Category Archives: Twitching

A Twitch to Kent : Day Three

I am on a weekend minibus trip to Kent in an effort to see rare birds which have been blown off course on their migration. So far we have managed to see a Glossy Ibis and an Isabelline Shrike.

Sunday, October 16th, 1988.

There is still no Richard’s Pipit, so as a total last resort, we start looking around for our own birds. As a strategy, it is totally ludicrous. We find a male Brambling on some recently ploughed fields:

Brambling%20male zzzzzzzz

Then we meet one of the wardens who is wandering around looking for all the world like a refugee from Woodstock. He asks says if we’d like to see something really impressive. I personally don’t want to go into the bushes with him, but everybody else does. It turns out to be a second male Brambling that he has just caught in the nets, and to be fair, it is a very beautiful bird indeed, in far better plumage than any other Brambling that I have ever seen:

Male-brambling-on-a-tree-trunk xxxxxx
We spend half an hour in some other bushes looking in vain for a Firecrest, the smallest bird normally encountered in the wild in England. It is a very rare bird in our own county of Nottinghamshire:

c608px-Mad-Firecrest-B

We are just beginning to lose interest when suddenly someone runs up and shouts that there is an Olive-backed Pipit at the Observatory. It has been caught in their nets within the last half hour and has been taken inside the building to be weighed, measured, and then ticked off. The wardens  have promised to keep the bird in a nice comfortable bag until everyone has got there to see it released.
Nevertheless, I just have to run. I might be fat, but when I have to move I can. It’s a little bit
like a hippopotamus on its way to the water hole, not elegant but very effective, at least up to a range of 100 yards or so. I just manage to avoid a heart attack, by jogging the last bit fairly sedately:

0361-South-Luangwa-Mfuwe

There is a good crowd of people there already. I go into the office to watch the bird being weighed and measured. All I manage to see through the crowd of people, though, is the back of the bird’s head, emerging incongruously between two of the fingers of the warden holding it. Does that qualify for a tick?
It’s a bit like saying you’ve seen Bruce Willis just by seeing the top of his bald head in the middle of a crowd of security men.

I do know somebody who actually ticked Golden Oriole based only on the top of the bird’s head visible over the edge of the domed nest, emerging only as the wind rocked the whole precarious structure:

nest Golden_Oriole_(Oriolvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv

Surely this, though, is unique in its desperation.  Let’s hope so. A real Golden Oriole is a bird well worth seeing in its entirety:

male oriolre

After a token ten minutes’ delay, the warden brings the Olive-backed Pipit onto the area of grass in front of his office, removes it from the bag, and holds it up to the fully assembled multitude to look at and photograph.
Not a particularly spectacular bird, even if it is a very rare one. It’s a lot drabber than I imagined and doesn’t as far as I am concerned, have a lot of olive on the back. It’s a rich rather brown colour, with heavy streaking and spotting underneath:

OBP
Unfortunately, I forget that there is an important black spot behind the eye which is a diagnostic feature and which I should be looking for. Never mind. It can’t be that obvious anyway, or else I would have noticed it.
Certainly, in the subsequent photographs of the bird that I buy, this feature is not outstanding by any stretch of the imagination:

OBPPPPPPPPPPP

After ten minutes or so of being paraded around like a sporting trophy, the pipit is taken to a nearby field and released. It disappears into the adjacent wood like a bullet from a gun. It seems pleased to exchange its fifteen minutes of fame for the chance to get back to the serious business of looking for insects on the floor of the forest.

Nowadays, Olive-backed Pipit is not really a very rare bird in England. A couple of years or so after this, I managed to see a much more obliging bird, in the woods near the beach at Holkham in north Norfolk. This individual had never seen human beings before, and, if you stood absolutely still, was happy to approach you very closely. Indeed, as I leaned against a handy tree, it actually came so near to my feet that my binoculars would not focus on it.

 

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A Twitch to Kent : Day Two

In a previous article, I told the story of going down to Kent in a minibus in an effort to see rare birds, or, at the very least, some different species to those in Nottinghamshire. On the Friday, we saw a Glossy Ibis:

gloucsglossyibis

Saturday, October 15th, 1988.

“Next day sees us up at the crack of dawn, to look for the Mediterranean Gulls that are supposed to frequent nearby Copt Point. This is reputed to be a very good place for them, with up to 40 or 50 of them at the right time of year. It should be easy. Black-headed Gull bad:

BHG Mediterranean Gull good:

Med%20Gull%20Sa

We are out on the promenade at the first light of dawn, but we don’t succeed in finding any. We dofind a Yellow-legged Herring Gull. The clue is in the name:

ylhg xxxxxxx

There is a juvenile Kittiwake too:

kitti xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Apart from these moderately interesting finds, we are totally unable to find our quarry.

