When panic sets in! The strange and hard-to-define exhilaration of encountering a rare bird

"I COULD hardly believe that I had got a Baillon's crake calling on my local patch, and, as the significance hit me,  panic started to set in . . ."

So writes Wayne Gillatt in the 2021 edition of the Lincolnshire Bird Report which has just been published.

Leaf forward a couple of pages, and here is David Wright describing his discovery of a Bonaparte's gull roosting alongside black-headed and common gulls in a channel between two dune ridges at Gibraltar Point bird observatory, near Skegness.

"As I tried to switch between my 'scope and binoculars to follow the bird in flight, I panicked and lost it."

Panic? Two birders, both using the same word.

It seems an odd term to describe an unexpected encounter with a rare bird, but it is an emotion with which  most keen birders will be familiar at least once, if not many times, in their ornithological careers.

The panic is deepest when you are a lone observer and unable to snatch a photograph or sound recording to help provide crucial species  verification. Will you be believed?

Luckily for Wayne, not only did the vagrant crake at Alkborough Flats, near Scunthorpe, tarry for a couple of days, but he was able (with some difficulty) to rouse a pal from his slumbers, and between them,  the pair were able not only to monitor the bird but also to secure snaps to back up their sound recording.

By contrast, David was was unable to secure either a photo or a sound recording. Nor did he have a witness because the bird had flown off before observatory manager Kev Wilson, whom he had alerted, was able to respond to the tip-off - he arrived moments too late.

But because he was familiar with the species from sightings in the past and because his notes were sufficiently detailed and coherent, the record rightly sailed past the Rarities Committees.

These two Finders' Reports - plus Graham Catley's commentary on another rarity, a white-tailed lapwing -  are among  highlights of this excellent county bird report.

They capture with vibrancy that hard-to-define adrenaline buzz that  can often make birding such an intensely enjoyable pursuit.

There are plenty of other good things in the report - for instance, an account by Geoff Mullett of the breeding season for a pair of peregrines on St James' Church in Louth and an exhaustive  study of how pigeon and dove (including turtle) species have been faring within the county.

As with the reports from previous years, the systematic list is a browser’s delight, charting every species recorded within the county during 2021, and, in some cases, their distribution and  population fluctuations.

Shortcomings or oversights? Just a few.

In the section on the shag, there is a photo, taken at Covenham reservoir, of a bird with a ring on its right leg.

This a species not often seen at inland waters, so it would have been interesting to know where the bird had been ringed - but there is no clue in the caption.

Nor is there any mention in the chapter on bird ringing which is long on commentary but falls somewhat short on precious detail.

Given the species' special status within the avifauna of Lincolnshire, more information would also have been welcome on why only three juveniles fledged from eight little tern pairs at the county's only breeding site, Gibraltar Point. Were any lessons learned?

And what prospects, if any, for the county's nightingales given that the species now appears to have been lost to its last known breeding site at Whisby, near Lincoln.

There is also a slight tangle about the status of some of the species - for instance, the twite which is described as "fairly common, declining to scarce coastal winter visitor". Which is it it - fairly common or scarce?

However, these quibbles are minor only. The editors have done an extraordinary job in compiling such a superb 250-page page volume which is authoritative and entertaining throughout.

Last but not least, as with previous reports, the colour photographs are seldom less than sumptuous.

It would have been easy to have succumbed to the temptation of putting a rarity on the front cover, so plaudits to whoever made the decision - a correct one - that Mark Johnson's magnificent study of a grey partridge should take pride of place.

* The 2021 Lincolnshire Bird Report is free to members of the Lincolnshire Bird Club and £15 (plus P&P) for non-members.

https://www.lincsbirdclub.co.uk/

 

 

  • Unknown said:
    It would have been easy to have succumbed to the temptation of putting a rarity on the front cover, so plaudits to whoever made the decision - a correct one - that Mark Johnson's magnificent study of a grey partridge should take pride of place.

    They are very rare!

    Unknown said:
    There is also a slight tangle about the status of some of the species - for instance, the twite which is described as "fairly common, declining to scarce coastal winter visitor". Which is it it - fairly common or scarce?

    Depends where you go.  Here (coastal Suffolk) they are scarce.  On Iona they are much less so.

  • Good point about the grey partridge, Clare - perhaps I should have used the word 'vagrant' instead of 'rarity'.
  • That would certainly have worked.