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Secret Birds

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Submitted by Gavin Haigh on Sun, 17/05/2020 - 22:15

Skywatching has become a slow game since the Red Kites stopped coming by. Even so, in recent days I've given it half an hour here, twenty minutes there, and so on, but for very little return. And then I stepped outside after dinner this evening and the first bird I saw was a Hobby drifting NE, its white cheek gleaming in the evening sun. Two minutes later an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull went S overhead. Since the #BWKM0 listing began nearly two months ago, that's my 8th and 3rd respectively. Eagerly I put in another half-hour stint. Nothing...

Like many birders I got involved in #BWKM0 because of the lockdown. Lockdown has dramatically changed the way I do birding. Even before lockdown began, the Covid-19 situation had me wondering what I would do if I chanced upon a rare bird. My default would normally be to release news as rapidly as possible...but now? Definitely not. However, that's easy to say...

On Friday evening a flock of Bee-eaters was discovered along the River Otter near Budleigh Salterton in E Devon. They went to roost. Sensibly the news was kept local rather than widely broadcast, and the morning twitch was consequently small. But suppose that rather than 13 European Bee-eaters it had been just one Blue-cheeked Bee-eater? The need to keep that news a bit quiet would be a very different matter! And the unhappy coincidence would not be lost on any birder who was twitching back in 1987!

News of this one widely broadcast. Is that the correct expression?

A smart Brown Shrike stayed at Flamborough from 12th-14th May. Again, the Covid-19 situation made it impossible to release news at the time. A much rarer bird (though the third for Flamborough) but birders who knew nothing about the shrike's presence until after its departure might easily be able to shrug their shoulders and agree how circumstances sometimes make it vital to suppress such rarities in these dangerous times. But suppose it had been a Long-tailed Shrike? The necessity for suppression would have been the same though. Wouldn't it?

I wonder if there are a few secret birds out there right now? Really, really rare things, happily pootling about in their birdy world, totally unaware of the emotional havoc they have wreaked upon some hapless birder. Imagine one evening discovering, say, a Wallcreeper in a remote little quarry. Gagging with euphoria you check the back of your camera. Yes!! Only record shots but yes, yes, YES!!! Official Dream Find!!!

But how long would it take for the reality of the situation to sink in? The only route to this quarry is a long, narrow, winding footpath; there is no alternative. All the surrounding land is owned by a farmer who hates twitchers. There is parking for three cars. Who do you tell? And when? What about your mates? But what about their mates? Aaagh!! Hating yourself, you decide to tell no one and pray that it leaves overnight. You'll concoct some story to make it look okay. Your phone was dead and your car broke down and you got mugged and then passed out from injuries and heat exhaustion, and... Yes, you'll think of something.

The following day you are back before first light. As the morning sun alights upon the quarry face, so does the Wallcreeper, and your heart sinks. Life will never be quite the same again...

I wonder what secret birds will surface in the coming months...?

Gavin Haig