This is not in actual fact totally surprising, because, as it emerges in conversation at breakfast, we were not even at the correct place.

I suppose in retrospect that the bay were looking at was not a great candidate to be called Copt Point, but as strangers we knew no better, and we were given no directions. We should have been about half a mile further north of where we were, so we all go there first thing after breakfast. I am a little embarrassed . I have never failed to find a major landmark before.
We spend half an hour here, and soon find the Mediterranean Gulls. There are about six of them, mostly in winter plumage, sitting out on the rocks near the sewage outlet, about 50 yards from the beach. There are hundreds, if not thousands of Black-headed Gulls, but the Mediterranean Gulls stand out quite well, with their more thickset appearance, and their all white wing tips. Black-headed Gull bad. Mediterranean Gull good:

difficult to pick out

They are still relatively boring though. This will not be the main bird for the day, thank goodness, because we have had a tremendously lucky break. After trying to convince everyone yesterday that it might be a good idea to drive to Dorset to see the Isabelline Shrike, we find out that a second bird has been found at Sandwich Bay, just a few miles up the road from where we are, and adjoining the famous golf course.
We scurry over there in the minibus, everybody greedily totting up another potential tick on their life list.
Everybody is so excited . Isabelline Shrike will be a tick for everybody. There is a Richard’s Pipit there too, which will be another tick for me and a good few others:

rich pipt

There is a Yellow-browed Warbler, which will be a third tick for quite a few people. Everything looks good:

tYBW

As we arrive, we see a crowd looking very intently indeed at a closely cropped meadow, just the place for a Richard’s Pipit.
We rush past them all, after checking with someone that the pipit is still there.
This is a major mistake, but we are all overwhelmed by the desire to go off and see the Isabelline Shrike, which is a much rarer bird. It is quite a walk, just the distance to get the adrenaline flowing.
When we arrive, there’s quite a crowd, all standing on the opposite side of the railway track, looking back into the overgrown hedge which runs alongside the rails. Suddenly a train arrives and the great whooshing noise as it goes past persuades the shrike to move out of the foliage and to perch out in the open:

isabellineshrike cdrfvgxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

It is a rather bland bird, completely buffy brown, with the beginnings of a hooked beak, and the most obvious feature of all, a fairly bright red tail. It is clearly nothing like a Red-backed shrike, and I can understand why the two new species have been split from the one old one.
Now we go back for the Richard’s Pipit, only to find that the people there were all looking at what was in fact a Common Redstart, not a particularly rare species at a migration spot like this:Common_redstart_female

Nevertheless, we give it an hour or so for the pipit, looking around the neighbouring fields where the warden says that the bird has been seen over the past few days. No luck, I’m afraid. Now the day just degenerates into rumour and counter rumour. We hear that Trumpeter Finch has been seen and heard flying over, but we dismiss that out of hand:

trumpeter

Little do we know that we are just a couple of hours from the discovery of what, at the time, was a very rare bird indeed.

Nowadays, almost thirty years later, Isabelline Shrike has been split into three different species. One is called Turkestan Shrike, the second is Daurian Shrike and the third is Chinese Shrike. The bird we saw at Sandwich was one of the most frequently encountered  types in England at the time, and I think nowadays, it would have been listed as a Daurian Shrike. I used to get very hot under the collar about things like that when I was younger. But now,  I realise that it’s just somebody who wants a couple more ticks than they would have got in 1988.

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A Twitch to Kent : Day One

Friday, October 14th, 1988
This is a new venture for me. A minibus trip, to Kent for a whole weekend. Surely we’ll get to see something. I am looking forward to a chance to see the famous Glossy Ibis:

Glossy_Ibis_1700_e

I may possibly get a glimpse of Ring-necked Parakeet, if we’re lucky:

flock parakeete

They’re a lot better close up:

parak

There’s also a fair number of other birds scattered around the country and I start an exciting war of nerves in the minibus, trying to persuade everybody that it would be an extremely good idea to call in and see them all.

I have taken the unpardonable sin of producing a dozen photocopies of an article about the habits of the Stodmarsh Glossy Ibis. A lot of people who had up to now never heard of the bird, are soon warming to the idea of going to see it. A mention of the Isabelline Shrike however, is not quite as successful, since almost all my fellow passengers have a very accurate idea of just how far away Dorset is.

