It's all birding just at the moment. I'd not managed to get out on my local patch since getting back from Spain, but last night I just had to make the effort to try to see the first-summer female Red-footed Falcon that has been hanging around Ingleby, in Derbyshire, for the last few days.
It's only about a 15-minute drive from my house, but once there I was faced with a walk of around a mile, alongside the Trent. I was glad I'd packed my wellies, because at one point the path is flooded to a depth of about 18 inches, but it's a nice atmospheric spot, if you can ignore the redundant towers of Willington Power Station just over the river, and a couple of gravel pits. There's the Anchor Church, a series of natural caves that were used by medieval hermits, and just a couple of miles downstream is Swarkestone Bridge and Causeway, the point at which Bonnie Prince Charlie decided to turn back to Scotland during his 1745 invasion of England (UA Fanthorpe wrote a poem, At Swarkestone Bridge, about this, which always annoys me a little bit because it talks about the 'Midlands plain' - it's not that flat for heaven's sake!). Upstream a mile or two, there's Repton, with its Anglo-Saxon crypt containing the remains of more than one king of Mercia, and where a huge Viking army wintered some time in the late 9th century. And of course, it has a strong poetry connection, WH Auden and James Fenton both having attended the public school there (funnily enough, I think one of the kings buried there shared Auden's first name, Wystan - I might be wrong though. Maybe it was Wiglaf).
But I digress, and mighty boringly, I fear. Naturally, as soon as I left the car, it started to drizzle again, and didn't let up for the three hours I was there. There's been a bit of trouble, apparently, with birders trampling on crops and deliberately flushing the bird from the field, but all those there last night behaved impeccably. Not that there seemed to be a bird to flush, to start with.
We spent ages scanning two fields - one ploughed and seeded, the other pasture being grazed by a herd of Friesians - for the rare vagrant (it's more often found in eastern and southern Europe, but a few overshoot to the UK each year) without any luck. Ditto the various trees, pylons, fenceposts and sheds. At one point, a small falcon began approaching from the north, but even before our hopes were really raised, it became obvious it was a Hobby.
Just at the point when I was thinking of packing up for home, because the increasingly heavy rain would be deterring the bird's insect prey, we realised that it was sat on a fencepost on the far side of the field, clearly having just flown in from some concealed spot. Skirting the edge of the field, we approached to well within 50 yards, but it seemed entirely unconcerned, using the fence as a hunting perch and continually swooping onto insects in the ploughed earth. It didn't do any more flying than that, which I suppose might have been a disappointment if it hadn't been such a handsome bird anyway, but we watched for up to an hour as it fed well.
And that was that. Great bird to restart my patch list with, and ironically far better views of it than the one I saw in Spain last week. Well worth a soaking (exacerbated by a leaking wellie).