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Apocryphal Birding Stories & Urban Myths

Birding Urban Myths

Many years ago - well four anyway, I collected (with the help of a great number of people, online and off); a whole bunch of stuff with the idea of creating an alt.urbanlegends.birds archive. Then something came up and the job was never completed. NB None of the observation made in this article have been accepted by the rarities committees of the countries involved and as such remain thoroughly stringy! So began a posting at the end of 1999 to UKBN from Paul Tout in Italy.

With Paul`s permission I set out these tales, and, with the help of others have added more. Most of the tales are apocryphal… but some are well documented… a couple even happened to me… but I see no reason to reveal which ones. Take them all with a pinch of salt and enjoy the rich lives of your fellow birders… of course, as always, Fatbirder welcomes additional material. Read on…

Hitchcock`s The Birds

When the eagle flies, hide your children OR A Black Kite ate my baby

The following happened to me when birding at Tuglakabad ruins in Delhi - a goodish birding area located next to a shanty town. Whilst there our attention was drawn to a Black Kite which got off the round 20 yards away from us. As it flew it carried something, which it quickly dropped. Walking over to see what it was we were a bit shocked to find it was a whole babies leg - gruesome! Despite searching we couldn`t find the rest of the baby (admittedly we didn`t search as hard as we might!!). I`m not for one minute suggesting a tabloid-style story. Given the poverty of the people in the area, it would not be surprising if the kites and vultures often feed on human remains… presumably burial is costly and economic pressures may underlie a significant child mortality where male offspring are desired.

Blood lust…

I remember this one from a birding-trip (report on Urs Geiser`s page) to Poland last July with a group. and the so-called observation of the millennium a White-tailed Eagle hunting a Night Heron and this up in the sky for about 5 minutes with about 35 people, who were looking at this sight. It`s amazing how sadistic birders can become. It`s not that often you see a Night Heron, is it, let alone it be followed by a WT Eagle? There we have it; most of the birders asked will he be caught?. Eventually a Marsh Harrier came by and got into the pursuit of the WT Eagle and the Night Heron escaped. Poor birders: almost everyone shouted oh,oh,oh, he missed him.

Mistaken identity…

A film maker wanted to film a hunt for Capercaillie in spring. He went to the mountains with a good hunting guide who showed him a mating area for Capercaillie. But for some technical reasons (lack of light, etc.) they failed to capture something on the film that week and decided to film a stuffed Capercaillie placed in a spruce, then to mix the images. After they fixed the specimen on the tree, a golden eagle attacked the false prey, destroying it, before the man could catch the scene on film.

The joys of birding abroad…

Pheasant Justice - Zero Tolerance

Some years ago I was birding at Valle Cavanata, a large brackish fishpond near Grado in NE Italy. As I crossed over the road back to my car I was almost mown down and killed by a white Ford Escort van travelling at 140 kilometres an hour in the direction of Trieste. A couple of minutes later I jumped in my car and travelled towards home. As I rounded a bend a short distance away there was a mass of pheasant feathers all over the road, in the ditch was a white Ford Escort van on its side and walking towards a nearby farmhouse were its two occupants… one clutching his neck… Pheasant Justice – Zero Tolerance… yeah!

Close encounters of the reptilian kind…

The Snake and Mr. Dai…. Die! Die! Die!

I also recall birding in southern Thailand a few years back, and on the boat-trip around the mangroves, the boatman, a renowned Mr Dai, spotted a snake, which from his antics was obviously quite poisonous. He started bashing the snake from the mangroves with his paddle, and as the snake landed, not surprisingly it started striking out. Needless to say the birders in the boat were all jockeying for preferred seating positions as the contest between striking snake and irate Thai boatman took place - this wasn`t helped as he temporarily flipped the snake into the boat, before dispatching it with several swift blows to the head. For some reason it was a muted journey back through the mangroves… ah, the tameness of birding in Britain!

The Whip Hand…

Did you ever read the one I posted about the European Whipsnake (Coluber viridiflavus) that wrapped itself around our back axle (having first tried to climb in through the open driver`s door) when we stopped to admire it? It took half an hour to persuade it to leave (hitting its tail with a stick with it regularly striking at me crouched under the car trying to persuade it to leave.) It was a big bastard (about 5 feet long) and by the time it scuttled off (can one scuttle without legs? - maybe not) with everyone shouting Kill it! kill it! It`s a viper!, Why didn`t you kill it? a fair crowd had gathered to watch the fun.

Is that a snake in your trousers or are you just pleased to see me

I also recall walking along a smelly sewer (you`ve got too when abroad I feel) and feeling my foot touch a stick which I kicked out of the way, only to see the stick coil around my friends leg…never realised he was so good at dancing, as he spiralled around trying to kick the snake off…I think you had to be there!

…talking of trouser snakes…

The story I never mention took place when birding in Norfolk… on the Dunes at Winterton. I nipped off for a pee and, as there were people about I thought it wise to kneel down so as not to be seen… I had just got myself ready to fire when I realised that I was looking straight at an adder looking straight at its small rival, which I had introduced into its territory… I managed to withdraw from the scene with my life but not my dignity!

