As I mentioned in a previous article, there is a difference between a birdwatcher and a twitcher. A birdwatcher will sit, as I am doing now, and watch whatever birds come to the feeders on the patio. He may go for a walk in his local wood and just see what he can find:
Or take a stroll along the beach, taking care to have his binoculars, and probably his telescope and tripod, to hand. He will have a rough idea of what he is going to see, but nothing is pre-planned:
A twitcher is somebody who finds out where a rare bird has been seen and then sets off in an effort to see it. In previous articles, I have revealed how I used to be a twitcher. As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, I used to be a “twitcher”, the sort of birdwatcher who might travel hundreds of miles to see a species which is rare in whichever country he lives.I have already published articles about a trip to Dorset for a Terek Sandpiper:
I told you about going to Norfolk for a River Warbler:
Twitching was a very popular pursuit when I used to do it, back in the 1980s and 1990s. Here is a Golden-winged Warbler:
And here are the crowds that went to see it in Kent, myself included:
Even now, a very rare vagrant may attract several thousand twitchers over the course of the bird’s stay.
Twitching first began, on a very limited scale, in the 1960s, when news of a long staying bird, such as the Dusky Thrush in Hartlepool during the winter of 1959-1960, were circulated by letter and postcard:
How long has twitching been going on? What bird was the subject of the first twitch? I thought about this for a long while and my eventual conclusion was that it was possibly the Houbara Bustard present in Suffolk from November 21st to December 29th 1962.
Here is a Houbara Bustard. They are very rare birds:
And they will get even rarer if the Pakistani hunters in Baluchistan continue to think that this is sustainable hunting:
Even if the Houbara Bustard wasn’t the first ever twitch, the photographs reveal that this was very much an event in the distant past:
Just look at the clothes.
Just look at the car.
Just look at the telescope!
The bird was about the size of a turkey. It fed in a mustard field and could also be found in a stubble field:
Here is another view:
The Suffolk Houbara of 1962 was a rather eccentric creature and it often seemed to prefer to walk rather than fly. It could frequently be observed very easily by parking the old Morris Oxford at the side of the lane between its two favourite fields, and waiting for it to saunter past:
Nowadays the Corncrake is limited to the Outer Hebrides in Scotland although there is also what seems to be a highly successful reintroduction scheme being carried out in the RSPB Nene Washes Reserve in Cambridgeshire, England:
In the first half of the nineteenth century, Corncrakes were present throughout the length and breadth of England and their distinctive call was heard in every sunlit field. Even their Latin name, crex crex, is onomatopoeic. The birds were described as producing the most distinctive summer sound to be heard on a country walk anywhere in England. This is the song of the corncrake, beautifully recorded by “therhys927”
Corncrakes will often sing all through the night, and they can in fact be pretty aggravating little so-and-so’s once the initial novelty has worn off:
“How sweet and pleasant grows the way
Through summer time again
While Landrails call from day to day
Amid the grass and grain
We hear it in the weeding time
When knee deep waves the corn
We hear it in the summers prime
Through meadows night and morn
And now I hear it in the grass
That grows as sweet again
And let a minutes notice pass
And now tis in the grain”
Nowadays, the Corncrakes are all gone, gradually killed off by decade after decade of desire for profit, intensive farming practices and in particular the mechanised mowing techniques used by the nation’s farmers in place of the trusty scythe. This sad decline is chronicled in Nottinghamshire by the county’s Victorian birdwatchers:
In 1866, in his “Ornithology of Nottinghamshire”, William Felkin wrote that “the corncrake is very common”. Three years later, in 1869, William Sterland provided a charming account of this delightful bird in “The Birds of Sherwood Forest”:
“That bird of singular habits and note, the corncrake, visits us in abundance every year, sometimes arriving as early as the first of May, while in 1853 I did not hear its note until the 18th. This was unusually late; the season being a remarkably cold and backward one, a fact of which our other migratory birds also seemed, in some mysterious way, to be fully cognisant. Nothing, indeed, relating to the feathered tribes is more wonderful or more deserving of our admiration than that knowledge, call it instinct or what you will, which, implanted in them by their Creator, enables them to hasten or delay their departure for their distant but temporary places of abode, according as the seasons there are suitable to their necessities or otherwise. How strikingly is this wisdom brought forward in Holy Scripture: “Yes, the Stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed time and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow observe the time of their coming.”
