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Your most unlikely birding experience (1 Viewer)

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Over the weekend a good friend persuaded me to join him in an attempt to see all three Hume's Warblers currently wintering in east Kent (Dover, Sandgate & Elmstone). Happily, we were successful in what in any other year would have been an impossible dream - perhaps we were the first people in the UK to see three different Hume's Warblers in a day. (It also led us to speculate just how many there may be out there!) Not so long ago seeing any wintering warbler from the far east in Britain would have been a great surprise let alone three of the same species all within a relatively small radius. I confess, though, that I was a tad disappointed that we didn't have a fly-over Alpine Swift ... or, given the current influx, a small flock of them!

Nobody could have predicted a clutch of Hume's Warbler in such a restricted orbit or the appearance of so many Alpine Swifts, so my question is what is your most unexpected or unlikely birding experience?
 
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I went to chase the white wagtail that showed up in Austin, Texas in 2020. A first state record for Texas is always a big deal, but I don't think this species was high on anyones list of expected additions to the state list.
While watching the wagtail from a river overlook, a ringed kingfisher flew downstream, rattling away. Austin is at the very northern tip of the range for this typically tropical species, and is pretty infrequently reported. It was surreal to have these two species on the same checklist.
 
While out peacefully hiking in the Dolomites, I was attacked by an Auerhahn - Western Capercaillie. Delightful up-close view while attempting to keep the fearless beast at more than trekking pole distance. The bird was quite adroit at dodging inside the pole and at me. My wife was ahead and had unknowingly roused the bird to be ready for me 10 m behind on the trail. My gentle defense postures captured in her photography were low quality slapstick movie level.
 
I once set out to see all six deer species in the UK in a day. I managed it, but Roe Deer, which I expected to be easy, was the last to fall, in a by then desperate dusk search of my local patch.

For the record, I started in the New Forest at Ober Water for Red Deer, then Bolderwood for Fallow Deer and down to Hartland Moor in Dorset for Sikas. I then drove back North-east, round the M25 and up the M1 to Little Brickhill where I added Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer before heading home to places where I knew Roe Deer would be emerging from copses to feed in fields.

John
 
Back in 2013, I had been reading the latest issue of Birdwatching magazine which had a Red Flanked Bluetail on the cover with a tagline of something like "Find one of these anywhere" and I remember thinking "yeah, if you're on Shetland or in Norfolk". Fast forward a few weeks to the 13th of October and I'm on a local bird club outing to nearby Fife and I got a bit bored hanging around near the start of a small wood in Crail with the rest of the group so I wandered on past everyone else and saw a small bird perched in front of me. From the angle I had I thought it might be a warbler. I lifted the binoculars and immediately noticed the bird had a white eye ring. Having seen Red Breasted Flycatcher previously that was what my brain defaulted to, until I realised the bird had orange-y flanks! "Check that tail! Check the tail!" yelled my subconscious at me. I did, it was blue!! And at that the bird flew off. My camera hadn't had a chance to get a photo with the encounter being less than 10 seconds long. By this time my heart was racing, in a way it never had before, or since, while birding. I raced back down the track to tell the others. Thankfully, with a bit of effort the bird was relocated, photos were taken and it stayed all day and all day the following day allowing others to catch up with what was the 4th record for mainland Fife at the time. Incredibly, one of the previous 3 records had been found in exactly the same wood in 2003 (I think) by Birdforum's very own Edenwatcher.

However, as unlikely as finding a Red Flanked Bluetail was for me that isn't quite the unlikely experience tale. 3 years later I was birding with a friend in the very same small wood, in early October, while hoping to find a migrant or two around the Crail area. She was checking the bushes along the west side of the wood and I was on the eastern side of the very small burn that runs through the middle. A small bird popped up in front of me, perched atop a small section of tree trunk from a fallen tree that had been left where it lay. I raised the binoculars and said to myself "You're kidding me!" as I realised I was looking at another Red Flanked Bluetail. Naturally, it vanished as quickly as it had arrived and I called to my friend. I said "You'll never guess what I've just found...". Having joked in the car about maybe finding another Red Flanked Bluetail in the wood though knowing the chances of doing so were very, very minute, she immediately guessed "Red Flanked Bluetail" but wouldn't believe me that I had actually just seen one.

Unlike the 2013 bird this one proved very hard to see. I knew what I'd seen was a Red Flanked Bluetail but in the brevity of the sighting I hadn't actually had time to actually register the blue tail so for the sake of my rarity description I needed to get that view. We put out word of a 'probable' RFB on the local grapevine which took quite a while to do as I couldn't get mobile phone reception (I always struggle around Crail) and eventually a few others managed to see the bird, though no-one really had views of more than a second or so. I did manage to get a few fleeting views which confirmed the colour of the tail and my pal, Wendy, managed to get what was to my knowledge the only photo of the bird taken during it's short stay (which although blurry and out of focus showed enough of the features to aid the acceptance of the find) as it stood on the path momentarily.

