Posts Tagged ‘Rare Birds


Horns of a Dilemma

Some time ago, in October 2001 to be exact, I was on the Isles of Scilly. Where else would you expect me to be in October? The Scilly archipelago lies some 20 something miles from the outreaching peninsula of Cornwall. Surrounded by the Atlantic, the islands are a crossroads for migrating birds; a rest haven amid the ocean.

Sadly my note books for this period have been destroyed. We’ll not go into that now but I do so regret not having them. They were a record of my thoughts and observations that I would love to have as a reference. So what follows is from my memory of the day.

I was on the beautiful island of Tresco for the day. Anyone who has been to Tresco knows what I mean when I call it beautiful. It’s a charming place with a unique atmosphere rivaled by nowhere on Earth I’ve been. Having caught the 10:30am morning boat from St Mary’s and landed at New Grimsby Quay at the North end of the Island I had come to Tresco for some particular bird. I can’t remember what it was. There are a couple of large freshwater pools on Tresco that attract duck and waders as well as rails and crakes, so to be honest it could have been anything. I just can’t remember. I can’t even recall if I saw whatever I went to see. However, I remember thinking I’d catch the early boat back to St Mary’s at 2:30 so I crossed the Helliport and made my way to Carn Near at the South of the Island to catch the return boat.

As I walked down the concrete roadway each isolated clump of vegetation seemed to be harbouring a Stonechat. As I neared the quay I could see there was a chap sitting down on the ground to the right of the path up ahead of me. He was watching something through his bins on the area of short cropped turf and gravel in front of him. I stopped and lifted my optics. ‘Bugger me’, I thought, it’s a Shorelark. I’d never seen a Shorlark on Scillies before. It was a Scillies tick! I continued walking until I was opposite the lark and took another good look. It wouldn’t have to be a long look. The boat was due.

The more I looked at it the odder it appeared. It didn’t look quite right for Shorelark. Something was different. I made the decision to forego the 2:30 boat in favour of the one leaving at 4:30. I wanted to sit down and study this bird. I remembered noting the different face pattern and the colouring of the scapulars being unfamiliar.

This week, 21 years later, the BOU accepted this bird as the first UK record of ‘Horned Lark’. This is a sub-species of Shorelark and is Nearctic in origin. Residing in the arctic region of North America and Canada.

Subsequently the lark visited other islands and I think the shot below was taken on St Agnes by Niall Machin who kindly allowed me to use his photo.

So this tale gives anyone that cares to read it a cautionary warning. Two in fact. Firstly if something doesn’t look quite right, study it … and take notes. Secondly keep your old notebooks. You’ll regret it if you don’t.


A Change

Change is inevitable. Nothing stops the same. Places change, people change, relationships change and time changes. The time had come for me to move on. I have left Falcon Cottage and have settled into a place at West Runton. I’m sorry to leave the comforting old house and the garden that has attracted so many rare birds; but time moves forward. My new flat a little ways along the coast at West Runton will serve its purpose well for the business. Thanks are due to very good friends Paul and Tony for the help they gave with the move on Monday and a select few others that have given, and continue to give, their support.

West Runton is a place of rarities too and I hope to be able to give the place the time it deserves to find a few. This is my new back garden.


When is a bird Rare?

Some birds like the Californian Condor are truly rare. There are only a handful of them left. When the last one dies they will be extinct. No more Californian Condors unless Richard Attenborough can be recalled to ‘do a’ Jurassic Park and manifest a DNA clone.

However there is another connotation of rare status. That is, if a species is encountered infrequently out of its range … it could also be said to be rare; although within the confines of its home range the species could be quite common.

Below is a photograph I took last week of a Coot. As you know Coots are not rare and the photograph is not particularly special or indeed well taken. However, it is a photograph of a rare bird. Not because of what it is … but because of where it is.

This is only the second Coot I have seen on the local reservoir in 7 years. Mallards, Tufted Ducks, Gadwall, Teal and Wigeon come and go … but Coot … hereabouts are like Essex virgins. You see, between Hickling in the south east and Felbrigg in the west there is very little standing water. If you were a Coot why would you wish to visit an area with no standing water?

Wherever it came from it’s damn well easily spooked. You only have to show it the top of your hat and it bolts for the reedbed.



But I would walk 500 miles …

Birds don’t have to be major rarities to capture someone’s attention. This Goldfinch was feeding on wildflower seed heads when we came across him the other week. If he was rare some people would walk miles to see him … or am I just proclaiming that?



Distant PGP

With some birds it is possible to get close. Very close sometimes. Dotterel, it is said, can be stroked while they are sitting on eggs; although why you would want to stroke a Dotterel is beyond my understanding.

Some birds however remain at a distance simply because it’s not possible to get closer and so it was with the Pacific Golden Plover at the end of last month on the reserve at Cley. Always distant never photographable but a great find.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Feb 2023


%d bloggers like this: