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Birds live on bird re­serves. Stuff and non­sense. Please don’t fall for the cu­ri­ously widely-held be­lief that the place to find, see and watch birds must be bird re­serves. It is al­most a dan­ger­ous be­lief, which some­how ‘ghet­toises’ wildlife, sug­gest­ing it only has a proper place in land set aside for it by the grace of Man. Dan­ger­ous, I say, be­cause if you can hap­pily think of birds be­ing safe and sound, tucked away in their area of pro­tec­tion, then it be­comes rel­a­tively easy to ig­nore their plight (or oth­er­wise) else­where. In re­al­ity, birds live where they find a de­cent bit of habi­tat (for them). And this, of course, means they can turn up all over the place. And also, of course, this means scarce and rare birds, as well as the com­mon ones. Think­ing lo­cal and in the ex­treme, here in Peter­bor­ough, in late Novem­ber 2012, a Blyth’s Reed War­bler was pho­tographed by a lo­cal pho­tog­ra­pher who was look­ing to snap King­fish­ers at Ferry Mead­ows CP. There are birds out there to be found. Find­ing them, how­ever, is an­other mat­ter, al­to­gether. One of the rea­sons that last year was very poor for me, lo­cally (in terms of my year list), was that we have suf­fered a re­cent ‘brain drain’ of bird-find­ing bird­ers; half a dozen of the most pro­lific rare bird find­ers have left the area or faded off the bird­ing scene. We have lost some of the es­sen­tial crit­i­cal mass of bird-find­ing. How­ever, the last week has seen a cou­ple of ex­cel­lent birds found well off piste by two renowned lo­cal find­ers (or more ac­cu­rately one lo­cal and one for­mer lo­cal ‘just vis­it­ing’). This morn­ing, I was out be­fore sun­rise on a twitch­ing mis­sion to some open farm­land with a typ­i­cal fen wind farm east of Peter­bor­ough. The rea­son I was stand­ing around with frost on my toot­sies at first light is that two days ago for­mer Peter­bo­rian bird-find­ing mas­ter (turned award-win­ning Nor­folk-based bird pho­tog­ra­pher), Kevin Du Rose, found a Rough-legged Buz­zard while do­ing an eco­log­i­cal sur­vey around the wind farm.

Over the week­end, the tiny war­bler lost it­self with ease in the tangle of grass, frus­trat­ing many vis­it­ing bird­watch­ers. But it is still there... and may have been in its cho­sen area for months

How long this beau­ti­ful rap­tor had been in res­i­dence, we can only spec­u­late, but it may have been around for sev­eral months. It has clearly found a spot to its lik­ing, with plenty of food. But the open coun­try around here is vast, and it not be­ing a ‘des­ig­nated’ na­ture re­serve, the bird’s chances of be­ing found were very re­mote. How many other Rough-legged Buz­zards there are out there in seem­ingly equally-suit­able fen­land habi­tat around here is to­tally un­known. But I would not be sur­prised if it is more than zero. The se­cond ex­am­ple is an al­to­gether rarer bird in Cam­bridgeshire, a Dart­ford War­bler, per­haps the fifth DART­FORD WAR­BLER Prob­a­bly just a fifth record for Cambs was not a bad ‘gar­den tick’ for the finder ever in the county (in­clud­ing a 19th Cen­tury record). It was found by a birder who has been men­tioned by me be­fore, An­drew Gar­dener. An­drew re­cently moved to the north­ern edge of the vil­lage of Coates, which is the next place west from the more fa­mous site of Elder­nell, which has a look­out over the Nene Washes. On this north­ern fringe of Coates vil­lage, the farmer has al­lowed his field to grow into a lovely tangle of grass, Cow Pars­ley and a few tiny rose bushes and clumps of Bram­bles. It is Barn Owl coun­try, and at least three male Stonechats have been win­ter­ing there. In many ways, it re­sem­bles the ‘rewil­ded’ grass­land of the Great Fen area, south of Peter­bor­ough. Last Thurs­day af­ter­noon, An­drew looked out of his win­dow and there was a Dart­ford War­bler. I was in the dawn posse of five on the frozen Fri­day, and even­tu­ally the bird was re­lo­cated and the views were un­be­liev­able, as this great county rar­ity warmed it­self in the early sun. Over the week­end, the tiny war­bler lost it­self with ease in the tangle of grass, frus­trat­ing many vis­it­ing bird­watch­ers. But it is still there as I write (at the end of Fe­bru­ary) and, like the Rough-legged Buz­zard, it may have been at its cho­sen patch for months, al­ready. The war­bler was found be­cause it was on An­drew’s doorstep (and on his patch); the Rough-legged Buz­zard was found be­cause KDR was vis­it­ing for a sur­vey. A few weeks ago, he was also vis­it­ing the Peter­bor­ough area and found an ul­tra-rare Amer­i­can Her­ring Gull at a chip fac­tory! There are birds, rare birds, out there, you just need bird­ers to find them. But don’t ex­pect all the birds to be on a bird re­serve; that is stuff and non­sense... Mike is an ob­ses­sive patch lis­ter and keen wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher in his home city of Peter­bor­ough, where he lives with his wife, Jo, and chil­dren, Jas­mine and Ed­die. You can see his pho­tos at weed­world.blogspot.com

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