Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Thursday, 31 March 2016

On this day....

31st March 1999
Thompson Water, Norfolk

On a cold, clear morning back on 31st March 1999, I walked from my home in Watton, Norfolk, to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Thompson Water, some 4 miles distant.
Approaching Thompson Water, but still some distance to go, I began to hear something I had never heard previously, a barking-like call which had me completely stumped.  This strange call became louder as I approached and my heart started racing as to what it could be.
The sun rising at Thompson Water meant that I had to position myself along the southern side to avoid whatever it was being silhouetted from the west bank in the early morning bright light.
I could not believe what I was looking at, the bird was located in open water, it was a male PIED-BILLED GREBE in summer plumage, and to date, constitutes my rarest ever personal find.
Pied-billed Grebe
My first impressions of this bird was of an oversized Little Grebe. The thick stubby bill was pale with a bold black vertical band. The chin was black, a feature absent in winter.
As I watched this bird, it continued to call.  Calling was accompanied by the bird extending its neck forward to give it an almost flat appearance on the water, the throat was puffed out as it gave its loud "coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo" call.  Aggression was seen towards the resident Grebes as it called.
My next thought was what to do....I had no mobile phone.  I walked back to the village of Thompson to the phone box.....the phone box had recently been removed...great.  I met a man in his garden and stated to him that I needed a phone to call a friend about a bird I had located at the water, he very kindly allowed me to use his phone.  Not long to wait, and my friends, Micky and Matthew Stainthorpe arrived at Thompson Water to enjoy this extreme rarity from the Americas.  The Pied-billed Grebe remained until May of that year.

I have found some scarce and rare birds throughout my birding life, and NOT being of the twitcher fraternity I decided to keep the presence of this bird to a few close friends.  I may be criticised for doing this, a suppressor is the term used I believe, however, I had the welfare of this Pied-billed Grebe in mind.  The reasoning for this was because this very rare bird was previously watched at another site some distance from my patch, and it came to light that irresponsible twitchers had thrown sticks into reeds in an attempt to force the bird into open water, this is wholly unacceptable behaviour and I didn't want to risk a repeat of this behaviour on my patch. 

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