Wee­don’s World

Some­times, very rarely, in the world of bird­watch­ing, light­ning strikes twice, and mir­a­cles can hap­pen more than once, writes Mike

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

Mir­a­cles can hap­pen in bird­watch­ing, as Mike found to his de­light

WHEN YOU ARE out bird­watch­ing in a fa­mil­iar area, do you have a habit of look­ing at a par­tic­u­lar patch of scrub or pool or grassy slope and re­mem­ber­ing a bird you’ve seen there pre­vi­ously? I do, and I of­ten have a strong long­ing to see that kind of bird again in the same spot. In the spring there are cer­tain short-cropped fields with rough hedge lin­ings, which I know have at­tracted Ring Ouzels (and I al­ways hope they will again). And on cer­tain gravel pits and lakes, I re­mem­ber pre­vi­ous Lit­tle Terns which have dropped in and dream of more. But there are other places where the ap­pear­ance of a scarce bird has been a one-off, yet I still look wist­fully, in the hope of his­tory re­peat­ing. It hap­pened to me at the week­end. I was driv­ing along the River Wel­land in south Lin­colnshire, along a stretch where the road runs along the river­side for a few miles, giv­ing a chance to see un­usual wa­ter­birds, es­pe­cially ones which have come from the sea. The Deep­ing High Bank has pro­duced some great birds, re­cently. In the last year, there have been Slavo­nian Grebe, a Shag and more re­cently Great White Egret and a small flock of Scaup have been lin­ger­ing. A cou­ple of years ago, a Long-tailed Duck ap­peared along the river there. So, nat­u­rally, on Satur­day morn­ing, as I was driv­ing along, and ap­proach­ing a larger than nor­mal flock of Tufted Ducks, I was think­ing wouldn’t it be good to find a Long-tailed Duck, here. But it wasn’t to be, and I went gulling in­stead, back in Peter­bor­ough. Of course, I had barely set­tled in to sift­ing through the heav­ing masses at the lo­cal tip, when I got a call, say­ing that there was a Long-tailed Duck on the Deep­ing High Bank. I must have driven past it an hour be­fore! Luck­ily, it was still there, in among that flock of Tufties, though now a mile fur­ther down­stream. Back at the end of Fe­bru­ary 1996, when my friend Kevin Durose lived in Lin­colnshire, he was fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar stretch of road along­side the other Lin­colnshire river which flows out into The Wash by Framp­ton Marsh: the Witham. The Witham flows from the north-west, via Bos­ton. Kevin was even fur­ther up­stream, near Tat­ter­shall Bridge, when he saw a diver in the river. It was an adult win­ter White-billed Diver, and one of the most spec­tac­u­lar, leg­endary, fa­mous and no­to­ri­ous birds of its era. White-billed Divers were much rarer in the UK in those days and even then, al­most ex­clu­sively on the sea. A bird so far in­land on this rel­a­tively nar­row river was out­ra­geous. It could have been one of the most cel­e­brated twitches, but in­stead I can’t tell you how many bird­watch­ers have told me they went to tick it and in­stead saw it breath­ing its last breath (or al­ready dead), af­ter suc­cumb­ing to a fish­er­man’s hook, two days af­ter it was first found. On 20 Jan­uary, this year, a mi­nor mir­a­cle oc­curred. A few miles up­stream of where Kevin found his diver, 21 years ago, a White-billed Diver was pho­tographed on the River Witham. Nat­u­rally, the twitch was on. This bird, a ju­ve­nile, was luck­ier than the ‘orig­i­nal’, still be­ing present along the same stretch of river be­tween Wood­hall Spa and Stix­would to at least the end of Jan­uary (and luck­ily, favour­ing an area away from most an­gling ac­tiv­ity). Surely, the odds against one of th­ese ivory-billed beau­ties turn­ing up on this same in­land stretch of river were not far off find­ing one of its ex­tinct wood­pecker equiv­a­lents in a south­ern US swamp for­est. I paid my re­spects on Sun­day. It was con­stantly fish­ing and seem­ingly just about fear­less, de­spite emerg­ing from ev­ery dive to see a bank of lenses star­ing at it and click­ing away. It was more both­ered by a cou­ple of spaniels one of the pho­tog­ra­phers had with him. In fact, it showed a great re­luc­tance to dive at all while the dogs were on the bank, which at least kept it neatly in range of the cam­eras. I had only seen one pre­vi­ous White-billed Diver in the UK; back in March 2007 at Hayle, Corn­wall. That bird was very oblig­ing, and also fear­less, fish­ing for flat­fish and crabs even into the shal­lows in the town. But it was in the mid­dle of a wing moult and couldn’t fly at the time, so, lacked a lit­tle in aes­thet­ics. The Witham bird looked per­fect, im­mac­u­late and healthy. Let’s hope it re­mains so. What a mirac­u­lous bird!

It was more both­ered by a cou­ple of spaniels... and showed a great re­luc­tance to dive while the dogs were on the bank

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

LOON STAR White-billed Diver, Wood­hall Spa, Lin­colnshire, 29 Jan­uary

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