On the Saturday afternoon we move over to Stodmarsh, where by now, we all expect to see the Glossy Ibis, flying over our heads on its way to roost, as it is supposed to do every single night. It can be seen flying in over the Lampen Wall. But just what is a Lampen, and why do we need to be protected from it?

view from lampen wall

In the late afternoon, the reserve doesn’t really have a lot on show. I wait in vain for a Cetti’s Warbler, a bird, that to my eternal shame, I have yet to see, although I have heard a lot singing in Norfolk.
The Stodmarsh logbook by the car park says that the Ibis came in to roost at 4 o’clock the previous evening. That’s a bit of a frightening thought, because we don’t manage to get there until 4.15 and I have the horrible nagging feeling that we have all missed it .
The minutes tick by as we wait for the bird. We get more and more worried. At least, the
serious birdwatchers do. Some of our fellow travellers act as if there is a Glossy Ibis resident in every county in the British Isles, instead of just one single, lost, bird in the whole country.

4.45. Nothing

5.00. Nothing
We get so desperate that Paul puts into operation the ultimate birdwatching spell. He inserts his index finger into the handle of his tripod, followed by the whispered recital of the bird’s Latin name. The spell works a lot better if you haven’t looked up the Latin beforehand, but actually know it anyway.
And of course it works. Within a few short minutes, Wayne is shouting, “I think I’ve got it.”

And just for once, he is actually right.

gloucsglossyibis

The bird flies over, circles a few times, and finally drops down into the reeds, presumably into its roosting place.

It is supposed in all the books to be particularly primitive looking, but I think it’s absolutely superb. It has rounded wings which seemed almost transparent against the light of the sky, and its improbably long bill balances perfectly the dangling legs. And it is is nowhere near as awkward in flight as the descriptions would have you believe. It circles around us, light and graceful. It even earns a spontaneous round of applause from its admirers. It is certainly the best bird I’ve seen so far in my very short birdwatching career. Easily.

glos ibis

Nowadays, with the alleged advent of Global Warming, the Glossy Ibis, usually a bird of Southern Europe, is being seen with increased frequency in England. A little while back, one even came to spend a few weeks in a wet field down by the River Trent in Nottinghamshire:

glossyibis2 nottnm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Great Bustard in Edwardian Nottinghamshire

Great Bustards are huge birds, more or less the size of a domestic turkey. They used to live in many areas of Merrye Old Englande, as long as there was plenty of open grassland and only scattered farmland. They liked the chalk downs of central and southern England such as Wiltshire,  for example, and the open sandy heaths of East Anglia. The last bird English bird was shot in 1832. This is not him:

great bustard ddddddddddddddddddddddddddd

A single Great Bustard  was seen at South Collingham on April 1st and April 23rd to 24th 1906. South Collingham was, I presume, to the south of present day Collingham. The latter village is just to the north of Newark-on-Trent. In 1906, there would have been no electricity cables or pylons. Just open, infrequently visited farmland. The orange arrow marks the approximate spot:

collingh

Mr Henry Wigram sent Joseph Whitaker two letters which have survived, and they are kept in the Local Collection in the library at Mansfield:

The Lodge,
South Collingham,
Newark,
29th of June 1906

Dear Sir,
I am afraid you will think me slow in answering your PC (postcard), but I have had some difficulty in obtaining accurate information about the Cormorant, about which I had no note myself:

gret corm xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

I can tell you now that it was seen on the Newark Parish Church steeple for nearly two months. If I can hear anything more definite than this I will let you know.

.
I was glad to have your enquiry about the Great Bustard, because most people have simply smiled, & said “What could it have been ? ” ! !

Great_Bustard_woodcut_in_Bewick_British_Birds_1797

I can positively say I did see one, as I had another view of it nearly three weeks after:

flyingxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

I reported it to “Countryside”, flying over my garden & I believe my wife saw it at about the same time & place on the following day.

The second time I saw it, it was making a noise like an exaggerated Crow’s caw, while on the wing. It was this that drew my attention. On both occasions I was within 120 yards of it:

outarde-barbue-vol2qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq
You have perhaps heard of the Snipe & Redshank laying in the same nest at Besthorpe. The Snipe laid first, each laid 3 eggs, from which I saw the Redshank get up. I am afraid I cannot say how many were hatched.


