The term ‘adrenaline rush’ is not usually associated with bird watching; however there are a small group of people within the UK for which bird watching and heart pumping excitement go hand in hand. These people are known as Twitchers.
Twitching is a term referring to people that follow news of rare birds and travel far and wide in order to catch a glimpse of an infrequent ornithological visitor to British shores. News doesn’t take long to spread amongst this small community if there are rarities about, often resulting in significant migrations of Twitchers willing to travel the length and breadth of the British Isles in order to gain their eagerly anticipated sighting.
Recently news of a Desert Wheatear at Newbiggin-by-the-sea in Northumberland prompted many Twitchers to journey from places like Essex and Sussex in order to catch a glimpse. The Desert Wheatear turned out to be a plucky little bird (no pun intended) and surprised many people by showing very little fear; frequently approaching the small crowd that had gathered to appreciate the significance of the arrival of this scarce visitor.
Due to the nature of the several thousand mile journey from Asia, Africa or the middle east it is no surprise that there averages just two sightings per year of this bird (roughly the size of your average garden bird) in Great Britain.
In a day of that was unsuited to photography its reprieve was the excitement of seeing such special birds. The few hours following the sighting of the Desert Wheatear came as a surprise to most on the return journey from Northumberland. Greater Yellowlegs, Tundra Bean Goose and a suspected Glaucous Gull were spotted within a few miles of Newbiggin itself. Greater Yellowlegs being a particular treat because it is an accidental visitor from North America and there have been just four sightings within the last decade in the UK. Due to legal reasons it was impossible to get close enough to gain a decent vantage point from which to observe this rare encounter. Even a Twitcher on a mission is not immune to trespassing laws.
To cap a breathtaking day off, as light was fading, an intermission in the journey home provided a chance encounter with a couple of Britain’s greatest aerial predators. The flood of adrenaline coursing through the veins as, from what seemed like nowhere; three Short-eared owls appeared, surprising a small crowd of onlookers. Elegantly dancing amongst each other in the dim dusk light they began to hunt. In itself a wildlife spectacle that is a pleasure to behold. However, just minutes later, reported sightings of a Great Grey Shrike were proven to be true as, close to the owls, the Shrike was spotted perching on the top of a leafless shrub. Great Grey Shrikes are famed for their gruesome food storage techniques involving impaling small birds and mammals to thorns and are uncommon residents of Britain.
This was a particularly fortunate day as far as Twitching goes but a similar experience would be well worth waiting for.
On a side note, the latest news from Donna Nook is that the Grey Seal colony is recovering faster than expected with there now being eight hundred plus seal pups in the colony despite the tragedy in November. This is brilliant news and a real winter warmer going into the Christmas holidays.
Have a very merry Christmas everybody!