…I can`t get no satisfaction…

In the Gambia we had spent the morning walking through various fields looking for ground hornbill, jacana etc. and had had a great time. By lunch we were pretty exhausted when we parked the landrover on a track under a tree. The driver got out for a quiet smoke whilst the guide showed our birding companion around a paddy field. My wife and I contented ourselves with a cool drink. Suddenly the driver started to do a passable impression of Mick Jagger dancing around clapping his hands in front of him. He then leapt bodily onto the bonnet of the car and pulled himself through the passenger window to join me and then pointed to the spot he had been standing in… it was now occupied by a very large uncoiling green mamba… the biggest snake I have ever seen and as close as I ever want to come to such a venomous one.

Is it still about?

the last laugh…

I first saw Laughing Gull Larus atricilla in the summer of 1981 - a long-staying individual on the Hayle, Cornwall. Legend has it that some days later a group of long-distance hopefuls approached a birder sitting on a wall scanning some part of the Hayle and asked the obvious Have you seen the Laughing Gull. The reply was succinct. The birder simply handed them its corpse, which had been lying unnoticed on the wall beside him. Were you sitting on the wall? Were you handed the corpse?

Now you see it…

I travelled to Burghead to see the Grey-tailed Tattler on the day after Boxing Day. A party of four of us travelled up overnight and stood shivering on the shore next morning. After about half an hour we found the bird and watched it well for about twenty minutes. It flew about 500 metres further along the beach after that and we made to follow it. As we started off after it, we saw it take off again and it flew round an outcrop and out of sight. A group of birders who had been further down the beach went round the corner and reappeared shortly afterwards saying that they couldn`t see the bird but that as they rounded the corner they did see a female Sparrowhawk standing over a wader. As they approached it took off carrying the wader with it. The Tattler was never seen again. Allegedly, one birder arrived later on that morning. He had travelled from where he was living, on the Canaries!, had spent Christmas with his parents in Edinburgh and then travelled up to see the bird. If he truly exists, he has my commiserations, the temperature that day was minus seven and I felt bloody cold even though basking in the warm afterglow of a megatick.

Tony Clarke writes: …well it is true as it was me! However, I spent Xmas with my parents in London not Edinburgh and the reason we dipped was because the guy who was driving insisted on staying in a B&B in Speyside area and having his breakfast the following morning. What made things worse was the lady told us we could have had that bl**dy breakfast as early as we wanted but the man never thought to ask for one at 6.00am!

It doesn`t matter which way you try to spin it… this is sick:

I like the story that appeared on EBN last year, where a phalarope was present for some time in the Netherlands or in Belgium or somewhere. Lots of birders showed up to twitch it, and one day – when some 50 birders all had aimed their telescopes and large photo lenses at it, where it was swimming in a small pond - all of a sudden a large PIKE appeared and swallowed the bird.

Me and my big feet…

The story with the two US twitchers looking for a very rare rail is also excellent. One of them suddenly stepped on a specimen, and picked the dying bird up while calling out loudly for the other birder who was a couple of hundred meters away. The other appeared after a couple of minutes, getting terribly angry when he realised that the birder who stepped on it had PICKED IT UP! Then the bird was handled, and it was not an acceptable twitch! The rare bird perished a few minutes later, but this had obviously wasn`t the problem - if he had only left it on the ground to die…

drive on…

Our last Bailiff (head of State, Speaker of our Parliament and head of the judiciary) Sir Charles Frossard is interested in birds with a bit more knowledge than most politicians (although not a birder). On retiring he urged me to take him birding occasionally so when two Lapland buntings, Calcarius lapponicus, were discovered in a car park on our west coast I called and arranged to pick him up. We drove to the car park but only one bird was showing. Suddenly he shouted, Is this the other one? It was flattened into the mud by a car.

A stroke of (bad) luck…

Someone from Holland may be able to supply you with the full story of the Short toed Lark which was a bonus or a consolation for those trying to twitch the first ever Dutch Upland Sandpiper two years ago. Under the very eyes of the assembled crowd a Great Grey Shrike killed it. Unfortunately I didn`t witness this as I had the very good fortune to be the finder of the Upland Sandpiper. (I had already been at the site) and had already headed off by this time. I don`t know whether the shrike proceeded to impale the unfortunate Lark on a thorn, but if he did I`m sure his dinner would have been stolen and collected for posterity!

Blythe Spirit…

I find it amazing how often the rarest twitches turn into a Sparrowhawk or kestrels breakfast. OK some birds, like the white rumped sandpiper that disappeared down the gullet of a Sparrowhawk somewhere in Norfolk on day two of the twitch… but are others sufficiently different to attract attention? I was lucky to be in Suffolk when the Blythe`s Pipit was reported a few miles away in Languard (in those days I was a keen twitcher with a pager) and turned up to get great views. My son and I were well on the way back to London when the pager news came through that the pipit had been a late snack for a kestrel!

Give it another shot…

Must have been a decade ago, no date, don`t have my notebooks at hand here. First ever twitch of a Lesser Spotted Eagle in Holland, still badly wanted by many birders. News came in late that day of a weakly flying LSE in a dune area near Katwijk. Being roughly 200km away, my friend and I decided it was too late to give it a try, especially as this was an eagle. Next day. Arrived really early; we must have gotten up at 3:00 or thereabouts. To make an otherwise boring story short: we searched all day in vain, criss-crossing the entire area time and again. And we weren`t alone. Having no luck we decided to call it a day at around 17:15, when we walked back to the car. Getting there, we bumped into a local walking his dog. The man was wondering what was going on all day: he`d seen us arrive very early that morning. We told him the story; he asked how big the thing was; we exaggerated but luckily not too much. He pointed us to a small bush only 150m away, under which a (the) bird had been sitting all day long. We Couldn’t believe it really, but the story was so strange that we rushed there anyway. Sure enough, there it was: a shivering squatter, eyes closed, underneath a big bramble bush. We weren`t even sure it was still alive. Wondered whether we had to call in some people first, but most had left, and the area wasn`t small. We orchestrated a communal applause, and, just for a split second, the bird opened its eyes (well, the one eye we could see). Then, we decided to pick it up, which I did, and with which it fully cooperated. We took it to a vet some 25km away, where it died of lead poisoning the following day: I think, 12+ pellets counted in an x-ray. The bird was full of lice, which bugged me for another few days.

…out with a bang!

There are a couple of similar cases in Finland. two that spring into my mind are Cream-colored cursor killed by a Northern Harrier, this was in late 80s. Another one where I was present was my first Blyth`s pipit. 1994?… A pygmy owl killed the pipit. Right in front of my eyes. The Pygmy Owl, which came out of the blue (it was a year tick for me) and the Blyth`s was a lifer. I was able to salvage the still warm pipit corpse. It is on display at the Turku University Natural History museum. A third more sad case happened in UK. I went after a Sardinian warbler. It was somewhere in Devon in 1990. We saw the warbler. A pair of Peregrines were displaying above us. It was pure enjoyment… Suddenly one of them started falling down. Some 3 seconds later we would hear the shotgun bang!

What a way to go…

I think I was the last person to see the Oxfordshire Pied-billed Grebe. I`m pretty sure a low-flying hot-air balloon caused its demise… However, I`ve sent a note into BB about this, so I suppose I should find out whether they are going to publish it first. Also, RB and I twitched a Grey Phalarope in Staffs only for it to be eaten by a pike(?) as we were approaching. We actually saw the circular ripples spreading out where the bird had been moments before. Thoroughly pissed off we drove straight to Farmoor to tick another there.

Iron cross…

Back in the mists of time when Thrush Nightingale was a real rarity and pretty much confined to Fair Isle, one of these beauties appeared on that island. It was feeding in the tide wrack on the beach and, no other cover being available, regularly retreated under a sheet of corrugated iron. It was found and hankies duly waved to attract other observers (this was pre-pager/mobile phone/walkie-talkie). Just as the last few sauntered away having taken their fill of this bird it was realised that one visit, as it happens an American, hadn`t seen it since he`d wandered off to the far side of the island. The finder remained watching the bird and eventually a distant dot resolved itself as the panting, exhausted American. Just as he set himself down next to the lone observer, the bird ducked under the iron sheet. Unperturbed the watcher assured the desperate birder that the bird would reappear within a few minutes. Time passed, anxiety increased and the bird failed to show. Our dynamic duo edged closer and closer to the sheet. Still no Thrush Nightingale. The birders were now right next to the sheet - still no bird. On removing the sheet the bird was revealed - stone dead!

Dead but not forgotten…

I know a bunch of guys who were birding in southern France one winter. In the Camargue they found a dead Baillon`s Crake, and as one of the guys was into sketching birds (dead or alive) they decided to hang onto the corpse. A few days later the group were stopped by the police and for whatever reason the car was searched. Surprisingly the search ended rather rapidly when the first object to be found was the long forgotten dead crake nestling in a pair of dirty underpants on the back shelf of the car.

Jack Snipe… the most stupid bird in the world?

At my observation site near Oslo, Norway, we have seen no less than 100 jack snipes. One bird was fatally injured when a friend of mine stepped on it. Just a quick note on the Jack Snipe saga, many years ago a friend of mine (who is no longer with us) told me how once when he was warden of Dungeness Observatory (in Kent, UK) a Jack Snipe had got caught between his legs after his friend had flushed it, close by….apparently it was a banding tick, so he was rather pleased. Going through an old copy (#45 p.68) of Acrocephalus, the journal of the Bird Watching and Bird Study Association of Slovenia (DOPPS) I found this: On the 22.11.85 Miro Perusek, one of their regular contributors, was cross-country ski-ing near Ribnica in Slovenia when, crossing a ditch he hit a Jack Snipe with a ski-pole. The alarmed bird made to escape, only to impale its beak in the bank of snow. He extracted the bird, I.D`d it, photographed it and (unlike some others mentioned in this thread); it flew off unharmed. It was the 7th record for Slovenia at that time! One starts to think that the minimus in the Latin name refers to the species intelligence rather than its size…

Crushed Jack Snipe…

In one of my favourite bird-areas in the eastern part of the Netherlands the Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) is a rather regular visitor. Since 1982 I counted nearly 600. On only a few occasions I have watched the bird sitting down, relying on its camouflage. The birds usually fly away within a short distance of the birdwatcher. Only today (7 Dec 1996) one bird forgot to flee; I didn`t see it. My fellow-birdwatcher saw the wounded bird: I had crushed its skull, quite a shocking experience. It died soon after. In das Handbuch der Vogel ME I read that this happens quite often. I wonder how often: I like to know how many times other birdwatchers have had this experience, related to the total number of observed birds (in my case 1 out of nearly 600). Though a sad story I have a piece of comfort. Only due to my research in this area (Bergvennen) the habitat suitable for Jack Snipes had been left in its original state in order to provide this bird one of the best wintering areas in the eastern part of the Netherlands (Twente).

The unkindest cut of all…

A friend of mine who used to work on a nature reserve in the south of England told me a horror story about a Jack Snipe. He was cutting reeds in winter using a petrol-driven brush-cutter or strimmer which involves swinging the (quite heavy and very noisy) machine from side to side, the cutting being done by a circular blade just above ground-level. On one swing he noticed a Jack Snipe hiding in the reed-bed at his feet, a fraction of a second before the bird flew… you can guess the rest. He said it was a long time before he could face using the machine again.

Crakes too…

As I know the characters involved I can report that the substance of this story is true. The birders in question were working a parking lot on an exposed coastal location on the eastern seaboard of the US that in bad weather catches all sorts of migrants. The attraction of the site is that there is almost no vegetation so grounded migrants can be found as they hop about in the nooks and crannies of the immense granite blocks that make up the sea wall. There are tiny patches of well-trimmed grass however, and it was while innocently walking across the grass, that one of these characters trod on the unfortunate and unseen Yellow Rail (aka crake). The rail sustained serious damage to a wing and so was picked up. His companions, although very accomplished and well known birders, are also very committed state listers, and were disappointed (to say the least) to first see the bird in the hand since this apparently makes it inadmissible for ticking. Yellow Rails are much more frequently heard than seen and this was a unique opportunity lost. The bird was photographed and then squeezed (put down) because of the severe and irrevocable wing damage. Shortly afterwards the first birder flushed a Black Rail from the same lawn - an equally tough species to see without forcibly flushing - making his companions feel much less inclined to homicide.

and Rails…

I`m aware of a black rail (not much larger than a jacksnipe) found in the Bay Area (SF) in California in late 70s or early 80s. It was a major twitch for the state. I understand that the bird was found dead the next day. It was obvious then that somebody had unfortunately walked over it. Actually -- this did happen -- a group of birders were trying to force a Black Rail out of hiding in marsh grass. Instead one of them trod on it, crushing it. The part about not being able to tick it is, however, apocryphal.

To add to the story of the yellow rail…

I heard that before it was trodden on, the mass of birders moved on having abandoned hope of seeing it. One gentleman remained behind to (er) osmoregulate. The cascade of fluid spattered the animal on the head and it broke cover. The leaking gent called his mates back - one of whom trampled on the wretched creature. Actually, it`s not an urban legend -- these are two separate incidents. The Black Rail was in California. The Yellow Rail was on the parking lot (or verge of same) of (I believe) Island #3 of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge- Tunnel in Virginia. They both really happened. In both cases, the birders were serious birders, but in one case they were trying to flush the bird by surrounding the critter but ended up squishing it. The Yellow Rail was more a victim of a accidental careless foot. Another Unlucky Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus I no longer remember whether the thread about unlucky Jack SnipeLymnocryptes minimus ran on EBN or only UKBirdNet. Anyway here`s another for the record…

What`s Cooking?

Old boiler…

According to the Knight-Rider News Service, the inscription on the metal bands used by the U.S. Department of the Interior to tag migratory birds has been changed. The bands used to bear the address of the Washington Biological Survey, abbreviated Wash. Biol. Surv. until the agency received the following letter from an Arkansas camper: Dear Sirs, While camping last week I shot one of your birds. I think it was a crow. I followed the cooking instructions on the leg tag and I want to tell you it was horrible… the bands are now marked Fish and Wildlife Service. The proper version of this story, which crops up here or in uk.rec.birdwatching about annually, dates back to the 1920s or 1930s and was related by Ronald Lockley in his 1953 book Bird Ringing. The farmer was described by him as from Kansas rather than Arkansas and the reason the farmer was disappointed with the instructions he tried to follow was because a batch of rings was wrongly stamped with the words Boil.Wash.Surv. Sadly for your story, the marking on the rings was changed in 1940 when the Biological Survey was merged with the Bureau of Fisheries to form the Fish and Wildlife Service. – Malcolm Ogilvie.

Listing…

There was a story about an American birder who cooked and ate a dead Summer Tanager he found in Death Valley - apparently he had a list of birds he had eaten.

It could only happen to a birder!

It was pissing down dear…

I was birding in Pembrokeshire many years ago when I noticed a small kettle of Buzzards, Buteo buteo, wheeling over the corner of an escarpment. I went up the hill and discovered they were above a huge field of which the escarpment edge made one corner. The field was at least half a mile long and 400 yards wide, making the hedge at least a mile long. A tractor was working up and down and did not seem to disturb the wheeling Buzzards at all. I hid deep in the hedge and waited for the Buzzards to come back for a picture. The tractor went up and down, a flock of Long-tailed tits, Aegithelos caudatus, went through inches above my head but the Buzzards stayed aloft. Suddenly, the tractor stopped at one of its closest passes to me, the driver got out and wandered over to the hedge where I was hidden from his sight, and pissed all over me. More than a mile of hedge to choose from and he scored a direct hit.

OK then (you asked for it)…

I was on holiday in Canada, travelling by train between Toronto and Montreal when there was a bit of a thud and the train came slowly to a halt on a river bridge. We were informed that there had been a serious accident and we would be delayed for at least an hour. Shortly afterwards, when we questioned a steward he told us that somebody had chosen to end it all by putting their head on the tracks in front of our train. Anyway. it`s an ill wind that blows nobody any good as I got two lifers (Caspian Tern and Semi-Palmated Plover) while we waited for the police and coroner to arrive…

ID Problems?