I have a few other notes which seem interesting to me, but they may very possibly be rather commonplace to one with so much more experience, as you have.
Though I collected eggs as a boy, it is only of late that I have really studied birds at all. If you think I could help in any way I should be only too glad to do so, as far as I can. I am often at Retford on business and could come over to see you if you wish. After all, I have heard of Rainworth from my friend Bonar, who went to see you with the Wordsworths last year, there can be few more interesting places anywhere.
Yours truly,
Henry Wigram

PS:    I am sorry to find I addressed this wrongly, and it has been returned to me.”

A week later, Henry Wigram sent a further letter to the great man, dated July 6th 1906:

The Lodge,
South Collingham,
Newark,
6 July 1906

Dear Sir
Thank you for your Postcard. Since writing you I have seen a coloured plate of a Great Bustard, & find that it entirely corresponds with my recollection of the bird I saw, but I noticed, as you say, that the bird looks much whiter on wing (sic) than with its wings closed:

qwerty

At the time I saw it, the bird appeared to me to resemble a Turkey more than anything else I could think of. Its colouring was white & brown, not brown & grey.
I put its stretch of wing roughly at a yard and a half, and found afterwards that my man, who was with me on both occasions, guessed it at the same measurement:

flying

I first saw it on April 1st, again on April 23rd. My wife is also certain that she saw it on April 24th.
I had field glasses in my pocket the first time, but the bird, which when I first saw it, was in the act of rising from the ground in a grassfield – disturbed by other people passing, (who did not see it) – though at first it did not appear to be flying fast got away so quickly that I could not get the glasses on to it:

taking offqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq
I was much struck at the time by the pace at which it flew with comparatively slow beats of the wing.
On the second occasion the bird passed right over my head at a height of, I should say, 50 to 60 feet.
This was in the evening. The following morning my wife saw it taking exactly the same line of flight.
I sent word to Gates at Besthorpe on 2nd April that this bird was about, but he was ill & could not look out for it. However a Besthorpe man told him that he had seen a large strange bird about that time:

flyignGAINxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

My father also saw a large bird he could not identify near the same date, but he did not get near enough to it to give any particulars.
I should very much like to come over to Rainworth as you kindly suggest. Would Friday the 20th suit you, & if so at what time?
I saw a bird the other day which puzzled me completely:

tree pipitqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq

It was the size and shape exactly like a Tree Pipit, but it had pink legs, & the markings on the throat were darker (almost like those of a  miniature French Partridge , & did not extend so far down the breast as in the case of a Tree Pipit. It also seemed to have a dark mark around the neck.
Would it be possible for strong sunlight to deceive one in this way? There were Tree Pipits about the place at the time.
Gates was with me, & quite agreed as to the markings.
Yours very truly,
Henry Wigram

In his own copy of the Birds of Nottinghamshire, Joseph Whitaker has written:

“I may add that Mr Wigram is a keen and careful observer of birds and a good field naturalist, and I am perfectly satisfied that it was a Great Bustard he saw.”

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The Osprey in Victorian Nottinghamshire

In the first half of the nineteenth century, William Felkin tells an intriguing story about an osprey in Nottinghamshire:

“In 1839, a female was captured at Beeston Rylands, and kept alive sometime; it was tamed, and often used to fly from its owner’s house to the river, and stand in the shallow water it measured 5’7″ from tip to tip of its wings.”

-fishing-osprey-xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

In 1855  William Sterland tells how a bird took up a temporary residence on the edges of the lake at Thoresby during the summer:

“Attracted in its wanderings by the piscine resources of the large sheet of water where I had the pleasure of seeing it. Here it remained some weeks, faring sumptuously, its manner of fishing affording me and others who witnessed it much gratification ; its large size, its graceful manner of hovering over the water when on the lookout for its prey, and the astonishing rapidity of its plunge when darting on its victim, rendering it a conspicuous object:

osprey againxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

It then to my great regret took its departure, doubtless alarmed at the attacks of the gamekeepers, who viewed its successful forays with little favour.”

In 1880 an Osprey was trapped at Rainworth on an unrecorded date. In one of his notebooks, Joseph Whitaker described it as:

“a beautiful Osprey caught in a rabbit trap by Mr F Ward on May 16th. It measured 5’4″ from wingtip to wingtip.”

Osprey-5xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

A further account of what is presumably the same occurrence is included in Whitaker’s own copy of “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”, written out in his own hand opposite the entry for this species:

“One of the Duke of Portland’s keepers caught a fine specimen of this Hawk this morning Tuesday. On Monday evening he saw the bird flying about over the heather on the forest where it struck a rabbit & carried it off. About half past four this morning (Tuesday) he again observed the bird strike a rabbit but being near he left it having some traps with him he quickly set some & soon had him in one the bird was in good condition & very fine plumage it measured 5 feet 4½ inches inches from tip to tip.”

ospr michiganxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

This final account occurs in “The Zoologist” magazine for 1890:

“One of these fine, but now, alas ! rare birds was shot about the middle of November last by Mr George Edison at Shire Oaks Hall in this county. When he first noticed it, it was hovering over one of the pieces of water near the house, but was being teased by a number of Rooks, who drove it over him, when he shot it. I hear it was a very fine bird, and in good condition. Shire Oaks is just the place to attract an Osprey, having several beautiful sheets of water full of fish of good size, and many species – J WHITAKER, Rainworth,  Notts.”

The editor of “The Zoologist” has added his own opinion at the end of the letter. He writes:

“What a pity that it could not be allowed to remain unmolested in a spot so well suited to its habits. To see an Osprey catch a fish is one of the finest sites in nature.-ED”

Ain’t that the truth!

Nowadays, of course, you can drive the thirty or forty miles south to Rutland Water where Ospreys have been introduced and in the summer as many as eight breeding pairs may be seen:

osprey-with-bassxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Here is the link to the webcam which keeps watch on one of the birds’ nest.

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The Glossy Ibis ; a rare bird in Victorian Nottinghamshire

Glossy Ibis is a bird from warmer, southern climes such as the Mediterranean. Even nowadays, it is quite a rare species in the county:

glos ibis

On October 27, 1909, a single bird was shot by Fred Smith at Misson in the very north eastern corner of the county, almost in Yorkshire. This latter county had, for reasons unknown, received an influx of at least fourteen birds during this month of October 1909.  The orange arrow marks the spot. The county boundary with Yorkshire, to the north west, is indicated by the perforated line and must be only a few hundred yards away:

Untitled

Two interesting letters to Joseph Whitaker tell the story.

Dear Sir,
I have the pleasure of dropping you a line in reply to yours, duly received. A man named Fred Smith, who I fear is a shocking poacher, shot the bird, Glossy Ibis, in question. His wife took it to a game dealer, at Doncaster, whose name is Borrill, his shop being in St Sepulchre Gate . He gave her the large sum of one shilling for it, after endeavouring to get it for sixpence.
A doctor bought it from Borrill and is having it stuffed for the museum. I am sorry to have forgotten the doctor’s name, but no doubt the game dealer would tell you if you wrote him. You will forgive me, I hope, for not knowing your book.
I also love birds and used to keep a great many – once I had 46. We still have a few in a good-sized aviary in a greenhouse and my little daughter aged 11  is much interested in birds and has lately acquired several volumes at a cost of £3.10 shillings on the subject.
Yours faithfully,
FW Keane

Glossy_Ibis_1700_e

Joseph Whitaker followed the clues and two months later, he received further information from Dr Corbett himself:

9, Priory Place,
Doncaster
11. 11. 09

Dear Sir,
Mr Borrill showed me your letter re-the Glossy Ibis. All I know of it is that it was exposed in his shop with other wildfowl & I was, fortunately for me, the first to “spot” it & purchase it for the local museum of which I am the curator. If ever you are in Doncaster I shall be pleased to show it to you.
Yours truly,
HH Corbett

Anybody who missed that dead specimen in Doncaster in 1909 had a very long wait to see another Glossy Ibis in Nottinghamshire. In the winter of 2013-2014, a single bird was seen in a flooded roadside field next to the Peugeot Garage in Lowdham, near to the River Trent in the south of the county. southern Nottinghamshire:

lowdham

Most people who wanted to see a Glossy Ibis were able to watch this particular individual which was very amenable and reliable in its appearances. It attracted a steady stream of admirers, and was very easy to see::

Watching an Ibis copyright a

A more spectacular species of Ibis to occur in  Nottinghamshire in the future might well be the Sacred Ibis. This bird normally lives in sub-Saharan Africa, but, in actual fact, there is a healthy feral population in western France. It would not be outrageous for them to cross the Channel:

Ibis

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A Twitch in 1817

A twitch doesn’t have to involve a bird. It is becoming increasingly fashionable to twitch animals. I have twitched a Steller’s Sea Lion on the Brisons, a pair of sea stacks just off Cape Cornwall, which is in Cornwall, funnily enough. And I succeeded in my quest. I saw this amazingly lost creature, who, by rights, should have been sunning herself in Vladivostock Harbour. I saw her, on and off, for several years, in actual fact:

