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Three is a Magic Number

It’s been a busy few weeks, so I wondered what to write about in my blog. Several topics were floating around in my head, some good days out butterflying, a hunt for Tawny Owls that resulted in great views and a nice picture....... but what to choose? Well, it was chosen for me as I walked along the main track on my local patch, Newchurch Common. I glanced down and there by my side was a cow parsley leaf with a leaf miner (micro-moth larva) trail inside it and it hinted on what I should write about! Weirdly the leaf miner’s burrow trail had formed a perfect number ‘3’ within the leaf! So how had 3 been important in my nature watching in the past few weeks? Easy, I’d travelled to 3 far flung sites to see 3 rare birds and added 3 Lifers to my UK Bird List to go past seeing 500 species in the UK. Three is a Magic Number!

First of these was the Asian Desert Warbler in Northumberland. A previous blog entry documented this but a quick summary follows. I headed some 240 miles over to the NE coast setting off before dawn to successfully twitch a rare asian vagrant to our shores. The 13th record ever of Asian Desert Warbler was a male singing in dunes by the causeway on the Holy Island side of the drive over to this historic Northumberland site. My early start was rewarded with superb views of the bird and listening to it’s flutey, trilling song was magical in the early morning sunshine on Holy Island. Bird number 499 had been added to my UK Life List, but hey it’s just a number and I was pretty chilled about getting to 500.

I wouldn’t have too long to wait to try to reach that milestone, but circumstances dictated that my wait was marginally longer that it may have been! When news of a Greater Sand Plover broke I knew I needed this bird for my list but, and it was a big but, it was in Scotland and the current Covid-19 travel restrictions in Scotland meant that I wasn’t supposed to drive across the border to see it! So sticking strictly to the law I waited hopeful that the bird would stick around. The restrictions were lifted on the weekend and the bird was still present, so come Monday morning I was up at dawn again and travelling north again! This time I had to drive even further, 260 miles to be precise, but again this was done smoothly and easily in the early morning and I turned up at Tyninghame Bay as a few other birders were just arriving. Walking out with locals meant that I got quickly to the correct location and very soon I was watching a juvenile Greater Sand Plover through my scope, my 500th UK tick was in the bag!! My fellow birders suggested a bottle of something fizzy and alcoholic to celebrate but I managed with my bottle of Vimto cordial in the car, a true ‘Northern Lad’ celebration! A full day was made of my journey to Lothian with a visit to neaby North Berwick to watch Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and of course the spectacle of 150,000 Gannets on Bass Rock just offshore. Like my last twitch I set off home in good time so as to miss any bad traffic and rolled back in at home feeling pretty fresh and definitely pretty elated, adrenaline on these successful twitches must play its part.

I then didn’t have long to wait before I had that chance to head out for another new bird, this time though I had the luxury of it only being 50 miles away, a piece of cake in comparison to the previous two trips. For a few days a Lammergeier had been seen in various sites in the Peak District and then the intrepid work of a twitching pal of mine finally pinned down where the bird was roosting. So a bit after dawn this time I headed east and ended up in South Yorkshire, not too far from my native Sheffield, this really was home turf! Driving there and parking up was the easy bit, I knew what was ahead of me so I headed out across the moors. For 3 miles I traversed the moors on a reasonable flat track, albeit with a constant slight incline. Then the hard slog began, a mile up and down, through thick heather and through gulleys and deep bogs I picked my way carefully towards the end point. Finally I reached a grassy slope where many birders were already assembled watching the cliffs opposite. News was that the bird had left a couple of hours earlier and a long wait was probable. As expected 5 hours after its previous showing no sign, but all present were still hopeful. A few folk drifted away, either having seen it at dawn or just some giving up totally but then a shape loomed over Back Tor, a huge bird was heading towards us, the Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture as it is also called, had shown at last! The bird drifted over us with hardly a flap of its wings and floated off effortlessly northwards, an awesome sight. An hour or so later it reappeared and showed even better, going past at head height only 30m away, its piercing white eye seemed to be looking over at us as we all watched the unbelievable sight of a vulture in Yorkshire. Other raptors shared the skies with this behemoth, Hobby, Merlin, Kestrel and Buzzard all being seen but the one that took our breath away was the vulture. After 45mins continuously in view it drifted off south and we all drew breath again. This was my cue to make the 4 mile slog back to the car, but pleasant company and chat made it seem all the quicker. Another successful day and relatively early home once more.

So 3 really was the magic number, my British Bird List had increased by 3 and stands at 501 and 3 really magical birds had been seen in just a few weeks post Covid-19 full Lockdown. Who’d have thought that summer 2020 would be so good for rare birds?

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