Saturday, 23 August 2014

Black-winged Pratincole on Tour

I never like to start a blog post with a negative tone, but for the story to have any effect then I am going to have to. For a few years now I have grumbled on about the fact I had never seen a Pratincole. I’d open Collins to that faithful page with Collared and Black-winged Pratincole and drool over it. Roll back to late April and I finally saw my first species of Pratincole, a cracking Collared showing very well both on deck and in flight in Devon. Then came late June, I was in Dumfries and Galloway and half way through a survey, I got a call from a mate to say that the Pratincole sp at Hauxley that had just been found looks like it may well be a Black-winged. Dread came over me, I looked at the clock and noted I had three hours survey left, plus a thirty minute break, plus two hours drive there on the way home. It wasn’t looking good! The bird quickly departed after being found; surely it would turn up somewhere else along the coast?

Dawn on Friday 13th June and I was down in Lincolnshire with work, a dawn BBS, it was a short one and I was finished early morning. I’d finished my work week and thought it best to start making my way back north in case the Pratincole turned up again in Northumberland. I thought the best plan would be to drive to Teesside and check Back Saltholme before going for some lunch (potentially), I’d be pretty well placed if the Pratincole turned up either north or south then, which I had high hopes for. It got to around 10AM and there was no news at all, I was extremely tired and pulled over at a service station on the A19 in North Yorkshire, a mere 20 minutes or so from Back Saltholme. I was sleeping lightly when my phone started going crazy, it was “Whats App”, the Black-winged Pratincole was back. I checked BirdGuides to see where it was….Saltholme RSPB on Back Saltholme. The time was 10:50AM, I was due to be in the lay-by scanning Back Saltholme at 10:45AM according to my sat nav before I stopped. As you can imagine the car was soon back on the road heading north. I arrived at Saltholme about three or four minutes too late. It had gone. I could have had it and it would have been in Durham! A place I predicted would get Cleveland and Durham’s first Black-winged Pratincole only just last year (as did some others).

I was fairly hopeful it would be in either Lincs or East Anglia soon enough for me to see at the weekend. After about five or six days I was pretty sure it had gone. Then twenty-two days later at 08:50 (something about this bird and “50 minutes”) on a Saturday morning I got a call from Chris Bell to say he had a Pratincole sp with Lapwings but he had not seen it fly yet, “it looks like the Black-winged”. I leaped up and left the house pretty much immediately. About 30 minutes later I was watching the bird flying about with Lapwings at Hurworth Burn Reservoir, the bird showed very well both on the deck and in flight on several occasions. Simply superb. I still could not (and still cannot) believe I had another chance of the bird in Durham. During its Durham stay many NGBs managed to connect, but those who were not as fortunate enough to have the transportation means or time on the 5th and morning of the 6th to get to Durham never saw it. But the story doesn't end there!

On the 7th the bird was seen briefly at Holywell Pond, it had gone back to Northumberland. The trail then went cold until the bird turned up on Monday gone in Lincolnshire briefly before flying out over the wash. The bird then turned up again yesterday at Cley Marshes NWT for just about long enough for many to connect with this extremely exciting wader. The bird turned up the following day at Stiffkey Fen in Norfolk, a stones throw (if you've a really good throw) from Cley Marshes NWT. However, typically, the bird went missing once again before turning up at Ouse Washes RSPB where it stayed for a good few weeks performing well before it final sighting on the 9th August.

Did it, however, during its long stay visit Cuckmere Haven in East Sussex? On the 27th July the Black-winged Pratincole was last seen on the evening at Pymoor, a short distance away from Ouse Washes RSPB, but the bird had clearly moved slightly. The bird was not there the following day, then on the 30th of July a Black-winged Pratincole as flushed from the river bank and flew off west. Interestingly on the 2nd of August the Black-winged Pratincole was back at Ouse Washes RSPB in Cambridgeshire, had the bird gone for a wander only to return? That is up to the rarities committee to decide. 

Below is a crude depiction of the flight paths that the Pratincole would have absolutely had to have taken (roughly) as a minimum, they do, of course, not match what the bird will have done.

(The very Black-winged Pratincole over the airspace of Hurworth Burn Reservoir in County Durham on its first properly twitchable day on its UK tour, photo taken by David Aitken)

-Andrew Kinghorn
Andrew is 22 years of age, and has been a birder for about 8 years. He is an ornithological surveyor living in County Durham. He has a vested interest in all things birding, however twitching is a passion of his and he loves to see new birds.

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