Wee­don’s World

Mike couldn’t re­sist tak­ing a pil­grim­age to south Lin­colnshire to pay homage to one of the most beau­ti­ful rare birds of the win­ter

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - 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

Mike mar­vels at a beau­ti­ful rare win­ter bird in Lin­colnshire – a Bluethroat

WHEN I WAS a young man, back in the mid 1980s, in the days of free univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion and stu­dent grants, In­ter­rail­ing in the sum­mer hol­i­days was, if you will par­don my French, de rigueur. For about £120 (which seemed cheap even then) you could travel just about any­where in Europe (apart from the still Com­mu­nist east, if I re­mem­ber rightly) for a month. It was Septem­ber 1985 when my friend Si­mon and I headed off to have a look round Europe on a shoe­string. Nat­u­rally, I wanted to do a bit of bird­ing, and armed with a copy of Good­ers’ Where to Watch Birds in Europe, per­suaded my trav­el­ling com­pan­ion that we should start by head­ing up to Abisko, 150 miles north of the Arc­tic Cir­cle in Swedish La­p­land. But we had gear for Mediter­ranean sun and not for Arc­tic camp­ing. I re­mem­ber wear­ing just about all my clothes in my sleep­ing bag and still be­ing ut­terly frozen dur­ing the early au­tumn Arc­tic night. But, I digress. My real point is that it was 32 years ago, in north­ern Swe­den, that I saw my first Bluethroat, though, sadly, not in the full breed­ing fin­ery that I knew so well from star­ing at pic­tures in books. Then, it is the blue which grabs you. Blue in birds is al­ways beau­ti­ful. Think King­fish­ers, or even Blue Tits, think Jays’ wing feath­ers. In North Amer­ica, they have blue­birds, in Asia a host of lovely chats and fly­catch­ers adorned in glo­ri­ous blue. When I saw my first male Blue-and­white Fly­catcher in a spring for­est in Hokkaido (north­ern Ja­pan), I felt my knees go weak and had to lean on a tree for sup­port! But, I digress, again. I am try­ing to rem­i­nisce about Bluethroats. I love them. I’ve gorged on views of them across Europe from Spain to Hun­gary; in Asia in Jor­dan, Kaza­khstan and In­dia; and even in Egypt on spring pas­sage. As is hinted at by their be­ing in the genus Lus­cinia (ie the same as the nightin­gales), these lit­tle chats are also beau­ti­ful singers, belt­ing out their rapid mimicry-filled song from a reedbed or from a wet for­est edge. But it is their looks which make them such de­sir­able birds, for us bird­watch­ers and lovers of blue… How­ever, un­til last au­tumn, I had never seen one in the UK. This may sur­prise some, as they are ‘reg­u­lar’ pas­sage birds, and there was no real ex­cuse (stingi­ness?) why I didn’t go to see the showy whitespot­ted singer which was at Wel­ney WWT, Nor­folk for a cou­ple of months in spring 2010. My first in the UK was a bird I found with my friend Will in Skeg­ness in early Oc­to­ber 2016. We were watch­ing a Wheatear on a nar­row track when a Bluethroat came out of the ad­ja­cent bushes and flashed its un­mis­tak­able or­ange and black tail. It hopped around some more and van­ished for good. As Bluethroats are now far less reg­u­lar than they used to be on pas­sage in the UK, we were pretty pleased with our find. And it was a UK tick for me, of course. But this feel­ing must have been noth­ing com­pared to the vis­it­ing birder who found a Bluethroat at Wil­low Tree Fen LWT, in south Lin­colnshire, on 10 Fe­bru­ary. It was a nasty, cold, sleety, snowy day, that Fri­day; but the pho­tos fil­ter­ing onto Twit­ter un­mis­tak­ably showed a Bluethroat. Nam­ing no names, some cried foul, point­ing out that grass in the pho­tos looked too ‘sum­mery’, the gravel too dry for the lo­ca­tion claimed. And, surely, there has never been a Fe­bru­ary Bluethroat in the UK, has there? The next morn­ing, there was talk of hats be­ing pre­pared for hu­man con­sump­tion, as the Bluethroat was in ex­actly the same spot as it had been in Fri­day’s snow. Will took my son Ed and I to twitch the dear bedrag­gled beauty in the freez­ing wet of Sun­day. What a cracker! I took the Tues­day off work to see it again in sun­shine, when it seemed like a new bird, sleek and perky. As was clear from Sun­day, it didn’t re­ally need the ex­ces­sive meal­worms some pho­tog­ra­phers had scat­tered over the track; it was feed­ing well, nat­u­rally, and was tamely ap­proach­ing, fear­lessly, to­wards the wait­ing (lens-wield­ing) hu­mans. It re­ally is a lovely bird. I say ‘is,’ as two weeks after the Bluethroat’s dis­cov­ery, it is still show­ing to all com­ers. It has a lively, charis­matic char­ac­ter, but best of all is the splash of blue on the breast that de­lights the eye ev­ery time. Per­haps, if it stays a bit longer, it may even get a blue throat!

The grass... looked too ‘sum­mery’, the gravel too dry. And surely there has never been a Bluethroat in Fe­bru­ary, has there?

TRUE BLUE In dry, sunny con­di­tions, the Lin­colnshire Bluethroat was ut­terly beau­ti­ful

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