Monday 11 August 2014

A Parrot called Busbee 31st July 2014

Terry had never seen a Pacific Golden Plover but swears he does not really go twitching so it was inevitable that we arranged to meet up at my place to go a-twitching the PGP. Heading off in the early morning down the rural byways around my house we disturbed a juvenile Cuckoo just on the borders of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire and shortly afterwards encountered the local pack of hounds out for their constitutional which entails three youths on bikes accompanying a tidal wave of dogs surging down the narrow rural lanes that abound around Kingham. You have no choice but to stop or kill a few hounds. Terry stopped. I despise what the dogs represent. They are part of the Heythrop Hunt, a more arrogant, patronising bunch of so and so's you could not wish to meet but it's not the youths fault, on their bikes earning a living they are just the minions, so it's pointless berating them. Once clear of the hounds we carried on heading for Birmingham where just to the north lay our destination, Drayton Bassett Pits in Staffordshire and hopefully a Pacific Golden Plover in full summer plumage that had taken up residence on an area of pools which were formerly gravel pits but now formed part of a large RSPB reserve.

Terry had full instructions but on reaching the car park and after dosing ourselves with insect repellent we still required the assistance of some locals to guide us down the various tracks and openings on the reserve that led to the required pools, but in the end we found them. On the way a weasel, giving a great impression of an animated saveloy ran across the path in front of me and disappeared into the rank herbage by the side of the path. Dire warnings had been issued by the locals about the plethora of invisible biting insects that lurked in the grass and I began to regret my decision to don shorts and let my legs go alfresco.

We joined a few other birders disconsolately looking across an  expanse of water that lay before us but was apparently devoid of the plover. It had been reported earlier that morning so presumably was somewhere but just where exactly was not obvious at the moment. Terry who never does twitching found it feeding along a muddy margin by the water and occasionally disappearing into the lush plantlife growing by the muddy edge. It was a real beauty and virtually in full summer plumage. Most apparent were its long legs which gave it an entirely different demeanour to that of the more familiar, stocky and solid looking European Golden Plover. This bird was much more elegant and slimline with virtually no white on the sides of the flanks and to my mind had less brightly golden spangled upperparts compared to 'our' Golden Plover. It fed alone, nervous and edgy and often seeking shelter in the vegetation. A Lapwing pursued it and on raising its wings you could see the diagnostic grey axillaries on the underwings. The light was truly atrocious with the sun shining directly into our eyes but Terry still attempted a few distant 'record' shots. With my less sophisticated camera and lens set up I did not even bother as we watched it for an hour or so, being joined by a few others but with never more than single figures admiring it at any one time. 

I casually noticed what I thought was a distant birder coming down the track with I assumed a telescope over his shoulder. There was nothing unusual in that so I gave it no more thought. He stopped behind us and a quiet querulous squawk came from his direction. Odd? I turned and to my surprise and I must say my delight found that it was not a telescope over his shoulder as I had imagined but perched on his shoulder was a magnificent Blue and Gold Macaw going by the name of Busbee.

Like dogs and children this broke the ice instantly and we got talking whilst Busbee sidled along the track quietly remarking to himself whilst picking at minerals and stones or anything else that took his fancy on the ground. 

Busee was, we were told, forty years old and obviously devoted to his owner. I offered my scope to his owner to look at the plover which he accepted and then he asked if Busbee could also look through my scope as the PGP would be Busbee's 251st species! Not a problem. A twitching parrot - how could one refuse?

Busbee 'grills' a Pacific Golden Plover
The two of them hung around for a little while longer and then departed back along the track with us following on shortly afterwards. There was not much else to see on the reserve apart from a Turnstone still in summer plumage and a few Common Terns. Terry sadly has a deep aversion to winged insects particularly butterflies and dragonflies so I could not interest him in looking further into the numerous dragonflies zooming around and we returned to the car.

Fortuitously, only about ten miles down the road, a not quite adult second summer Night Heron had taken up its secretive residence on a fishing lake near Nuneaton. So with nothing else better to do we headed for Seeswood Lake, finding it easily. The Night Heron had been seen earlier in the morning in some willows overhanging the water at the edge of the lake. We were currently stood on a path by the road looking over a fence down to the far end of the lake. We met up with our two friends from Drayton Bassett and they told us they had waited forty minutes for a brief view before the heron had disappeared back into the willows thus making itself invisible just before we arrived. There is only so long you can look at a group of willows with nothing resembling a Night Heron or any other bird for that matter, to be seen and I was getting a bit tetchy. The lake was owned or leased by a private fishing syndicate and the gate was firmly locked with a large sign saying 'Private' so there was no way we could walk round to get nearer the willows without trespassing or incurring the wrath of the couple of fishermen fishing from the bank . It looked like it was either a long wait for a very distant view or cut our losses and head for home. As we debated our options, a large, and I do mean very large fisherman, came along the path by the road with all his gear, obviously homeward bound and I asked him was there any path that we could take to get closer to the willows. Much to my surprise instead of the 'no chance mate' attitude that often is the result of such an enquiry he was friendly and helpful and told us we could climb the gate and follow the obvious path around the lake which would get us much nearer to the willows. In the end he even unlocked the gate for us! Result. We traipsed around the lake and eventually came to an open spot directly opposite the willows but much, much closer than when we had viewed from the road.

We looked and ..........., well frankly we could not see anything that resembled a Night Heron. We moved positions to change our angle of viewing and still nothing. I focused on a dark gap behind a willow trunk and just as I did the head and body of the Night Heron appeared as if by magic. It was moving its position which gave it away and I hastily called to Terry. The heron showing various parts of itself then hardly moved for the next fifteen minutes but obviously tiring of not catching anything moved progressively more and more into the open 

until it was right out of cover and fully visible although frustratingly from a photographers view always seemed to manage to maintain a twig or two in front of it. It stood for some time with some Black headed Gulls who regarded it askance as if not quite sure of what to make of this exotic looking bird sharing their mundane fishing lake. 

Eventually it flew further along the lake's edge and back into cover. We called it a day happy with our morning's experience.  

c Terry

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