Steller Sea Lion
I have twitched a Bottle-nose Dolphin in Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. It frequented the River Trent at the back of of a supermarket car park in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, Netto, if I remember correctly. It was there from January 25th-30th 1999, although I turned up on January 31st. And guess what? Well, this is all that I saw:

beaten

The following account is of a twitch for a sea-creature. It took place in the summer of 1817 in Massachusetts, and this is just one of a huge number of accounts. It came from Colonel TH Perkins on August 15th 1817. I have made one or two changes to make it easier for a modern reader to understand but other than that, there are no differences:

“The first appearance was in the summer of 1817, in the harbour of Cape Ann:

a Cape-Ann

And here is the more modern, less charming version:

a goolge YES easrthzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And conceivably, this map is the best one for all the English people who think Boston is a market town in Lincolnshire:

map ann (2)

Back to the story:

“I visited Gloucester with Mr Lee. On our way down we met several persons returning, who had already visited the place, and they reported to us that he had not been seen for two or three days past. We, however, continued our route to Gloucester, though with fears that we should not be rewarded with a sight of the monster which we sought.

I had already satisfied myself, from conversation with several persons who had already seen him, that the reports in circulation were not mere fables. All the townspeople were, as you may suppose, on the alert, and almost every individual, both great and small, had had sight of him, at a greater or less distance:

etching

“The weather was fine, the sea perfectly smooth, and Mr Lee and myself were seated on a point of land which projects into the harbour, about twenty feet above the level of the water, from which we were distant by about fifty or sixty feet. Seated in this way, I observed an agitation in the water at the entrance of the harbour, like that which follows a small vessel going five or six miles an hour through the water. As we knew there were no rocks where the water was this broken. I immediately said to Mr Lee that I had no doubt that what I had seen was the sea serpent in pursuit of fish. Mr Lee was not looking at the spot which I was talking about, and had not seen the foam of the water, the animal having immediately disappeared.
In a few moments after my exclamation, I saw on the opposite side of the harbour, at about two miles distance from where I had first seen, or thought I saw, the snake, the same object, moving with the rapid motion up the harbour, on the western shore”:

drawing (2)

“As he approached us, it was easy to see that his motion was not that of the common snake, either on the land or in the water, but evidently the vertical movement of the caterpillar. As nearly as I could judge, there was visible at a time about forty feet of his body. It was not, to be sure, a continuous body, as from head to tail he was seen only three or four feet at a time. It was very evident, however, that his length must be much greater than what appeared, as, in his movement, he left a considerable wake in his rear. I had a fine telescope, and was within less than half a mile of him. The head was flat in the water, and the animal was, as far as I could distinguish, of a chocolate colour. I was struck with an appearance in the front part of the head like a single horn, about nine inches to a foot in length, and of the form of a spike. There were a great many people collected by this time, many of whom had already seen the serpent. From the time I first saw him until he passed by the place where I stood, and soon after disappeared, was not more than fifteen or twenty minutes”:

erp banded (2)

“I left the place fully satisfied that the verbal reports in circulation, although differing in detail, were essentially correct. I returned to Boston, and having made my report, I found Mrs Perkins and my daughters disposed to make a visit to Gloucester with me when the return of the animal should again be announced. A few days after my return I went again to Cape Ann with the ladies; we had a pleasant ride, but returned unsatisfied in the quest which drew us there.”

BRM2493-Sea-Serpent_lowres-2000x1616

This particular sea serpent was seen regularly around Cape Ann until 1819 at least. Indeed, the east coast of the United States seems to have been a good place for would-be sea serpent twitchers, with records dating back to 1638:

new_england_sea_serpentxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Don’t think I don’t have my own story to tell:

On October 25th 1988, I went to the Isles of Scilly to birdwatch. I crossed over on the ferry, the Scillonian. For two or three hours during the crossing, I remained on deck with my binoculars, eagerly scanning the storm tossed waves for seabirds.

Scillonian_III-01 xxxxxx

“At one point, I noticed what I took to be the head of a Grey Seal, which broke the surface perhaps a hundred metres away. It was dark in colour, and I could see a forehead, two eye sockets, and an obvious snout. I didn’t really think twice about it, and it remained there for perhaps two or three minutes. Then, suddenly, a Gannet flew directly above it, and I realised from a comparison of sizes that the head must be at least a metre and a half, if not two metres, across. And that means it cannot have been a seal !”

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