William Sterland seems well aware of the piece of Corncrake behaviour which was to prove its downfall, as the mechanized mower made its inexorable way forward:
“I have never succeeded in causing the Corncrake to take wing except with a dog, and even then its flight is always brief, as it takes an early opportunity of dropping to the ground and regaining its cover. It flies rather slowly with its legs hanging down, and there is such an air of effort about his movements on the wing, that I have often wondered how its migrations are performed.
Its ventriloquial powers are well known to every observer. Now it’s harsh “Crake, crake” seems within a few yards, and the next moment it sounds as if it were halfway across the field, and this apparent variation in distance is so well simulated that in a consecutive repetition of its call for ten or twelve times, a few notes will sound as if uttered almost at your feet, and the next two or three from afar, and yet the bird is standing motionless all the time, as I have several times tested. Its singular call I have often imitated by drawing my nail across the teeth of a pocket comb, and thus inducing its near approach.”
Again Sterland reveals how fully conscious he is of the problems the Corncrake will face throughout the rest of the nineteenth century:
“The female sits very closely on eggs, so closely indeed, as not infrequently to lose her life by the mower’s scythe. I have known two instances of this, in one of which the poor bird was almost cut in two.”
Ten years later, in 1879, William Sterland provided additional details about the Corncrake:
“An abundant summer visitor. It is also been found in winter, and on this account has been thought by some to hibernate; but apart from the fact that no bird is known to hibernate, why should a corncrake which remains during the winter not be able to fare as well as a water rail or a common snipe. Cold does not affect them.”
In his “Scribblings of a Hedgerow Naturalist”(1904), Joseph Whitaker wrote:
“The other evening when talking to Rose the Nottingham taxidermist (who has set up a great many specimens in this collection) I remarked how very few Corncrake there were about, he said he well remembered about 35 years ago, a man bringing a large basket to his father, of these birds, which he had shot in two days, and they numbered over fifty; at that time he said the meadows round Nottingham were full of them, and their call could be heard on all sides. This year I have heard one, although I have been about a great deal.”
No Corncrakes in 1904, no meadows in 2014! Elsewhere Joseph Whitaker wrote about his country house at Rainworth, between Nottingham, and Mansfield:
“I am sorry to say the Corn Crake is getting scarcer. I have not heard one near the house was several years, although twenty years ago they were in every mowing field. No doubt the result of mowing machines which cuts the young up often I fear.”
Three years later in 1907, Joseph Whitaker provided in “The Birds of Nottinghamshire” the following information :
“I sorrow to say that this interesting bird is a rapidly vanishing species, not only as far as Notts is concerned, but in many other counties. Twenty years back it was the exception in the spring not to hear a corncrake in nearly every mowing field in the Trent Valley, and almost every seed and grass field left for hay in other parts. In this very high and dry parish of Blidworth, we had between ten and fifteen pairs, now for the last three years not a bird has been heard.”
Like his fellow nature writers, Joseph Whitaker chronicles the decline:
“At Southwell, on a June night, their curious call resounded on all sides; now this year there may be two pairs. Mr Henry Smith Junior of Cropwell Butler informs me that this scarcity is very noticeable in that part, and in fact all over the south of the county.”
Alas, Whitaker was to be proved wrong when he wrote:
“Let us hope that it will be many years before they are quite a bird of the past, but if they decrease during the next twenty years as fast as their decrease during the last two decades, it pains me to think that it may be so.
I once heard a corncrake calling inside the kitchen garden at Welbeck Abbey.”