(In another unlikely side-note on the same date the following year after the initial find in 2013, I headed back to the Crail area to see if the proverbial lightning might strike twice. However there wasn't another Red Flanked Bluetail to be found but a visit to a very cold and windy Fife Ness did result in me managing to photograph a large diver, which thanks to efforts on here, did prove to be a White Billed Diver (which hadn't been on my radar either). At the time it was still a very rare bird in Fife but I've since seen and photographed another 2 from Fife Ness, and Ken Shaw and others have also had an increasing number of sightings in Fife (including one yesterday)).
 
I recall many years ago (1970?) visiting Portland to see Tawny Pipit, two of which had been around for a while. As my friends and I approached the field that had the Tawny Pipits, we heard & then saw a Tawny Pipit fly over. Reaching the field there were the two pipits happily feeding. On commenting that we'd seen one of them fly in, we were firmly put in our place since neither bird had flown in the last 30 mins. Collapse of stout party as the Victorians were wont to say! Fortunately, at that point we heard a loud tshlip and a face-saving third bird joined them.
 
i had a weird one a few years back around Marazion Cornwall twitching a Buff Breasted Sandpiper that had come on the pager. When I got there and enquired if it was still about someone replied it's near to the Baird's (which hadn't reached the news services yet) nice double!
 
back in 1998 i went to titchwell to see the laughing gull, i entered the hide and asked about the laughing gull someone said oh its flown off but theres a franklins gull a bit grumpy from the long drive i had look expecting to see a laughing gull but no it was franklins gull! minutes later the laughing gull flew in and for a few moments was side by side with the franklins gull.......both in breeding plumage

not many people in europe can have seen both gulls together at the same site together
 
Some years ago I was in Italy and started recalling songs of all the birds I knew from Poland, including Collared Flycatcher. Then I realized - it is exactly Collared Flycatcher what is singing now. I somehow missed that this bird breeds in Italy. I was rather surprised that I did not forget the song after years.
 
Back in distant 2018, I was very upset one evening in July in Eastern Europe. That was because a month ago I visited Lakenheath Fen. Nobody told me about the elephant in the room before I visited. I there found out that golden orioles no longer bred there.
Around 4am, I woke up and heard a bird call outside my window. It was a golden oriole. And it was using the other side of my apple tree as its perch!
The bird I at that point wanted to see more than any except an imperial eagle and some other raptors was in my village. Still, it took me 3 weeks to track it to a visible perch.
At 5am, I heard its call on one end of the village, cycled there, and saw nothing. There was a bird in a birch tree nearby, and by the time I realised it was a golden oriole on a perfect perch, it could have flown off about a dozen times! But it didn't, just sitting there. Waiting for me.
Getting photos of such an extraordinarly elusive bird was an incredible experience. Especially given it was literally my neighbour! Except it took a lot of effort to remove the dreadful noise from my photos. My hand was shaking too much that day, you see.

Despite my happiness with my photos, I then heard that a biologist who is a distant family friend managed to get an amazing photo of a golden oriole on his phone. No digiscoping, just plain phone. A thousand times better than mine, a pair in a small tree right outside his window

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7th April 1979. St Abb's Head, Borders. Myself and three friends were being a bit optimistic regarding possible spring migrants at the loch there. After a while I wandered a bit away and suddenly came across a bunting on the ground calling. Chestnutty back and strongly patterned black-and-white head. I called over the three friends and asked them what they thought it was. It sort of resembled a Reed Bunting a bit but was clearly wrong. Now none of us had thought to bone up on rare vagrant buntings this early in the year, so we got as good a description as we could and hared back to another birdwatcher's house in E. Lothian to ask for a bird guide to check up. It turned out to be an adult summer male Rustic Bunting, which at the time was the 2nd earliest ever UK record, when accepted by the BBRC (although there have since been other sightings which displaced it). It spread its tail briefly with each call, I remember.
 
In South Korea on an academic program, one summer, after a particularly dreadful rainstorm. Walking on the edge of the campus towards dusk. I look up and see dozens of Dollarbirds hawking for insects overhead, in the manner of swifts! Then joined by a few Hobbies. Amazing.
 
I've only ever got one new spot when I've been urinating. In the nature reserve at the top left of Singapore. Toilets do not have a roof so while I was relieving myself I could stare into the forest over the wall. Where I saw a pair of laced woodpeckers. (the pun writes itself)
 
I was on the beach in Kuta, Bali. Due to a toxic algae bloom, tens of thousands of fish had died and been washed ashore, very unpleasant. Any way, it wasn't unpleasant to the Bulwer's Petrel that flew in to the tidelene, veered right when it hit the beach and spent the next few minutes, navigating the brave, tourists, slalom style who were paddling in the sea.
 
18th April 2004, for me the most incredible experience ever!
Hearing a Bully “piping” outback in the wood (couldn’t see it), I decided to imitate (am a mean imitator), this “call and return” lasted perhaps a minute before said Bully flew into my neighbour’s garden with it’s mate in tow!
Eventually the “mate” flew across the garden towards the Male Bullfinch….where it morphed into a Male Hawfinch! 😮
 

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