Tag Archives: River Warbler

The First Ever Twitch

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:

A5 blue tit

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:

another terekxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

I told you about going to Norfolk for a River Warbler:

River best shot (1024x721)
Twitching was a very popular pursuit when I used to do it, back in the 1980s and 1990s. Here is a Golden-winged Warbler:

gol wing

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:

Pakistanis-last-year-in-Baluchistan-Province- xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
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:

telescpope (2)

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:

hounbars 2

Here is another view:

bustrde (2)

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:


The full story of this bird, in much more mature and scientific prose can be found here.







Filed under History, Personal, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

Locustella fluviatilis

(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

Have you ever noticed how, in crime films, the detectives always say to the criminal suspects, “Do you remember where you were on July 14th 1989?”
And the criminal suspect will always reply, “Why, yes, I was sitting at home watching Hawaii Five-O” or perhaps, “Why, yes, I was sitting at home, having a cup of tea and some Garibaldi biscuits, because I had just finished the somewhat tricky and tiring erection of an MFI office desk.”
The rest of us though, are usually not quite so lucky. We may not manage to remember even a single thing we did in 1989. We may not remember even who we were, twenty five years ago.
But not so, if you were……a twitcher.
At lunchtime on July 14th 1989, I rang Birdline, the recently introduced method of discovering which rare birds were where, and discovered that a River Warbler had been found at Boughton Fen in western Norfolk. This was only the fourth occasion ever that this bird had occurred in this country, having, presumably, experienced some major snafu with its migratory instincts. Normally, it lives here…

And soooo….I left school slightly early because I had a free period, and drove off a hundred miles to see if I could locate a specific small bird on a particular twig on a particular bush on the other side of the country. The bird should look something like this…
River best shot (1024x721)
I remember only one thing from the journey there, namely, passing a road sign which I thought probably directed fans to the house of a rich oilman in “Dynasty” or “Dallas”. It read “Boughton Barton Bendish”, and was just one of that whole series of countrywide road signs which indicate people rather than places. Foremost among these, of course, is the Lincolnshire hamlet of “Norton Disney”
I reached Boughton Fen pretty rapidly because this was well before the days of speed cameras, and when things were urgent, this could easily be reflected in your driving. The bird was not difficult to see either, because it was almost constantly on view as it sang, perched on the same twig at the top of a single isolated bush.
river 2
I am terrible at birdsong, but it did sound rather like a slowly approaching steam train….
I can remember very little more of this twitch. The crowd was not exceptionally large…
or fierce…

and neither was Lord Nelson there, testing out his six-footer…
One very famous birdwatcher that I do have vague memories of seeing may well have been present at Boughton. He is Lee Evans, who is the self-appointed policeman who vets all the birdwatchers’ lists to make sure that they are not claiming to have seen very rare species when this is not the case. Lee styles himself, therefore, the “judge, jury and executioner” for British and Irish twitchers. He regards himself too as the George Michael of birdwatching.
I may have forgotten the people somewhat, but the date…never.
So, when that detective comes back a second time, a few months later, and says to me, “Do you remember where you were on July 12th 1990?”, I can always look in my notebook, and without any hesitation whatsoever, I can reply, “Why, yes, I was sitting at the top of a cliff at the western tip of the Isle of Wight, watching an adult Alpine Accentor pick insects from between the rocks.”

The photographs of both the River Warbler and the Alpine Accentor have been taken from the website http://www.aabirdpix.com/megas.htm which provides an absolutely wonderful glimpse of the rare birds seen in Great Britain and Ireland over the last twenty or thirty years.

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Filed under Twitching, Wildlife and Nature