And finally, in “Jottings of a Naturalist” in 1912, Whitaker wrote:
“Twenty years ago there were Corncrakes all over the parish, in fact it was the exception not to hear them in every mowing field, but I know that there is been none for the last ten years, not a single bird heard, and the parish is six thousand acres; and it is not only so in these parts, it is the same everywhere.”
And really, that was that. The end of the Corncrake.
As the Great War loomed, the Victorian age drew to a close. No more mowing fields, no more meadows full of flowers, no more clouds of brightly coloured butterflies. And no more Corncrakes. Just mud, blood, war and death.
To film a Corncrake nowadays, you are more or less wasting your time in England. This beautiful, atmospheric video comes from “mikhailrodionov” in faraway Russia:
(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)
Sunday, August 28, 1988
The sea again. Its magic lure drags Steve, Alan, Paul and me off to seawatch, anywhere on the East Coast where, according to the weather forecasts, the wind should be suitable for our porpoise (as the spell check suggested). We decide to go to some place where we can seawatch but where there is also another specific bird to look for. In that case, we must head for Flamborough where there have been reports of a Desert Wheatear although there are no details to hand of either its exact location or its plumage. We arrive at about 8.30 a.m. and there is a lovely light foggy drizzle drifting around the cliff tops. Not too pleasant for the birdwatchers but brilliant for keeping down any lost little vagrant passerine.
There are other birdwatchers around, all looking for the relevant little bird. We find a somewhat peculiar female wheatear within half an hour, and then another, and another. We soon realise that all female wheatear are somewhat peculiar. None of them seem to have a consistent set of plumage features that they have in common with all the other female wheatears.
Nothing for it. We set off down to the lighthouse for a sea watch. Same old place as ever – we set up our telescopes on the slope below the main cliff edge and start watching. No sign of Flamborough’s most famous birdwatcher, its very own “Mr.Sea Watch”, Brett Richards.
There are some Arctic Skuas moving through and we are able to study their piratical antics in some detail. After about ten minutes I see one all dark bird flying steadily and heavily northwards. Then it seems to remember its error and sweeps back around in a huge arc. Then it starts flying around in very large circles as if it is by now completely confused. On the other hand, it could be some vaguely half remembered display flight of some sort.
Whatever the case, it finally stops its circling, makes a half-hearted attempt to harry a Kittiwake and then heads off out to sea. We all pick the bird up and we all agree that at long last, we’ve seen a Pomarine Skua. It’s bigger than all the Arctic Skuas and it’s obviously not a Great Skua. Its flight is heavier than an Arctic and its behaviour is completely different. Every Arctic we have seen today has been energetically and enthusiastically chasing Kittiwakes in a most agile and nimble way. They are all darting, lightly built birds that at no point have shown the slightest inclination to soar or circle like some marine Common Buzzard.
Ten minutes later I find another large and heavy skua but this time, it’s down on the water. Again, its structure is much more solid than the Arctics, its bill is more substantial, its body weightier, and it even has what may well be rudimentary spoons sticking up into the air at the back end.
We watch it for a good twenty minutes as it cruises around, well separate from the rest of the birds on the water. We are all satisfied that it is a first winter dark phase Pomarine Skua.
If we think we’ve had a difficult time of it with bird identification so far, then we are sadly mistaken. In the next half hour or so, we’re going to get into very deep water indeed and I don’t mean falling off the cliff.
We still have the best part of a sunny afternoon left so we decide to walk slowly round to see what we can turn up in the way of migrants. It’s really rather pleasant. A nice day, a blue sky and the hope that more or less anything might be out there for us to find it. We turn up any number of Northern Wheatears, both male and female and a Short-eared Owl, that looks very pale and which we try very determinedly to turn into a Barn Owl, but without any success, because in the final analysis, we just can’t ignore those dark carpal patches. We stop at the top of the cliffs, a little way south of the lighthouse at a point about fifty feet or so above the sea. There are lots and lots of wheatears here, flitting around, most of them near some kind of ruined wooden landing stage.
