Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Which one's the rarity?

Every birder likes to see a rarity, specially a "lifer". And every birder dreams of the day when he finds one, rather than turning up at someone else's find along with an army of other "twitchers". But it is an activity that can sear your soul. Let me give you a couple of examples.
One: I went to Minsmere to meet up with my old Ringwood mates, Mike and Martin, partly because they had told me there was a "Semi-palmated Sandpiper" there, a real rarity. I arrived, sat next to them in the hide and followed their directions to the bird, a diminutive creature on a far sandbank. In fact there were a lot of "diminutive creatures" on the far sandbank. "Sorry, which one's the Semipalmated Sandpiper?" "The one that's limping," came the reply.
I located the limping bird, but as far as I am concerned, I have not seen a Semipalmated Sandpiper.
Two: I was at Radipole in Dorset with a young and excellent birder called Bruce Carswell. We approached a group training their scopes on a gull flock.
"Ring-billed Gull," says the senior guy in answer to our query. So we look, we follow the directions, we find the bird, us it looked like an immature Common Gull. Neither Bruce nor I disputed the senior guy's identification. It was just that we couldn't see what distinguished it. So, Bruce and I decided to go on our way into the reserve and look again later. When we looked again later, we couldn't find the bird in question, at least, nothing that was different from the several immature Common Gulls that were there. So, I have not seen a Ring-billed Gull.
In my early days of birding in Christchurch Harbour, I, one spring, found a WoodLark on Warren Hill. I submitted a written description (you always have to do that with rare or uncommon birds). And it was rejected. I was indignant. Some twelve years later, I agreed that I could not be sure it was a Woodlark.
The moral of this story is simple: if you want to avoid the searing of your soul, the first person you must be honest with is yourself. Kid yourself, and it will come back to haunt you. Mind you, I still think it was a Woodlark. I saw that black and white primary covert bar. Honestly I did .........

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