Stringing along…

I got a bit of flack from one person on Birdchat when I posted this story a few years ago but some people have no sense of humour. A group of British birders, form South Yorkshire, whilst visiting Point Pelee found a cut out Chuck-wills Widow on the back of a cereal packet. They proceeded to cut it out and fix to a suitable tree with a piece of wire that they put through the eye so that it glinted in torchlight. They then pointed it out to a few people and waited for the result. A significant number of people ticked it and a number congratulated them on the find, saying they had never had such good views of the species.

imagination works wonders…

I wrote of cowpat earlier this year - but for those who missed it …. My recollection of the cowpat (dry) incident was that it was actually claimed as a Nightjar sp. and that message came over the CB. While many may have been hoping for Common Nighthawk, others wanted it to be a European Nightjar, a Scillies tick for even more. Thus even more piquancy was added to the occasion. Unfortunately it was rapidly re-identified as a cowpat, before most people rushing there had arrived. So no mass hallucination was involved. Most of the subsequent few minutes was spent trying to establish which of the several cowpats on view was the most Nightjar like. Thus the original perpetrator of this horror slipped quietly away. However one person I know claims they still know him by sight as cowpat, and has promised to point him out to me as such, should he appear on Scillies this coming autumn.

Bags of fun…

I have had several embarrassing moments when plastic bags have played a large part. The first was at the boating lake near Wells Wood. In the pouring rain I confidently identified a water rail at the pond edge that, when the sun came our, proved to be a dirty plastic bag. On the other hand, whilst driving home one night I pointed out to my wife that the barn owl she was stringing was, in fact, a white plastic carrier bag… trouble is it then flew up and over the hedge and quartered the orchard beyond! I can redeem myself though. When I took my father up to Skye for the first time we were sheltering from the rain in the car and he was incensed by litterlouts pointing out a black sack stuck in a bush near the hill top. I gently corrected him… it was a golden eagle!

The Long Arm of the Law

Gay Dutchman…

In the late eighties I wandered along one of the great dams in the Southwest of The Netherlands. Carrying binoculars, camera, fieldscope, tripod and a bag I ended up in a group of thorny bushes while searching for a pool and hopefully its ornithological rarities. But in the end I was the one that was considered to be the (long haired) rarity: two astonished and totally amused policemen asked me, what is the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord are you doing here? I answered, I had hoped to jump on some rare birds. They roared with laughter: we think you could well be the one that will be jumped on, you`ve ended up on a meeting place for lonely but horny homosexuals I must have pulled a moon face & I climbed down a peg or two…

Old Bill…

Legend has it that way back in 1961 some proto-twitchers hammered down early one morning on the single carriageway A-roads and bye-ways to Portland for a Calandra Lark. Somewhere the wrong side of Dorchester, they were pulled over by a motorcycle policeman for speeding. On being asked the inevitable rhetorical question (where`s the fire/who`s having a baby/etc) they responded that they were racing down to the Bill for a rarity. The copper paled, asked what it was and, on hearing the news, promised to be straight there in an hour or two after his shift was finished. No ticket was given and, sadly, no bird was present, it being a one day record.

Driving Ambition

Roundabout way of getting there…

A friend swears that following a fellow birder through a heavy fog and snow he reached a roundabout where a set of tyre tracks continued straight on over a roundabout. On being asked later, said friend responded What roundabout? A similar story has been told involving an impassable road and snow plough - What snow plough? being the line.

Urban Visitors

Several migrating rails have gone down in the night, probably misled by Amsterdam`s city lights, and have been found in the middle of the city. A Baillon`s Crake was found alive in a street just a 100 yards from Dam Square in July 1924. Quails have been found in porches of Amsterdam houses; and a Storm Petrel was once found under an advertisement board on an Amsterdam tram wagon in its garage. Several seabirds have been found in the middle of the city after severe gales. A Little Auk has been found in a park, a Razorbill on a roof of a house, a Gannet even in the top of a tree. Several ship-assisted seabirds have been found around the inland harbour in Amsterdam. Among them Leach`s Storm-Petrels, found among the cargo, or on the harbour quays. (In Rotterdam harbour there are ship-assisted finds of Cory’s and Great Shearwaters and even two Bulwers Petrels). Among our ship-assisted rarities are * a Cape Pigeon or Cape Storm Petrel (near Sloterdijk, West of Amsterdam, 1807); probably taken and held alive from the seas around Cape of Good Hope as food for the sailors. * a Barbary Falcon Falco pelegrinoides, found in august 1930 in an Amsterdam inner-city house block just near the Amsterdam harbour (possibly flown from a ship just in from North-Africa) and several American species flown off ships apparently from the U.S., like American Eagle Owl, Northern Mockingbird, White-crowned Sparrow etc. Just like the grey catbird that hitched a ride on the QE2 in 1999.

Nowadays Schiphol Airport has a massive bird trade by airplane from tropical countries, delivering such species as Himalayan Wall Creeper (at Free University, south-Amsterdam, 1989-1991); 2 Eyebrowed Thrushes, Indian Roller and more. We call them our Schiphol rarities, but of course true believers believe in their wild origin. In 1973 a man released two Rose-Ringed Parakeets in the Vondelpark. Then a woman started to feed this pair and it`s offspring in the Vondelpark. After many thousands of kilo`s of peanuts she raised this population to a staggering present total of 470 birds (most recent count at winter night roost in the western suburb of Amsterdam, October 1999). Nowadays people living in the patrician houses along the Amsterdam canals complain about Sparrowhawks eating their garden birds (although our research shows their diet consists for 98% of House Sparrow). Already two pairs of Sparrowhawks breed in these lush gardens in the very heart of inner city Amsterdam (one pair just 250 m. from Dam Square, with this year all 6 young fledged). Sparrowhawks do get problems hunting in the city, however. One had chased himself into a half-open garden shed and apparently didn`t find a way out. Only the head was found; a rat had probably eaten the body carcass. Another fanatic Sparrowhawk had (probably during a sparrow chase) imprisoned himself under the glass dome of a lamppost (near Leidse Square/Vondelpark); and had to be released by Amsterdam firemen.