Alan soon spots what he thinks is a funny wheatear and we all set up scopes to examine it more closely. The first and most obvious feature about it is that its eye stripe is not as fully developed as the other birds. It seems to be more buffy, even russetty, in colour and seems to begin further back on the head, almost behind the eye itself.
The bird, a female, is obviously tired and is harried and picked on by all the other birds. Nevertheless it keeps returning to the landing stage steps and eventually begins to preen. That’s when we realise two interesting things about the bird. Firstly, its tail, as far as we can see, is completely black and although it has a smallish area of white in the top two corners, this is really no more than a slight curvature of the line between the white rump and the black tail. It is completely different from the T-shaped pattern that we have been looking at all day, more or less, on all the other Wheatears. Indeed, we’ve even noticed that with every Northern Wheatear that we’ve seen, this T-shaped pattern may even be visible when the bird is at rest. Not the case with this bird.
The second feature, and for me, the one that clinches it as a female Desert Wheatear, is the fact that as the bird lifts its wing to preen, it reveals a snowy white underwing which is absolutely and totally white, except for a darker line on what must be the trailing edge. For weeks after this I look at Northern Wheatears and cannot find a single one, either in real life or in photographs, that comes even close to our mystery bird in the whiteness of this underwing. There is not a hint of brown or buff, just a brilliant white like a patch of bright fresh snow.
This bird, however, is not terrifically distinctive except for these two features and the eye stripe. This differs slightly from the Northern Wheatear but, in truth, if there is supposed to be a major difference in basic plumage, then there just isn’t one. It is perhaps a little peachier in colour but is not really fundamentally different from the Northern Wheatears that continue to chase and harry it. It is at this point that our problems start, because, as I later suspect, the mystery bird flies off without our noticing it, perhaps because the cliff is overhanging at this point and there is a vast area underneath it that we cannot see. It is certainly impossible to see the comings and goings of every single bird.
A few seconds later, a Wheatear of indeterminate species comes to perch on the landing stage, just as our bird has on several occasions in the past few minutes. A small crowd of some ten or twelve birdwatchers has by now assembled, all trying to see whatever we’re looking at but apparently too shy just to ask us. We lead them to believe that this is the mystery bird even though we have not yet seen either its tail or underwing to confirm this. When the bird flies away, of course, it has the T-shaped pattern of an ordinary Northern Wheatear and this leads a high percentage of the new onlookers to think that we are a bunch of complete village idiots. Well, we are, but on the other hand, I know what I saw. And yes, I am more than a little put off by the episode at the end when I was fooled by the Northern Wheatear on the landing stage, but Steve soon calms me down. He makes the valid point that whatever has happened subsequently, we did all four of us see a female Wheatear with an all-black tail, and an all-white underwing, whatever antics the bird got up to afterwards and whatever skilfully designed imposter came along its place. And surely even the most aberrant of birds could not have two diagnostic features of another species? That discovery would knock the Rarities’ Committee back a bit.
The whole appalling business does have its funny side however, because as soon as the assembled group of eight or ten becomes fifteen or twenty, this is easily a big enough crowd, particularly here at tight-lipped rare-bird-suppressing Flamborough, to attract an even greater number of birdwatchers. Very quickly, we have seventy or so people, all looking downwards with great deliberation.
Somebody on duty in the lighthouse then presumably thinks that one of us has had an accident and perhaps somebody has fallen off the cliff. Perhaps we are all looking at a corpse floating past. Whatever the case, it doesn’t take the RAF Rescue helicopter very long to get here and it soon arrives, a huge deafening yellow whale that hangs, hovering loudly, about twenty yards from the cliff edge. I can’t really believe it’s here for an unconfirmed report of a female Desert Wheatear. News cannot possibly travel that fast. On the other hand, it would be really tremendous if that were the case and he could use the loudhailer – the electronic equivalent of Kevin’s voice:
“Hey, you on the cliff – yes – you – you on the left – in the green – yes – stop harassing that bird – return to your homes – and by the way, do you know they what they’ve had at Spurn?”
