It turns out everyone knew about these infamous delays – even my dad, as he sucked his teeth, tutted and looked smug a few days later. "Didn’t you know about the roadworks there?"
Clearly not. It was one of those rare occasions where the whole family had mobilised within 40 minutes of mega bird news breaking, and we were not to be beaten. We also didn't know that the Red-tailed Shrike would hang around near Bempton for weeks, nor that our daughter would decorate the car with chocolate ice cream, nor that we would shortly have excellent views of the bird, plus stonking fly-bys from the Black-browed Albatross. Hindsight is wonderful.
Twitching the Red-tailed Shrike at Bempton proved a stressful ordeal for Lucy and her family (Graham Catley).
On the way back, we perused the map (on Google, anyway): the Humber Bridge was vetoed due to tolls and the M1 was vetoed due to vehement dislike, leaving the A1, which we chose despite the 'Closed at Markham Moor' signs. Forty minutes from home, those dreaded cones guided us onto a diversion heading east. Should we not head south-west, through Sherwood Forest? No, follow the signs. But we're going the wrong way? Diversions can't be wrong. We could turn south? No. Lorries all around us. Light fading. Mile after mile ticking by.
Then: "Toll bridge ahead". A moment of madness as we briefly thought we had hit the Humber. Luckily, this was the much smaller, geographically closer and yet completely unknown Dunham Bridge across the Trent, complete with a woman (let's call her Brenda) in a cubicle asking for 40p per car or £1 per lorry. Brenda had never been so busy at 10.30pm on a Tuesday, the long line of lorries waiting impatiently to cross. This was a pennies-in-the-ash-tray scenario, and one can't help but wonder if the A1 closure was just a conspiracy to justify the current application to increase toll prices across the Dunham Bridge this summer. Cynicism, me? Perish the thought.
That ghastly diversion took us to Lincoln, and we ended up paying a toll anyway. In frustration, I asked birders to share their diversion-based tales of woe and it turns out I really was being overdramatic ...
There were delays lasting hours, diversions of hundreds of miles around vast lochs, forests and mountain ranges, landslides, broken vehicles, car, plane and boat crashes, train hold-ups and worse. Birders caught in unexpected outbreaks of war, birders being chased by people with machetes, birders stumbling from Jordan into Israel and being arrested, birders getting bogged down in sand and missing their flights home from Australia, birders detained at airports before being deported from Costa Rica.
One birder twitched Scilly and chartered a jetboat from Tresco to St Agnes, only to be told on arrival that his boat was now being used by Kate and Will, and he would have to make alternative arrangements. Another was grounded in Aberdeen (rather than the hoped-for Doncaster) after twitching a Pallid Harrier in Orkney minutes after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And then, once back in Yorkshire via a taxi, he learnt that he had accidentally thrown his car keys away, too.
I was inundated by tales of the Worst Days in Birding. It was a collective therapy session, filled with plenty of ticks, even more dips, broken bones, heartbreak and endurance. My favourite tale, though, came from Andy Hall. While twitching a Pacific Golden Plover in 1989, he got stuck in traffic on the A17 on a scorching day. After 15 minutes at a standstill, he saw a man climb out of his car, calmly wander into an adjacent field and return with a cauliflower. Inspired, others followed his lead and Andy watched as tens of car loads took part in mass civil disobedience, filling their boots with stolen cauliflowers. Does heat, frustration and boredom inevitably lead to vegetative-kleptomania? Did the poor farmer ever find out what had happened to that corner of his trampled, ravaged field? Who knows? It did make our 18-mile, 40p diversion a little less galling, though.
- This column first appeared in the September 2022 issue of Birdwatch magazine.