They say in sport that ‘records are there to be broken’, and it’s the same with birding blockers – they’re there to fall. It's amazing that it’s taken so long for another Night Heron to turn up in Leics, as it's not that rare a bird nationally, but incredibly it’s over 28 years since the last one. And, old fart that I am, I saw that bird, at Rutland Water on 17th February 1985.
The recent appearance of one at Thornton Res prompted me to dig out my ‘big notebook’ from that time, which is actually a ring binder in which I used to write up my field notes and add photos, drawings etc in true Bill Oddie style. I’ve long since stopped doing this, but it’s always amusing to look back at these relics and relive past birding days.
So, according to my notes from that day... “As we [Jeff Higgott and I] were walking back to the car, we heard news of a Night Heron that had been seen yesterday at Whitwell Creek, in the North Arm. We drove there and waited for about 2½ hours with a few other birders. The bird flew in at 2.51pm, by which time the crowd had grown to about 50 or 60. We watched the bird, an immature, for about 1½ hours.”
There then follows a lengthy description of the bird, which I won’t bore you with here, but suffice to say that it was a genuine field description, not made up later from photos, which would have been difficult anyway, since my best effort, with a film camera and a crappy old telephoto lens that cost about £15, was this:
Sadly, the bird was found dead the next day, presumably having starved in the freezing weather of that particularly cold winter. I don’t know where the stuffed specimen is now, but I seem to remember seeing it in the basement of the New Walk Museum in Leicester years ago.
Looking back at old notebooks like this inevitably gets you thinking about how much things have changed in the intervening time. 28 years may be a long time in birding, but it’s a gnat’s fart in terms of human history. It’s hard to imagine now, but in 1985 there were of course no mobile phones, no digital cameras, no Internet, and no home computers to speak of. And no information services other than your personal contacts, Nancy’s Cafe and Ceefax. If we hadn’t happened to bump into whoever told us about it that day (I have a feeling it was Chris Hubbard, but I could be wrong), we probably wouldn’t have heard about it until it was too late, and I would have been celebrating county-ticking the Thornton bird instead of lamenting the fall of a blocker.
There’s obviously only one piece of music that can go with this post: