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