On the evening of Tuesday 20 February 1996 the shock news of a possible Cedar Waxwing in the Midlands broke, and it was confirmed the next morning. I had been slightly disbelieving at first, so soon after the Stepaside incident, and thought I was seriously stuffed in terms of being able to go for it due to work commitments. My boss noticed something was off, and asked me if I was all right – ‘No, there’s a first for Britain in Nottingham.’(It would be years hence that the 1985 Noss bird would finally claim that accolade, so at this point that was true.) I managed to clear what work absolutely had to be done and talked her into giving me the half-day, gathered up Alastair, and screamed up to Nottingham.
On arrival at the site, only just north of the city centre, I was greeted by a beaming Tony Collinson telling me that it had been showing wonderfully well but had just flown off. I liked Tony, so I didn’t hit him. Instead, I pegged it off in the general direction of where it had gone, only to discover that I had left my fags in the car. Oh no – possibly two hours nervously looking for a first for Britain and no nicotine! (Sad wretch that I am.) Piled into the nearest shop for fags and lighter, ended up losing Alastair.
At this point I still have no idea where the bird is, so I run across the busy A60 and down the pavement, looking for bird or birders. Then, a lucky break. A bloke in a suit with camera round his neck (local press, I suspect) sees my bins, stops me, points down a side street, and asks what ‘they down there’ are all looking at. I very quickly explain, then scuttle down the street to join the pack of birders. One hasty set of directions later, I am staring at the right bit of the (huge, perhaps 400 strong) flock of Bohemian Waxwings, and the yellowish belly of the Cedar stands out a mile. A few minutes later the whole flock took off and headed back over the A60 to where they had been before. Phew! But joy and relief quickly turned to concern – I’d scored, but Alastair was nowhere to be seen and hadn’t seen the bird!
More mad scurrying around, then, to try and find him or the bird – I managed the latter first, relocating the flock from a distance and legging it to find about 30 birders staring up into a tree at the one pale set of undertail coverts amongst the array of chestnut ones. Alastair appeared, thankfully, and a comic episode ensued, as no matter what directions I gave him, he could not see the bird. We’ve all been there (I certainly have, plenty of times) – it was blindingly obvious to me, but I knew exactly where it was, had seen hundreds of the things before, and wasn’t in the same panicky state of need. Finally he got on it. A Devon crew including Dave Hopkins arrived just in time, as about five minutes later the whole flock took off again, not to be relocated that day.
I don’t know what the good people of Nottingham thought about all this – a vanload of builders who stopped and asked me what was going on looked very bemused when told. I got home a few hours later to find messages from Paul and James, asking for gen – neither had been available at the critical time earlier, but thankfully both saw the bird well the next day.