Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The One That Got Away, Volume 1

The one that got away. A notion applicable to all elements of life, including birding. As a keen patch-watcher, a one that got away represents a lost opportunity that may never rise again. That fleeting flyover, lost to view over the trees. That tease that allowed so many features to be pin-pointed, but just not enough to be sure. That distant shape, almost undeniable, but 100% certification can't be claimed.

The very nature of my patch means that, largely, my experiences with rare or interesting birds are flyovers. As a result, this has provided a good list of ones that got away, and ones I may not ever get on patch. A recent example of this led me to create this countdown of frustrating moments in the field, that doubtless all birders have experienced.

For the sake of clarity, I'll just explain that all the birds in this top 5 are ones that weren't conclusively identified. I thought about including the Little Bunting Matt P and I had in 2015 (deemed not proven by the SBC rarities committee), but given our stance on what we saw and heard, I can't lump it in the inconclusive pile. Fully accepting that the only evidence we could provide wasn't enough to pass for a county mega, we both still have it on our personal lists. For us, there was nothing else it could have been. I'd pay a good amount for a trip in a time machine back to that day...

Anyway, the top 5, starting with the moment that was the catalyst for this idea of posts.

5. 15:05, 6th August 2017, Gull sp.

I'd had little during a Junction Field sky-watch, but singles of Cormorant and Herring Gulls towards the end of the vigil should surely have been enough to keep me positioned for a bit more. Half-way down the hill, 'scope packed away, a juvenile gull appeared to the east.

The bird wasn't particularly high, and began to circle several times, allowing me to note the largely dark upper primaries and lack of primary window - it wasn't a Herring, leaving just two candidates. One, Yellow-legged, would be a first record for the site...

It was a hefty individual, with a clean face, and a striking and neat tail pattern, and I was certainly leaning towards the aforementioned species, ahead of Lesser Black-backed. However, I just couldn't get good enough views of the mirror (or lack of), and ultimately the bird sailed off north-east with 5 Black-headed Gulls, me left helpless, straining through my binoculars.

Yes, it would have been very tough to nail either species with a flight view. I still need time to split juvenile Lesser Black-backs and Yellow-legged up close, so maybe I shouldn't have been as frustrated as I was. However, sometimes you have that gut feeling, and this was certainly one of those times. Furthermore, I'm sure I would have stood a much greater chance of identification if I'd stayed scanning with the telescope a little longer...