Thursday, 29 March 2012

Ten Years Since My Best Bird

Ten years ago today I saw the best bird I am ever likely to see in the British Isles. At the time, I was doing a very serious year list, zooming here, there and everywhere trying to see as many species as I could in a calendar year. (40000+ miles, 364 species)
In that year, we had an influx of Iberian birds in late March. I had been to Cornwall the previous weekend to see a Black-eared Wheatear (a lifer) , a Woodchat Shrike and a Hoopoe. While there, a local had told me about 3 Cattle Egrets (at the time, much rarer than now) and given me vague directions. An hour later, I was watching...you've guessed...3 Cattle Egrets.


During the week a Scops Owl appeared at Porthgwarra, in the car park where I'd slept the previous night. There were also a couple of Alpine Swifts at St Just. I needed both these birds as lifers, but was working for the whole week with no possibility of a day off. By the next weekend these birds had moved on, but my good friend Graham Ryland was keen to visit anyway to view the birds I'd seen the weekend before. Since there was now a Night Heron in the same area, off we traipsed to Cornwall again for the long bank holiday weekend. Another Alpine Swift had been sighted on Tresco, one of the Scilly Isles which lie just off the tip of Cornwall, so we decided to get the Scillonian ferry across on the off chance it was still around. A delayed departure due to tides was frustrating, as it meant we would only get a couple of hous to look for the bird before it was time to return.


Birdwise the crossing was very quiet, but within sight of the islands, as we were on deck chatting to three fellow birders, Graham pointed out a tern-like bird approaching the boat. As it turned sideways on, it rapidly became obvious we were viewing an absolute MEGA!!! A Red-billed Tropicbird. It flew right over the boat at very close range, then just continued flying till it went out of sight. This was only the second ever record of this species in Britain.


We never did see the Alpine Swift (I have seen plenty since) and we didn't much care.




Why do I write this? Well, apart from the ten year anniversary of the sighting, this year has been a little reminiscent of 2002, with a flurry of Night Herons and an early Alpine Swift in Cornwall and even a brief Scops Owl on the Isles of Scilly.
Scilly has been on my mind recently too, as the damp woodland and reeds of the Lower Moors area has harboured a very elusive Northern Waterthrush since last autumn. I have seen one of these in Ireland, but am still keen to see this bird. Back in October, there was a Black-and-White Warbler, a brilliant little American humbug, in the same patch of wood. I saw this bird and spent the rest of the day looking for the Waterthrush. The closest I came was when my friend, crouched next to me, saw the bird, but before I could budge to see past the tangle of branches, it flew off!


Over the last couple of weeks the Waterthrush has again been seen fairly regularly, and each reported sighting tempts me a little more. In fact, I have resolved to go for it early next week if it continues to be seen. Having said that, it sounds like it still needs quite a large slice of luck and more than a little patience, so we shall see what happens...


It makes sense to fly over and have as long on the islands as we can, but the nostalgic side of me says to take the boat again!

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