As a result it had been more than a fortnight since any lengthy birding visits. I'd only had time for one quick visit to Staines Reservoir and to the local patch, where I discovered the first Little Ringed Plover of the year on the Water Colour island, as well as my first two Sand Martin feeding on Water Colour lagoon 2.
|A Little Ringed Plover on WC2 at Holmethorpe
|The drake Wigeon has found Holmethorpe to be its natural home
I was lucky enough to pick up a Scandavian Rock Pipit, as well as distant views of a Ruff on the empty north basin. The littoralis was a nice bird, but I couldn't locate any Water Pipit. Now developing their summer plumage I need to get a move on and find one or two before they return to their breeding grounds.
|A littoralis Rock Pipit on the shore of the south basin at Staines Reservoir
The day before we left, I spent most of the afternoon in Redhill shopping – such a delight. The local council has invested plenty of money into regenerating the town centre, including converting the one-way system into a two-way system, which appears to have created more traffic problems than there were originally.
The recreation park has now a tea room, similar to the idea at Priory Park in Reigate and the Santander offices are being demolished to make way for a bigger Sainsbury's and cinema complex.
But will that turn Redhill into a vibrant town people want to visit? Probably not. The place is a crap hole and that's all there is to it.
Shopping, my idea of hell wherever it takes place, is even worse, therefore, in my local town centre.
I deliberately ignored Rare Bird Alert while dodging young mothers pushing prams and the ever-present, and increasingly annoying, charity arm-twisters as I didn't want to be distracted. But by 6.30pm I relented and had a quick glance to see what had been happening around the country, not expecting too much.
But my jaw hit the floor. An Alpine Swift in Crawley. In Crawley!
It had been present all day and was now roosting on the Virgin Atlantic building off Fleming Way at the Manor Royal business district. Bugger.
I could have easily have gone – it would have only taken 20 minutes. It would have been a British lifer. I saw two of these striking Swifts in the Spanish mountains last year but never one over here. And amazingly, out of the blue, one was just a short drive down the road in the most unlikeliest of habitats.
Frustration doesn't describe the emotion. It was a typical birding stroke of misfortune.
I didn't expect it to stay another day. I checked at first light to see if there was any news, but no-one had seen it. It must have gone.
I still had a few bits to get in town before we took a cab to Gatwick for 1.30pm. While in town more news flashed up. The Alpine Swift was still present at the Virgin Atlantic building at 10.38am.
I only had a small window but I just had to go. Luckily, my bins were in the car, but I only had my iPhone with me for taking photos.
The weather was horrible. Windy, cold and drizzly and at first I wasted a good 30 minutes parked at the wrong Virgin building along Fleming Way. It was only when John Benham walked passed and mentioned the bird was further up the road that I realised why it was so quiet with few birders where I was standing.
A quick drive a minute up the road revealed plenty of parked cars and a decent number of birders with binoculars and cameras. I immediately met up with Ian Jones from Canon's Farm, who I hadn't seen for ages, and within about a minute I was watching the spectacular Alpine Swift scything across the sky giving great views.
A cracking bird and hard to miss, as it was the only Swift anywhere in Britain at that moment. It then disappeared around the side of the Virgin Atlantic building where it perched high up on a wall, just under the roof of the building.
|I messed up getting images of the Alpine Swift - these are the
best(!) I came up with, copied from a ridiculously brief video below
|The little smudge on the top of the bricks just left of
centre is the Alpine Swift resting
You had to feel concern for its well-being.
With time pressing, I had to leave – feeling fortunate to have seen it but with a sense of sadness that it might not survive. It stayed for an extra day before moving on.