Odds ‘n Sods

Near-domestication…

Blue Herons in Amsterdam (500 pairs in ca. 10 colonies) are used to wait for their dinner near house doors, at kitchen doors, near restaurants, and even are walking into snack bars. Recently I heard a story of a Blue Heron, which regularly lands on a tennis court during the match (and is not going away). Another Blue Heron was able to halt and block the way of a (normally most aggressive) Amsterdam taxi.

Derrr…

From the Fortean Times December 1997 Thieves in Ryton, Tyne and Wear, scaled a 6ft (1.8m) fence, dodged two Alsatian guard dogs and forced bolts and locks to get into Bob Hodgson`s pigeon loft. They made off with 40 homing pigeons in three wicker baskets. Surprise, surprise 24 hours later, all but eight of the birds had flown back to the loft. The remaining eight were fledglings who had probably not yet learned to fly. Express, 14 May 1997.

A curious thing happened to me last weekend…

My wife & I spent Sunday and Monday in North Norfolk, staying in Wells. In Holkham Pines there had been a Pallas`s Warbler and a Yellow-Browed Warbler the previous day, so I was out there before breakfast, searching through flocks of tits and Goldcrests, but to no avail. It`s like looking for a needle in a haystack! The rest of the morning I braved a force 7 northerly at Cley - a few divers and duck going past but no skuas, shearwaters etc. Despite the recent northeasterly winds it seemed rather quiet… After lunch I rang Birdline to see if there had been any sign of the Pallas`s Warbler - the headline bird was a Black-eared Wheatear at Stiffkey, which was midway between Cley (where I was) and Holkham, so you can guess where we went. After seeing this bird (with the rest of the crowds) we went on to Burnham Norton to look for Barn Owls. Later on I heard that the Pallas`s had been seen briefly at the other end of the woods, and that there had been a report of an Olive-backed Pipit in the pines as well.

The next morning I searched again, unsuccessfully, for the Pallas`s and Yellow-browed Warblers. The Olive-backed Pipit re-appeared - I saw it briefly, but it was surrounded by birders who were far too close to it, so it was being elusive - reminding me why I don`t enjoy the crowds of twitchers. Well, it was time for lunch, and we repaired to the pub in Stiffkey. After lunch, Julie said Why don`t you ring Birdline, to see if there`s anything around? After yesterday`s opportune phone-call I was easily persuaded, so I walked along the road to the phone box and made the call, to Birdline East Anglia. The message started In North Norfolk, a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Stiffkey, in the little wood just behind the phone box! So I walked out of the phone box, round the corner, and there were a couple of birders. Within ten minutes a lot more birders had arrived, blocking the narrow road and trespassing in the wood, disturbing the bird (which was flitting around in the canopy and very hard to pick up). I managed a brief view for the record, and then we left.

Swallowed whole!

A fisherman captured a pike and eviscerated it to see what it ate. In the pike`s stomach he found a swallow, not digested yet. Was it captured when it came to drink the water from the surface, in flight, or simply died and fell into water?

Food for thought…

In October 1989 I found a long-eared owl pellet with 13 gold-crest rings in it! It was during bad weather at Christiansoe, Bornholm, Denmark. No new birds arrived on the island - so the LEO had to eat exhausted goldcrests - preferable the ringed ones, since they were the most exhausted… I have also heard of a still living rat eating itself out of a Herring Gull stomach - after the gull had swallowed it…. I think it was a Norwegian tale…

Romania Romance…

A bird lover and bird keeper who lived in a block of flats (like most Romanians) in Bucharest, brought home a young rooster which he wanted to keep on his balcony. After a while, the cock started to be territorial, crowing even at night. This seemed nice to most of the neighbours who remembered the golden days of their youth in the countryside. But later, an embarrassing phenomenon occurred: at night, when the rooster was singing, all the collared doves nearby (and there are plenty of them in Bucharest) woke up and started to sing too. Nobody could sleep well. The rooster was condemned to exile at countryside. But the strange behaviour of the doves became a habit, and they continued to sing anyway all nights. Later, the bird keeper captured a young owl (Tawny Owl?) which wasn`t welcomed like the rooster was, but when the owl was big enough and released, it managed to establish the lost silence of the nights: the collared doves stopped sing at night and many remains of them (feathers, heads, etc.) explained well how the things was going.

Fancy that…

In the past Peregrines used to hunt urban doves held by Amsterdam pigeon fanciers, from several high church towers near the city quarters where this hobby was popular. On Sundays the pigeon fanciers released their doves to test their flying capabilities against that of the female peregrines. The story goes that people watched the game with great interest. The pigeon owners didn’t lose one dove to the Peregrine.

