Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Western Swamphen, Minsmere, and White Stork, Bedlington - 2nd August 2016

Some shameless twitching, but worth it to see a potential first for Britain (that'll be the Swamphen, not the Stork, obvs...).

The Western (Purple) Swaphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) at Minsmere RSPB was first seen on 31st July. I won't recount the details of how the bird was found - you can read the finder's account on BirdGuides here and discussion of the bird on BirdForum here.

The Western Swamphen was on the small poll across from the South hide, a ten-minute walk from the visitor centre. When I arrived (around 08:00) a couple of the 25-or-so birders present informed me
it had just gone into the reeds. Within ten minutes it was back out, and spent the next half-an-hour making its way along the back of the pool.

Western Swamphen, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk - 2nd August 2016

Western Swamphens are impressive birds, both for their colour and size. The bird's legs and bill are the bright red of 1970s plastic toys, and areas of the plumage ranges from slate grey to blue suede to Cadbury's Dairy Milk purple. But it was when it walked past a Moorhen, towering over it like Gulliver in Lilliput, that you really appreciated the bird's size.

I'd seen this species before, on the Ebro Delta in Spain, back when it was called Purple Swamphen (before being split from African Swamphen). My photography skills have improved (only) slightly since then...

 Purple Swamphen, Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

In fact when I saw the Minsmere bird on the pool I had a real sense of déja vu about this Ebro Delta bird. The habitat and behavior of the bird (feeding along the edge of thepool, keeping close to the reed boundary) were identical. One difference is you don't generally find wildfowlers' used shotgun cartridges on RSPB reserves...

After having my fill of this striking bird, I had look around the reserve and took the long route back to the car park. The Scrape was quiet, with few waders except for Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover and Redshank; but I could hear Bearded Tits over the reed bed. I had great views of a showy Green Woodpecker, but the undoubted highlight was a juvenile Common Cuckoo on the edge of the woods.

Common Cuckoo, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk - 2nd August 2016

After seeing the Western Swamphen, which is almost certain to admitted to the British List, I clearly now had tick-fever. Faced with the long journey home, I decided to make it longer by going via the Bedlington in Greater London, in order to see a White Stork

It's long journey to see a bird I'd seen before (both in the UK and France), but so many (all?) White Storks seen in Yorkshire (certainly in West Yorkshire) are not considered wild due to the free-flying population at Harewood House between Leeds and Harrogate. So, if I wanted to see a kosha White Stork in the UK, it would have to be away from Yorkshire, and this bird (part of a small influx following prolonged dry weather further south - cf Western Swamphen) fitted the bill perfectly.

 White Stork, Bedlington, Greater London - 2nd August 2016

Another striking bird, also towering over the birds around it, including the 20+ Grey Herons on site. Worth the effort to get down to see it. In twitching terms, not a bad day at all.

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