The wildlife highlight of this week for me has to be an encounter with a Water Rail. I thought my first meeting with these bird might be a winters day down at Valley Wetlands RSPB reserve, however it turned out that I would first meet this gorgeous bird down on the Isles of Scilly. I visited Scilly in October, visiting my very good friend Hilary that I met that there last year as a volunteer for the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust. Whilst enjoying the beautiful scenery, boat trips and the Scilly Disco (legendary!), I also made time for a spot of twitching.
Scilly is the home of the ‘Twitcher’. With it’s extreme South-Westlerly position it acts as a sink for all manner of lost birds and geographically it’s ideal to search, especially with so many dedicated birders to cover the islands.
Just to differentiate, ‘Twitchers’ are those that pursue species of bird in order to compile a list: a year list, a British List, a foreign list or perhaps a life list. There are also ‘birders’ who watch the behaviours and habits of birds from their back garden to the mountain tops. As with all things this is spectral, one can both enjoy the behaviours of birds and also compile a species list – obviously! I just wanted to stress the point that some people are much more towards the ‘Twitching’ end of the spectrum and that a lot of these people end up on Scilly in October.
Whilst I was on St Mary’s in October there was a Northern Waterthrush, an American species, that was a must see. Having spent an afternoon snorkelling around Toll Island, I was inappropriately dressed in flip-flops as I went in search of this beautiful speckly bird. The bird was located behind the dump and I had to trudge through black slude and got flithy! That time, there was no bird to be seen. Undeterred, I returned at sunrise the following morning with birder friend Paul Long (he took me on my very first twitch!) and whilst we “dipped” on the Waterthrush I saw my first Water Rail – I loved it. It was a strange experience because the huge crowd gathered there were disappointed by it’s appearance because they were ‘twitching’ and wanted to see their new species. Well for me, the Water Rail was just that – I went back to cook breakfast with a smile on my face.
The Water Rail I saw this week was just the second I’d seen and an Anglesey first for me. This sighting was particularly exciting because it just ran across the road in front of us – a usually very secretive bird giving us a spectacular view. Ken was in fact driving and had he not been there I might not of known what it was. Seeing it out of context and with the naked eye (as opposed to binoculars) I couldn’t work it out. It was so tiny and so slim, it looked like a shrunken, ironed version of the bird I’d seen on Scilly. It was thoroughly gorgeous!
So, in order to explain the title of this blog – Naturebites proposes a six hour birdrace to see as many different species of birds as you can in your chosen county! If you are a hardcore twitcher or just want to get out and see birds then this is for you. We all have various commitments so all I’m asking is that you pick a day from 1st-7th of February. This is a little way off but I wanted you have chance to get it in your diaries. Please do not be deterred if you are a novice in birding terms, it is precisely you that I want on board. If you cannot hook up with an experienced birder for the event then email me at email@example.com telling me where you are and I’ll see if I can add you to a team. Please also register any teams to the birdrace by email, telling me who’s in your team, when you propose to do it and where. Please click on and read Some (Simple) Rules for the birdrace and I’ve also provided a species tick-list for you to print off to use on the day (isn’t handwritten just so much nicer!?). The list will not be comprehensive and will vary depending on where you undertake the challenge so feel free to add other species to the bottom. And of course, I want to know how you do! So send me your results after the event and we can establish a winning county!
Hope you can join us!