Our final gesture is a last bit of seawatching as we give up hope that our Desert Wheatear will return to its original spot and we soon get a superb bit of unusual bird behaviour.
It’s a Guillemot that is performing some bizarre sort of preening ceremony that seems to consist solely of the bird lying flat on its back in the water, with only its beak and its little legs sticking out above the surface. It remains motionless for minutes on end so that it looks just like a man bathing in the Dead Sea or a gigantic dead fly floating around in the bath. A strange end to a puzzling day.
(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)
Sunday, July 31, 1988
This Sunday, Ken is planning to go out somewhere, out there into the universe, to look for a decent bird (the story of his life actually). I get onto Paul, and between us we persuade him to go for the Greater Sand Plover in Cumbria, at a nature reserve on the Isle of Walney. It’s about 8,000 miles from Nottingham, but not too far for Ken and his Ford Escort XYZ 3i with Turbo intercooling and reheat.
Ken takes the concept of distance as a personal challenge. He occasionally gets under 70 miles an hour, and if the car’s on four wheels, he’s parked it. I’ve never even dared to tell him the type of car that I drive, GUR 25N, a bright orange Volvo 240 that weighs approximately the same as a canal barge.
To our great surprise, Ken agrees to go for this bird. He isn’t usually into twitching, since he dislikes crowds, (he has been a keen Notts County fan for years), and he much prefers a quiet stroll around North Norfolk, in the hope of finding his own birds.
First of all, we scorch to a pool in northern Lancashire, where a Grey Phalarope has been present for the last few days. It’s there when we arrive, but I am surprised how different it is to the individual I recently saw at Datchet Reservoir near London. It’s very active, flitting around the lake, and very loathe to come too close inshore. There are one or two birdwatchers there, but not very many. It makes me wonder where all the locals are. Do they know something we don’t?
Onward and ever northward (look for the orange arrow).
We leave the M6 and strike west towards Walney, passing our first patches of winter snow, and the odd few ragged beggars at the side of the A590. Just before we arrive at the Isle of Walney, we have to travel through Barrow in Furness, a really remarkable town. Most of it appears to be a single solitary shipyard, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of grey terraced houses, all clustered around the dock cranes for safety. Why is there nobody up there filming adverts,? Or those half hour documentaries that they put on after “The Bill”? Perhaps because overall, it is a grim, grim place, although nowhere near as bad as some of the localities I am yet destined to visit.
The Isle of Walney itself is a peculiar place, a bit like a grassy, tussocky version of Spurn Head. It has an infinitely worse road, though, but those years of training at Minsmere and Holme finally pay off. Unfortunately, we are not able to locate the appropriate turnoff for the bird itself.
The tiny dirt track is supposed to be on the right, near the village rubbish dump, but we eventually have to go to the very end of the “road”, having fought our way past the thousands upon thousands of rather large seagulls that sit lugubriously around, all waiting for a piece of carrion to fall out of the sky at their feet. It reminds me very strongly indeed of the ending of “The Birds”, that well-known RSPB / Alfred Hitchcock co-production.
The warden is tremendously friendly. We are the first people he has seen in four years. He explains that he has put up a sign at the side of the road, indicating the correct path to take. It’s not his fault that it’s fallen over. Anyway, all’s well that ends well, because we eventually do make it to the right bit of seashore. There is only one birdwatcher there, a local who says that the Sand Plover isn’t there, but not to despair, since it will be somewhere around, just waiting for us to refind it. And sure enough, one person, in the slowly growing knot of birdwatchers, does in fact refind it, after a delay of some twenty minutes or so. It’s with a largish group of Ring Plovers, and is a very distinctive pale brown. It’s extremely fluffy looking for some reason, and lacks the sharp black-and-white contrasts of its temporary colleagues. Indeed the Sand Plover is well capable of disappearing into the shingle very easily. It’s exceptionally well camouflaged, and tends to be obvious only after it has moved.
