A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Little Bustard kicks off the New Year!

As my computer physically set on fire over Christmas, I’ve been unable to post very much! However, along with the rest of the country (it seemed) me and Alex made our way up to Yorkshire for the amazing Little Bustard twitch on New Year’s Day. Found flying on two separate occasions then remarkably pinned down to a kale field near to Auburn Farm, this was a brilliant find, coming just a day after one was seen briefly in East Sussex!

With just 25 records since 1950 (the majority of which have been found dead) this has turned in to a real mega, with the last twitchable birds of Cornwall 1996 and Dorset/Hampshire 1987/88 both before my birding time (being just 5 years old for the last one!).

Rare Bird Alert - Little Bustard
Rare Bird Alert's map of previous Little Bustard records in the UK - (www.rarebirdalert.co.uk)
The records for Little Bustard over the last 50  years - (www.rarebirdalert.co.uk)
This was therefore a must-see bird, so we made the journey up on New Year’s Eve and after a quick Chinese take-away in the car were checking in to small hotel in Bridlington, just ten minutes away ready for one of those hated “crack of dawn starts”.

Arriving in the pitch black, we quickly made the walk down to the field in question and joined the birders already assembled (God knows what time they must have got there!) and started scanning amongst the kale the bird was last seen in the day before.  There was a magnificent turn out (nearly as many as the Short-toed Eagle twitch the previous summer) with hundreds sacrificing their New Year celebrations for a glimpse of this rare vagrant. As Little Bustards are diurnal migrants and the bird was still observed in the field at dusk and not seen to leave, the chances were that unless it had died overnight then it would still be there.  A hunting Barn Owl in the adjacent field was a nice distraction as the gloom slowly lifted and dawn broke, and at around 8:30am a guy just a few people down the line from us exclaimed he had it! Triumphant, we all managed to get on the bird in quick time, crouched low amongst the kale and hard to see unless it popped its head up. Throughout the morning, the bird shuffled in to a more open patch to provide better views, sometimes nibbling small insects off the kale to feed.

Little Bustard

Little Bustard

This bird was sporting its less elaborate winter plumage making it harder to spot, with none of the splendid black and white feathers commonly seen in the breeding season. Looking like a juv Pheasant to the untrained eye, Little Bustards are a tad larger with gorgeous brown speckled feather patterns and an almost Stone Curlew-like face. It was great to see the bird at such close range – having failed to see any individuals on my two trips to Spain in the summer.

The bird rarely moved throughout the morning however, and it seemed unlikely that it would fly to reveal the gorgeous black and white markings on the open wings, so we left it in peace and  (cheekily) headed back to the B+B to take advantage of our free cooked breakfast!

With 3 different sightings of Little Bustards in the UK over the past 2 months, it is unclear as to whether these birds are one and the same or part of a small influx. Whilst it is possible that the West Bexington bird in Dorset seen on the 18th November could be the same as the East Guldeford bird in East Sussex found on the 30th December, it is highly unlikely that the Fraisthorpe bird is the same. Found just a day later on the 31st and seen flying close to the sea at 8:30am, it is far more likely this individual is a new bird fresh from the continent. Remarkable that two birds were found just days apart!

Whilst there has been a little speculation as to whether the southern birds may have come from the French reintroduction project (actually unlikely in my opinion due to the poor survival rates of the juveniles) it is more likely this individual has perhaps arrived from the East (where the species can be found in Russia) coinciding with the onset of the cold weather. Interestingly there have been several records in Eastern Europe that could quite possibly be the same well twitched and well-travelled individual. Touring the Netherlands, Finland, Norway and Germany and last seen on the 27th October 2014 at Dingdener Heide, there could even be an outside chance that this is the same bird relocating.

Little Bustard Map
A map showing the locations of reported Little Bustard from parts of Europe during 2014
With no sign the following morning leaving hundreds of birders who were unable to connect on the first two days disappointed, it is unclear if the bird sadly perished in the night (it was looking a little peeky in my opinion – although this could have just been due to the strong winds and cold temperatures) or if it may have been flushed during the night, but ether way this was an absolutely cracking find and an amazing way to see in the New Year!

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