Recent birding has been slow. It is July after all and even the odes are not making too much of an effort. I did make a recent post on the odes page so feel free to go over and browse, link on the side bar.

There do seem to be an awful lot of Cedar Waxwings about at the moment. They must have had a good breeding season because adults and young are now to be found in any bush with edible fruit. I snapped the one below, possibly a female, she seemed to have a brood patch when seen from a different angle. Other than that there is little to report.

IMG_2797 (2) IMG_2809 (2) IMG_2818 (2) IMG_2821 (2)

With the slow time upon us, I thought that I’d give you a preview of the next eBook, Twitching Times. In it are some 80+ tales from the various twitches I did for rare birds around the UK between 1981-2003. As the preview account has a North American angle to it, I thought that it would be suitable. Just a word on the format used. The top line with the species name is my sighting date. The BBRC reference is the British Birds Rarity Report for the specific year with the full dates that the species was present. The figures in parentheses are the number of UK records since 1958 and the number recorded in the year of the sighting. There is some twitch speak in there but if you have read ‘Going for Broke’, a snip from  then you will already be fluent.


American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus – Marton Mere, 4-February-1991.

BBRC – Lancashire, Marton Mere, 24-January to 12-May, (9/1).

New relationships are fraught with potential disasters. One such hurdle is meeting the parents of the new partner for the first time. Depending on your point of view, this can be easy or hard. For me, my introduction to my now wife Sandra’s parents was a testing and stressful experience, I’d dipped an American Bittern earlier the same day!

The date was set for the inaugural trip to the Lancashire hamlet of Preston, well I was a Nottingham lad and the cotton town seemed small in comparison. Once the date was set for our departure, a week hence, a call that evening to Birdline resulted in the immortal words (from me) F**k me, there’s an American Bittern at Marton Mere. Would it wait for me a week or should we go for it now? I decided to ‘play it cool’.

I wasn’t too familiar with the site the bittern had adopted, but knew that it was Blackpool way which is very near to Preston. When the day to travel up came, logic, well mine, suggested that it would be unwise not to go for the bittern first as Sandra’s parents were non-migratory and also unlikely to be flushed. Sandra’s perspective was a little different, as her folks knew very little about me, other than the fact that we were now sharing facilities. She was a little tense, I topped that with a better word score – trepidation.

The drive from Nottingham to Blackpool is an easy one, crossing the scenic Pennines and being mostly highway all the way and we soon found ourselves lined up with the rest of the ‘wannasees’ at the site, handily located behind Blackpool Zoo. No incongruity there, they didn’t have any American Bitterns in their bird house or garden and so the one said to be strutting its stuff at the mere had excellent credentials.

American Bittern was and still is a true rarity in the UK and those of us who had arrived at the craggy rock face of twitching after a long-staying bird in South Wales in 1981 had long departed were all naturally enthusiastic to catch up, even if some uncharitable characters in the upper echelons of birding considered it a ‘Tart’s Tick’.

After a short time for me, but a longer time in future spouse years (apparently), we had to leave Marton Mere empty handed. We’d seen several Eurasian Bitterns while there, or more likely seen one of them several times, but no American Bittern appeared so no tick. The miss was not quite devastating but close too, and breaking the gold rule of not leaving the site until it is too dark to see the bird, when it invariably shows, was hard to ignore. I suppose Sandra could have called her parents over to Marton Mere for a picnic for the first meeting, but it was never suggested. I blame myself for not thinking on my feet.

When we eventually got to Preston, Sandra’s parents were fine and we got on like a house on fire. We have even been on several vacations together since that eventful day, even birdless ones like an Italy trip to see abundant Roman rubble and some town near a volcano with very dusty streets (it looked like ash), so there was nothing to fret over after all. Duty done and an introduction to Slalom Lager later I was ready for another go at the bird. A phone call confirmed that it had showed well just after we left and plans for an early breakfast were made.

The next day we were back on site early and this time, after a mercifully short wait, the bird showed well. It wasn’t bright and gaudy, it didn’t swoop and soar, it just crept along the bankside, hid behind often abundant vegetation and jabbed at the odd fish it didn`t recognise but fancied trying anyway.

The important thing was that it was an American Bittern and we saw it. I can’t really remember what number tick it was but I hit 400 later the same year so probably in the high 390s. Having just written that last part, I now feel compelled to number the order in which lifers were added to my UK list. All neatly done on an Excel spreadsheet and cross-referenced by site and date. And they call Train spotters nerds!


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