Strong as an Eagle…

I also remember the story of the 2 year old girl carried off by a WT Eagle and I have always regarded it as being as likely as Sinbad being carried off by a Roc! Several years ago, in an Oslo bar I got into a heated discussion with a Norwegian colleague (actually an ex-whaler) about the veracity of this story and ended up betting him £1,000 that it wasn`t true - a bet which he happily accepted. His evidence was a cutting out of some tabloid newspaper. Although all expert opinion seemed to be on my side, he would never accept this and so the bet is still not resolved despite the following that appeared on UKBN a couple of years ago: Dick Newell

The following was snipped from Eagle-Net. The story has fascinated many people over the years. I investigated this incident in the late 1970s and talked to most of the persons who had been involved, and later published my conclusions (in Norwegian, English summary) in the bird magazine Vår Fuglefauna. The story is very well known in Norway, but not well documented. It used to be cited in Norwegian ornithological literature as a reliable story. Today consensus has it that it never happened, and that the girl either walked the distance on her own, or that she was found closer to the houses where she was last seen before she disappeared. The little girl Svanhild (then 3 years 8 months) is still living in a village at the coast of Central Norway, and still insists that she was carried by an eagle. She was, fortunately, weighed twice with all the clothes that she wore during the incident. First by the local doctor, and later by a newspaper journalist. The weight was 19 kilos on both occasions, - which is a lot. There is no way even the largest known White tailed Eagle (about 8 kg) could lift and carry 19 kilos. According to tests with wild birds in Norway, maximum lifting capacity is around 4 - 5 kg.

I have on several occasions seen White-tailed Eagles fail to carry prey like Greylag Goose Anser anser and Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhyncos, that weighs even less (I don`t have any literature available at the moment to give exact weight figures). The girl was unharmed except for a very little scratch, which was interpreted as a mark from the eagles claw. The girl was on a visit with her family from a neighbouring island, and was unfamiliar with the surroundings. About 50 - 100 meters from the houses she was behind a hill, unable to see anything else than the stony terrain and the mountains. She probably walked along the slightly elevating landscape, that after a while became steeper. Trying to get higher up in the terrain is a very common behaviour among small children who feel that they are getting lost (which I have checked with the police). Where exactly she was found remains uncertain, but she was most likely NOT found at the spot later claimed by the locals, when people started to question the whole story. In 1979 I brought another girl named Svanhild, - of exactly the same age as the first Svanhild, to the island of Leka (where it all happened). Together with a neutral reporter and her mum and dad (who is a well known Norwegian raptor scientist) she walked and climbed by her own, with no physical assistance, all the way up to the eagles nest where legend has it that Svanhild was dropped by the eagle. Still today, I am a persona non grata at the island of Leka. Tor Bollingmo.

… or eagle owl…

Just to add more anecdotal amusement to the Big birds sticking up for themselves thread. Some years ago I heard of a broadcast in the USA, one of those birdwatch things where live broadcasts are sent out from a nest site. The nest in question was that of a pair of Great Horned Owls. During one particular live session, the male arrived at the nest carrying a highly coiffured toy poodle pooch - complete with pink ribbon on its bonce!

Penguin Phenomena

Last year my attention was drawn to a news brief in a Mexican paper claiming that penguins on the Falkland Islands watching planes passing over head often topple over backwards. I remarked at the time that this was an apocryphal tale generated along with other myths among servicemen returning to the UK after the 1982 conflict and that it was amazing how, after so long, it had surfaced again.

Some months later I was surprised to hear a report on BBC Radio 4`s Today programme that scientists were going to carry out a study into reports that penguins watching planes fly overhead topple over backwards. I repeated my comments about bar talk of troops returning from the Falklands conflict. This morning (Friday, Feb 02) I was listening to the Today programme and it included an interview with a British Antarctic Survey scientist about this issue. His finding was that aircraft don`t cause penguins to fall over and the notion that this happens was no more than a Falklands veerans` tall story. (He did say that they went very quiet whilst the aircraft was overhead and then resumed their noisy calls once the aircraft was moving away)

I wonder how long it will take for the myth to surface again? (While I`ve been writing this my thoughts turned to pilots making dodgy landings on aircraft carriers. That`s because one of the Pheasants that feeds daily in my garden flew in and tried to make a landing on the picnic table on our lawn - but, due to the slippery, moss-covered surface, slid along the surface and crash-landed ignominiously on the grass) - Brian Unwin

…or

…a recent letter to New Scientist had the real explanation:-) Penguins think that low flying aircraft are predators. The fall over on their backs so that only the white of their fronts shows - perfect camouflage against snow!

… another eagle has landed

An America Fatbirder Fan just told me: When I was in Alaska last year, a story was going around about a retired couple that were touring around. The got out of their RV (caravan) to walk their chijuahua (or it might have been a poodle)- and sure enough, a bald eagle swooped down and carried off their pet, the leash dangling in the air.

a home from home…

Common Myna nests in a bus
It was probably in 1985 when a pair of Common Myna was seen by me on the backside glass Route Plate of a bus plying from New Delhi Railway Station to Okhla (either it was a number 400 or 460). The pair had made a nest inside the square box where the glass route plate was inserted. Since it was a private bus, the bus owners were aware of it and they did not disturb the birds.

House Sparrow nests in a train
In the early 80s the New Delhi to Ambala steam engine train used to depart from New Delhi Railway Station platform No 2 in the afternoon. Outside the guard's cabin, on the left top corner, the square metallic box, meant for the vacuum brake system was full of tiny tits-bits including brown grass straws and surprisingly, a pair of house sparrows were busy in mending it. The male was perched on the box chirping excitedly, the female was peering out from the inside.
both the above were sent to me by Suresh C Sharma from Haryana - India.

