James Lowen 


13 May 2023 Filth

Then top the lot with an amazing seaduck experience in Scotland, enjoyed by a fabulous carful. The UK’s first Stejneger’s Scoter (a bird dipped in December, while conducting research for the second edition of 52 Wildlife Weekends), two White-winged Scoters and at least three Surf Scoters. Shame about the photos. And shame none came close to providing the adrenalin of that same-day rarity experience. I suspect that'll be me restricting myself to Norfolk for the rest of the year... 

Actually, the Argentina story is even worse: I was actually back in Blighty and, worse, in Cley the day the negotiations about viewing were underway, but flew back to Buenos Aires the following morning. So me working in Greece while a White-crowned Sparrow teased a new generation of birders in Britain was simply par for the course. But somehow the bird persisted until after my return, and – thanks to the provision of seed – became showier. So once I was home, it would have been rude not to have met said friend for a pub lunch in the South Downs of Sussex... Gripback.

On my actual birthday, family, friends and I had hired an electric boat to cruise around the Norfolk Broads. A day of relaxed bliss, conducted at 3mph. So it was right for one member of the party to stay silent (if jittery) about news of the UK’s first Grey-headed Lapwing – which broke as we were mid-safety briefing. Only well into the all-day trip did he mention it. But all worked out well: the Broads were lovely (multiple Cranes, Hobbies and Bitterns, plus Spoonbill, Emperor Moth and Water Vole), all in the best of company and with a cracking picnic... and Northumberland's long-limbed seedsnipe-wannabe remained to be duly admired the following day.  


I have fallen a little out of love with twitching in recent years – a legacy of lockdowns, erratic health and readjustment of priorities among other things. I still love the rapid-fire, same-day twitch – the sudden phone call (‘Pick you up in five!’), the headless-chicken result (‘bins, scope, camera, lenses, wallet, phone, water bottle… erm, and medication’) and the same-day connection. Think the 2015 Acadian Flycatcher, the 2016 Siberian Accentor, the 2018 White-rumped Swift and, more recently, the Cape Gulland Common Nighthawk in 2022. But the overnight drives, the daft o’clock starts, the impact on family (and much more besides) etc have somewhat lost their allure – all the more so if the bird has been there for more than a day, so the adrenalin stems from whether it will still be there come dawn rather than clapping eyes on bird within hours of news.

​Taking some time off around my 50th birthday, however, I confess to doing some filthy twitching. The first was as an add-on to lunch with a friend, to celebrate said milestone. I was living in Argentina when the Cley White-crowned Sparrow added itself to everyone’s lists (and I mean everyone: according to Bubo, there was no bird I ‘needed’ for the UK that had been seen by more people) and when news of the Seaford Head White-crowned Sparrow broke, I was guiding on an island in the Aegean Sea.