The bird has, of course, been the subject of some pretty intense discussion about whether it is perhaps a Lesser Sand Plover and therefore a potential first for Britain. I’m only too happy to accept the views of the experts on this one, but nevertheless, our bird here does seem to have what seems to me a very small bill. Unless, of course, a Lesser Sand Plover has an extremely teeny-weeny-weeny-teeny bill, just like a pimple on the front of its head.
This lovely film was taken by Terence Ang in the Sand Plover’s usual habitat, in Hong Kong.
Having got over the excitement of seeing the bird, there is not a lot to keep us here. The day is bright, but the wind is strong, and rather gusty, and there are very few passing seabirds to look at. Locals say that sea watching here is generally very poor, and the only thing of interest that I can see are the tops of several obviously gigantic factory chimneys, just over the horizon to the North West. I never do find out what they are… Southern Scotland, the Isle of Man, or even Ireland. I don’t have a clue, and neither do any of the people I meet. I get the impression that I’m the first person who has ever noticed them. Perhaps they are an illusion… Some kind of mirage, reflected from the eastern United States… Perhaps they are a hologram of Three Mile Island, being transmitted as part of the twinning process with Windscale. (or is that Seascale?)
On our way back, we call in at Leighton Moss in Lancashire.
I am obsessed with the desire to see a Bittern.
No luck, of course. Although this is the furthest north that Bitterns breed, and is, in actual fact, one of its strongholds, I don’t manage to see one. Apparently, the water levels are too high, and have forced them back into the reeds. What we do see however, are three juvenile Marsh Harriers, because this year the birds have bred, and have produced five young. It is particularly nice to see them in a new breeding area. It gives you a nice warm feeling inside to see a place where rare birds are on the increase rather than disappearing for ever.
That apart, I find Leighton Moss to be a somewhat boring place. There seem to be very few birds about, and if anything, the birdwatchers may actually outnumber them. The old out-of-date Annual Reports that they are selling off in the reserve shop are right little scorchers too.
(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)
As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, I used to be a “twitcher”, the sort of birdwatcher who might travel hundreds of miles to see a species which is rare in whichever country he lives. A hardcore British twitcher, therefore, would travel vast distances without any hesitation to see a Common Grackle or a Red-bellied Woodpecker in Great Britain.
An American twitcher would react equally strongly to news of a Northern Lapwing or a Eurasian Siskin in his own country.
Twenty five years ago, I kept a diary of where I went in search of unusual birds. So, on Sunday, August 21st 1988, I know exactly where I was, and what I was doing…
“A minibus trip to North Norfolk this time.”
“Not a lot on Birdline to chase, but one half decent bird is a Ruddy Shelduck.”
Here’s a short, but lovely, film taken by “paulboyish”
“This beautifully plumaged waterbird will be, hopefully, still at Lynn Point, just a few miles north of north of King’s Lynn.”
“I try to persuade the minibus driver to hotfoot it out there straightaway but he’s very reluctant. He thinks the bird must be one of those from a zoo that you can never hope to count, one of those wonderfully colourful birds that is almost by definition an escape. Something along the lines of Golden Pheasant, Mandarin or Carolina Wood Duck. Or Red-breasted Goose.”
“O Ye of Little Faith. The mood of the passengers is one of optimistic keenness to go and see a new bird. When the minibus driver poses the hoary old question of how many people would actually like to go and see the Ruddy Shelduck, in an effort to prove once and for all that there will not be enough to fill a minibus, and therefore, we ought not to bother going, his effort at token democracy turns out all wrong. Absolutely everybody wants to go to Lynn Point to see this stunning bird, no matter how dubious the tick might be.”
“I navigate for the first bus, and Alan navigates for the second. We have a short diversion around the docks at Fisher Fleet, which was the scene of my first ever Mediterranean Gull, only a year or so previously, watched at close range as it fed from the wagons full of steaming hot shellfish waste which emerged at regular intervals from the factory.”