Bird attacks man
A crofter was attacked by a large bird while tending sheep on the Isle of Lewis. Angus Graham, 69, said a bird the size of a swan swooped into his face and bit his arm. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said it was likely to have been a migrating tropical bird.
From News in Brief in the Times of 16th April 2001
What`s that all about? Fatbirder.

Ferry Peculiar
Eric Wydenbach writes: On the 6th or 7th of July, 1995, I was returning from Ireland on the Swansea/Cork Ferry. We were kept waiting a long time to disembark, and while I was sitting in my car, I realised that a Song Thrush was nesting on the top of a pillar. I came to realise that it was feeding its well-grown nestlings [4 or 5 heads well above nest] on insects it was picking off the grills of the vehicles.

Of course, the key question remains: was it an Irish bird or a Welsh one? [Could members of this bird family end up living in a different countries, post breeding? To say nothing of the possibility that the youngsters were the result of a pairing of an Irish and a Welsh bird]

Flat out birding…

In the days when Ring-billed Gulls were rare in the late 1970s, one frequented Radipole Lake in Dorset, and often sat around in the adjoining carpark. One morning the RSPB warden is alleged to have found the bird squashed and lying in the car park. In all likelihood he probably just took it home or whatever it is you do with pancake-shaped stiffs, but urban myths require a punch-line, so he allegedly met a group of twitchers who asked if he had seen the gull! Cue the dramatic production of the corpse (which for some reason he kept hidden under his coat in the version I heard - obviously for dramatic effect).

The story above was sent in by Mike Pennington

Head Case

Guardian 27th November 2001: Mr Madden, 48, a welder from Huddersfield, grew concerned about dwindling food supplies for the birds around his cottage. And so he turned himself into a walking bird table. He designed a table, filled it with nuts, fitted it on top of his head and set out for a field-test in the woods with his friend Craig Bailey. But after a few paces, there was a kaboom-like sound. Mr Madden found himself on the ground in agony with whiplash. The table was shattered on his head - and a large grey squirrel was fleeing into the bushes with its mouth full of nuts. I didn`t see much he said yesterday, full of painkillers and with his neck in a brace. But Craig told me he saw the squirrel fly through the air and land on my head. He added: I have always liked squirrels. But once you`ve had one land on your head at about 30mph, you can easily go off them.

I Spy Strangers

In Autumn 2001 Cape Town University put satelite tracking devices on five storks to track their progress - four birds died in Mozambique the fifth is under arrest in Burundi! It was found injured and in that war-torn country it was assumed that the tracking device was some form of eavesdropper and the bird was arrested as a spy and taken into police custody. Fortunately, it was soon realised that it was nothing more sinister than a scientific experiment and police have decided to release the bird as soon as it is well enough.

Safe Quacker…

A duck spent a night in police cells after officers picked it up on a high street in the early hours of the morning. Officers found the pet mallard called Helen waddling down the high street in Market Drayton, England. Helen had cut her foot, so officers contacted the RSPCA the following morning and workers picked her up.

Dirty Old Bird

The owner of a parrot that was taught to swear by Winston Churchill is claiming it`s the oldest bird in Britain. Peter Oram says Charlie is at least 103 years old. Churchill bought the blue and gold macaw in around 1937. The bird now lives in a Surrey garden centre…

The Bird in the Bush is Worth Two in the Lake

Well I saw a most amazing sight yesterday. On driving out from the office which is situated in the heart of the busy Medway City Estate, I saw a lady standing by a bush, and she was looking at a large white object. I stopped and walked up only to find an (embarrassed looking) adult Mute Swan stuck in the middle of a Buddleia bush right by the road and next to some offices! How long it has been there no one knows as it`s a busy road with few people walking down it. The bird was truly stuck fast and must have flown low right into the bush. Why it was anywhere near the road, or industrial units, or low bushes, beats me. I can only think that although there is a small lake nearby, the bird must have mistaken the road for a dyke/canal at night, and realised this at the last moment and veered into the medium sized bush! There were no apparent injuries and the RSPCA Warden had to cut away some of the bush to free the bird and take it away for a checkup - Chris Barker.

Alf Mullins submitted a few funnies which he prepared for an article in Essex Birding a few years back. So blame him – not the usual run of jokes that refer to Essex Birds!

Bradwell Nuclear Power Station

A pair of Swallows raised 57 young at the Fast Breeder Reactor. Correction to last year’s report: ‘Two Black-headed Gulls seen on 24th September’ – delete the word ‘Black’.

Basildon Genetic Research Laboratory

The population of Dodos has increased to 240

The Naze

Most birders are of the opinion that early morning is the best time to visit this site. However, if you arrive later in the day when the dog walkers have departed, you will find that the area is covered in Little Brown Jobs.

Southend Pier
The Great Auks reported flying south on 6th October (cf Essex Bird Report 1999) have been re-identified as Bonxies after the Records Committee realised that they had been watching the video evidence on rewind.

Abberton Reservoir

Permission has been granted by English Nature for the cull of the White-headed Duck to prevent interbreeding with the resident Ruddy Ducks.

Canvey Island
Four Pomarine Skuas with ‘spoons’ were seen on 18th September. More worrying was a report on the same day of a Griffon Vulture with ‘knife and fork’.

PC Birds
The Republican Society for the Protection of Birds has announced the following changes to bird names: Little Grebe to become Vertically-challenged Grebe Kingfisher to become Presidentfisher Blackbird to become Woman-of-Colour Other name changes announced recently include: Black-headed Gull to become Zitting Gull Scolopax rusticola to become Scolopax viagra

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