With clear skies forecast for Thursday morning I packed my grab 'n' go set up into the car and got everything ready for work the night before; I would be on a tight schedule if I wanted to drive to a remote location to observe Mars and Mercury before dawn, then get back home for breakfast and to change clothes before still making it to work for 9am.
In then end everything went according to plan and by 7:15 I was observing and drawing Mars in the predawn sky, I didn't bother to polar align the Skywatcher mount accurately, no need as the planets were easily visible in the dark sky; tracking would be good enough.
Mars' tiny disc showed no detail at first through my modest telescope, in what were pretty mediocre conditions. However, after a few minutes scrutiny I could first make out shading down the west limb, then that divided itself into two separate patches; one north and one south, then the dividing line became bright white as it extended across the disc from west to east. All at once I recognised the view as Acidalium and Erythraeum with equatorial most bisecting the two dark maria, the mist seeming brighter as it reached the eastern limb.
A couple of fleeting glimpses of the Northern polar cap completed the observation.
All the while that I had been observing and drawing Mars my mind was on Mercury, careful not to let the sky get too light or I would struggle to find it.
At least four times during twenty minutes I checked this, then when I decided I had spent enough time on Mars I looked one final time for Mercury and was very disappointed to discover nothing but ever brighter morning sky and no sign of the planet! I searched by naked eye for a minute, then I moved the telescope to the approximate area and searched through the finder, sweeping left and right at a range of heights; nothing.
Then I had the idea of measuring Mercury's altitude above the horizon from Stellarium and using my digital angle gauge (which was in with my eyepieces in the car) to set the alt axis, then all I had to do was point the scope to the last place above the treeline that I had seen mercury, look through the finder, and there it was not far off the cross hairs! I was pretty amazed it worked and that I wasn't just going to have to go back home.
I centred Mercury up in the finder and moved to the main scope, my eyes just settled on the planet when a commercial jet plane when shooting through the f.o.v. brightly lit by the morning sun, bulls-eye across Mercury totally obscuring it with its glowing contrail, it actually made me jump! That's a first for me.
So another minute or two passed while I waited for the vapour to move away, then finally I could begin my observation.
Slightly panicky now and with only about fifteen minutes to sunrise I immediately noted the bright albedo features Pieria and Pantas in the middle of the gibbous disc, then a few minutes later the dark terminator shading with a couple of dark streaks reaching onto the disc, one just in from the north cusp, the other just in from the south cusp. The north cusp looked bright, but this time not ask bright as the central spots.
Then the sun came up, the seeing deteriorated, and I realised that I only had an hour to get to work. So i hastily packed up and got back to the real world.......A rather stressful, but very enjoyable morning.