“We eventually find the mud-bath that rejoices in the flattering title of car park and set off along the seawall, out towards Lynn Point. It is throwing it down with heavy rain, and I begin to get very nervous indeed at the mood of the other birdwatchers, as we gradually get wetter and wetter. They seem to walk terribly slowly and not at all to like the idea of leaving the car-park. One woman actually says within earshot, “We’re a very, very long way from the bus.”, obviously racked with terror at the prospect being any distance whatsoever from her preferred method of vehicular transport. I begin to understand what Moses must have felt like.”
“Things are not helped one little bit by having to make a gigantic detour inland to the concrete bridge which allows you to cross one of the many enormous drainage ditches that are met with so frequently in this sodden landscape.
To be honest, it isn’t pleasant marching into driving rain, but on the other hand, for a new bird it’s obviously worth it. Suddenly catastrophe strikes. We are faced with a bright green electrified fence that the farmer has erected across the path. We all stand there like a flock of lost sheep, milling around, not knowing what to do. Several people wring their hands and talk seriously of turning back. No chance. In for a penny, in for a pound. With a loud cry of “Twenty years in an SAS Suicide Squad taught me this one”, I step over the fence, followed by Alan, and then, with his trousers at their usual go-faster low-slung crutch height, Paul. The fun really starts when Paul’s wife makes the attempt to get over the fence, and gets electrocuted. Not badly, but just enough to make her squeal loudly with surprise. It’s all Alan’s fault of course. As always, it’s the husband who gets the blame. We all want to dissolve into unsympathetic howls of laughter, mostly at Alan’s attempts to smooth things over, but none of us dare.”
“Off we go again, into the hurricane and the sleet and the slight rain of volcanic ash and the radioactive nuclear fallout that has just started to come down. Eventually, we decide to walk to a certain spot in the distance, stop there and then take a good look around the saltings. If there is no Ruddy Shelduck on view, we will all come back and not pursue the quest any further. We do this, and, sure enough, Alan, who has a wonderful talent for finding specific targets, locates the Ruddy Shelduck within less than thirty seconds. It’s with a flock of twenty or so ordinary shelducks, swimming about thirty yards off shore, slowly making its way towards the opposite side of the estuary, then finally reaching the muddy bank and striding ashore. It’s at fairly long range, but would seem to me to be a female. A prime candidate for genuine vagrancy I would say, particularly as it’s in the correct part of Britain, at the right time of year, with exactly the required winds, namely, gentle warm south easterlies. Indeed, Paul reckons that there are several other birds from roughly the same part of Europe and the Middle East, present in Britain at the same time.”
“On the other hand, we are also in exactly the right place for one of the Dutch feral population to have made landfall across the North Sea. King’s Lynn may not be exactly Amsterdam, but it’s not that different for a Ruddy Shelduck in a storm. Soooo… overall, it’s not a complete tick, well, only if you’re either unscrupulous or plain desperate. Still, at least, it’s a moral victory.”
This short film is by Peiselkopp
“On the Long March back, we see a Marsh Harrier, and we are treated to one of Kevin’s by now legendary live commentaries on the bird’s progress, delivered in his fantastic foghorn of a voice. He sounds like a reversing bus….MARSH HARRIER… MARSH HARRIER… MARSH HARRIER… OVER THE BANK… BEHIND THE TREES… MARSH HARRIER… MARSH HARRIER… FLYING AWAY… IT’S FLYING AWAY…IT’S NEARLY GONE… IT’S REALLY GOING NOOOOOW… IT’S GONE”
This lovely film is by Thomas Harris
and this one, equally atmospheric, is by John Watson, and was taken on the Norfolk Broads in East Anglia.
“Nobody on any of the three shores of the Wash could have been in any doubt whatsoever about what was happening at that stage in the development of Kevin’s universe.
As we cross the huge dyke, a couple of waders fly up, and whirr off along the edge of the water.”
“Closer inspection reveals them to be Wood Sandpipers, two very decent birds indeed to see almost as an afterthought. Indeed, I can’t remember ever finding a completely wild Wood Sandpiper for myself before. All the others were plastic dummies carefully placed by the Warden out on the marshes at Cley-next-the-Sea to attract middle aged visitors.”