As I’ve said before, I’m not a twitcher. Hopping around the country chasing individual species just isn’t me. But if a rare bird is relatively close, or is somewhere I’d like to visit anyway, then I see no reason not to. With that in mind, Sunday I headed for Whitby to hopefully see a Desert Wheatear.
Rare birds can be exciting. They can also be disappointing. That disappointment can be because it is, frankly, a boring-looking bird (I’m looking at you here Pied-Billed Grebe). But it can also be because the experience doesn’t meet the hype. The Desert Wheatear has been getting hyped beyond belief since it showed up near Whitby Abbey on 23rd December. “Amazing views” and “It will come within a couple of feet” all set a high bar for a lost North African migrant. Plus, lost birds eventually tend to move on. So was it to be a disappointing experience?
When we arrived it was easy to spot the small group of birdwatchers huddled next to a metal gate, staring at a distant barn – so the bird was still around. We could see it, just, off hanging around with some Stonechats. Then, just as my Dad decided to go for a wander to the Abbey, a cry went up of “It’s moving”. Sure enough, it had flown in for a closer view.
The male is a lovely little bird, and I would have been happy with this sort of view. But he moved closer, and closer.
Soon, as prophesied, he was hopping around at the feet of the birders, maintaining the gate as the sacred line of demarcation between us and him.
He seemed as interested in us as we were in him, and hopped up to various posts and drystone wall to get a closer look. He was so tame I suspect he would have fed from the hand, in fact I’m certain someone has been going and putting food down as he kept looking expectantly at us.
To give an idea of how close it now was, have a look at this photo with bird and watchers all easily identifiable.
There was one last treat to come too. As you can see, he is off to my right here. He flew up, Dad said “where has it gone?”, and I was happily able to reply with the seasonally appropriate “he’s behind you”, as the bird was now sat on a wall just a couple of feet from our heads.
I can honestly say this is one of my all-time favourite birding moments. To have what is currently Britain’s rarest visitor sit and look quizzically at me from less than half-a-metre away, is a treat, a source of joy and wonder. I had to lower my camera and just look at him with the naked eye, too close for binoculars, and I even spoke to him despite the throng that may have thought me odd for doing so.
If you haven’t seen it, and it is convenient, you really should try.
I wanted to give him a blog to himself, so there is a follow-up post with a few other things from Whitby and Scarborough. But for now I leave you on the best, most obliging, rare bird in the UK.