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Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch
Biggest Twitch

Pennine Pied

Ruth and I headed east along the A55 in bright sunshine and made good time along the fast roads and soon reached junction 21 on the M62 north-east of Manchester. A few minutes latter and we were at our destination, Hollingworth Lake, east of Rochdale. We parked at the lake side visitor centre and paid our £1, good value for four hours parking and looked around for other birders. Despite our late morning arrival there were still plenty of binocular clad people and we quickly found where the Pied billed Grebe could be seen.

This mega bird from North America had, rather bizarrely chosen this bleak upland water for its new home. Surely the grebe must have passed over many more welcoming sites before landing here up the hills above Manchester?

It was bright and sunny but a chill breeze blew off the large lake and I wished I had packed warm hat and gloves. It was about a fifteen minute walk along the path following the lake shore to reach the south-east corner where the Pied billed Grebe had been showing well.

We met up with friends Alan and Beryl Turner as we neared the spot and they walked with us to a gang of birders all looking intently towards the water, looked hopeful.

PB Grebe twitch

At this end of the lake it was sheltered and willow grew on the bank, peering through the branches we had our first view of the great rarity. The Pied billed Grebe was resting in a patch of very short green reeds that stuck up through the water. Quickly setting up the scope we enjoyed wonderful views of this small yet chunky grebe with its heavy bill. The sun was at our backs and through the Leica scope with its 25-50 times zoom eye-piece the views were just amazing, every detail was sharp and bright. We soaked up the views of this yank that was so far from home. The Pied billed Grebe was the only bird on this corner of the reservoir where willows sheltered the water, the bird was mirrored in the still surface making it doubly good!

PB Grebe 5

Before long the grebe moved left and swam a short distance then dived. Out on the water the fluffy rear end of the bird was visible and a few feathers stuck up almost like a pig’s tail behind the bird. Once on the move it quickly made progress out of the sheltered area and out on to the lake proper, repeatedly diving and often coming up with a small fish. As we watched the Pied billed Grebe moved further and further away until views were pretty distant even with the high power of the scope.

PB Grebe 3

With the chill wind now hitting us and the sun ducked behind grey clouds it was time to head back towards the car. We reached the opposite side of the reserve from where we had been stood and were delighted to see the grebe had arrived in the same area. Here we had even closer views as it dived just some twenty yards from the bank of the reservoir, wonderful! Despite the cold we stayed and watched this rarity show off and chatted to the many birders all enjoying this bird. The grebe then headed back to the shelter of the south-east corner and we headed for the tea room back at the car park and toasted the Pied billed Grebe with a hot chocolate.

This twitch brought back memories of a much earlier adventure, way back in 1980. News of a Pied billed Grebe at Radipole Lake, Dorset reached North Wales and we hatched a plan to go for the bird. It was January and the UK was in the grip of a really cold spell with ice every where so it was tough over night drive, often through freezing fog, only punctuated by the police pulling us over on three occasions! Luckily each time it was just to see what on earth we were doing in the middle of the night in deepest winter. Our driver Trevor Jones had each time to explain we were birdwatchers driving from North Wales to Dorset to see one lost bird. They all found it highly amusing and sent us on our way thinking we were mad!

Arriving in Weymouth, after some seven hours on the road – delayed by weather and police checks – we were shattered. The RSPB Radipole Lake car park was good enough for a few hours’ kip before dawn so we settled down in the car trying to keep warm. We must have fallen asleep despite the freeze as we were woken by a loud banging. We could not see a thing! The condensation from our breath had frozen on the windows and were encased in ice! Trevor managed to force the driver’s window open a few inches open and Policewoman’s face appeared, not again.

No routine check this time the officer was worried we were dying of hyperthermia, and probably had a point, we were numb with cold. By the time the police had finished laughing at our attempt to see a rare bird in the frozen waste of Radiploe marsh the first signs of dawn were creeping across the eastern sky. We stumbled out of the car and looked in dismay at the frozen water. Surely the Pied billed Grebe would be frozen out and our epic journey wasted?

Well we were there so we ventured in to the marsh and were pleased to see open water, whew! We had hope. Two hours latter and hope was fading, a few Little Grebes was all we could find. With stomachs rumbling and frost bite threatening we were thinking about a café when we saw birders running. The grebe must have been found, run after them!

Slipping and sliding on the frozen ground we could not close the gap, these guys were sprinting. The birders headed into the car park and leapt in to a couple of cars, what was going on? No time for a debate, follow those cars!

It was like a scene from the Keystone Cops, us in hot pursuit of the baddies, with no idea where or why we were going. Red light! Trevor floored it, no way could we stop and risk loosing the car ahead, thankfully for no cops in sight. We just hoped they were not just heading for a newly open café.

The cars ahead of screeched to halt at Chisel beach, a huge shingle bank beyond which was the sea, and the occupants baled out clutching scopes and bins and ran up the beach heading for the sea. We followed as fast as we could. Reaching the crest of the shingle we looked down the other side and were totally stunned by what we saw. There sat on the shingle in front of a dozen birders was an Ivory Gull!

What an amazing way to see this iconic Arctic bird, and of course a lifer for all of us. We were thrilled and amazed in equal measure. This juvenile Ivory Gull showed off both on the beach and floating above us against the clear blue winter sky, what a stunner.

Elated we finally dragged ourselves away and had a very over due hot meal washed down with huge steaming mugs of tea and we toasted our fantastic luck. Back at Radipole lake we even managed to see the Pied billed Grebe swimming in a narrow channel with a Little Grebe for comparison but the Ivory Gull was the star of the show.

A truly memorable twitch.


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