So we set off after work on the Friday but heavy traffic for most of the way meant we arrived somewhere near our destination in north Norfolk just in time for last orders (ah the good old days), so our supper consisted of crisps, nuts and a couple of pints of the local brew.
We left the pub but in these pre-sat nav days and the pitch blackness of the Norfolk countryside we soon didn't have a clue where we were so pulled in at a lay-by off a country track and camped for the night. I say camped but we actually just bedded ourselves down in sleeping bags on the road itself (the lay-by anyway) under the stars.
Luckily these lads were experienced at roughing it in jungles all over the planet and Chris (Syko) lent me his old sleeping 'cocoon' which was watertight and acted like a vacuum flask (ie kept you warm in the cold and cool in the warm). So there I was, lying on the hard concrete surface of a lay-by under a cloudless sky, snug as a bug, watching the stars, of which there were thousands in this light-pollution free environment (including the odd shooting star and passing satellite). it felt great!
I slept well for a few hours at least, but at first light my slumber was broken as a distant peacock called out from somewhere across the flat landscape "Hah, only in Norfolk" laughed Gibb.
Daytime revealed our position to be just off a sugarbeet field and I quickly ticked a family of red-legged partridges here before we moved off to our first destination, as the plan was to try and tick a few good birds before late morning would bring out the first dragons, and though we dipped on our first target of golden oriole at a site which had been productive in the past (shame that, I still haven't seen one) we soon got turtle dove, woodlark and stone curlew, but disaster as the exhaust fell off Gibb's car and we had to while away a couple of hours in some village while he got it fixed at a garage (at least they had a decent cafe).
The village also had a pond and a small river running through it and it was here I picked up my first damsels, azure and blue-tailed, before Gibb came back with his fixed chariot and we were back on track.
The main target of the day was the rare Norfolk Hawker (or Green-eyed Hawker if you prefer) only found in the Broads of East Anglia. I can't remember the names of any of the places we visited but we were certainly succesful in our quest, with a specimen netted and studied in hand (and released unharmed I might add), and my list of dragonflies continued to grow with Southern, Migrant and Brown Hawkers all added that day along with Black-tailed Skimmer, Common and Ruddy Darter.
the main target species of the weekend, though I think I prefer the
continental common name of Green-eyed hawker,
seems much more appropriate.
Dragonhunting done for the day, later in the afternoon we arrived at Cley on the coast which produced quite a few wader ticks including a cracking summer plumaged spotted redshank, and proof that even top-notch birders can make mistakes, when Dave Forster alerted me to a flock of grey plover which then took off and turned into starlings (to be fair they were quite distant).
The evening I remember became a little bizzare. My companions had a friend living at Cley so rang him up and we ended up being invited round for the evening and overnight stay. The alcohol flowed, (all over the carpet I seem to remember) there were arguments, fallings out and an embarassing unease Ricky Gervais would have been proud of, but nevertheless we stayed over, three pissed and smelly blokes scattered around a cramped living room and Syko crashing out in the back garden. Next morning we left as early as seemed polite, front room trashed, friendships strained and hungover. What a night!
But I digress, on to the action.
Probably my main target bird for the whole weekend was bearded tit, and our early morning cobweb blowing walk along the fringes of Cley paid off when Gibb pointed out a flypast which I saw but it really could have been anything so was left a bit disappointed, but later at Titchwell we got a fantastic view of a female, preening at the front of a reedbed, even Gibb said it was the best view of one he'd ever had, just a pity we didn't get an equally good view of a male.
Another gorgeous day though and with marsh harriers galore, avocets and Sammy the (now late) resident black-winged stilt all at Titchwell, I left with some great records.
Dragonfly spotting wasn't so productive today, we dipped on our morning target species which I think may have been Scarce Chaser (I honestly can't remember, in fact my clearest memory of the morning was discovering how handy dock leaves come in when you're caught short out in the countryside after a big night on the pop, actually that's probably too much information) but we picked up Keeled Skimmer somewhere along the way and Common Blue, Emerald and Large Red damselflies.
So all in all a fantastic weekend. The details might blur (especially Sunday's) but I'll never forget the experience. And so thanks to Chris Gibbins, Chris Sykes and Dave Forster I was now an official member of the dragonfly appreciation society (though remained mainly a casual member 'til my bird listing obsession subsided almost a decade later.)