Thursday 18 May 2023


Largo Bay is one of my favourite spots in Fife, possibly anywhere. Whenever I visit my family I am sure to visit one end or the other. Ruddon's Point at the east, Levenshore at the west, and Lower Largo itself somewhere towards the middle. It has been on fire of late - stuffed with vast quantities of duck, wader and diver. It is also 450 miles away. A few weeks back a Stejneger's Scoter was found by one of the local birders within the Velvet flock. This is a special achievement, and if you read his write up it was something like the tenth bird he scanned that morning. As is often the way with these things, as more birders arrived and started looking for it - for this is a very rare bird indeed, the second for the UK (or perhaps the first turning up again from Lothian last year - which incidentally I dipped whilst visiting my parents) - they found other birds. I am a little unsure of the final count and probably so are most people, but in addition to the Stejneger's there were up to four White-winged Scoters, themselves spectacularly rare, and possibly also four Surf Scoters as well. And to add to the fun all these birds were bracketed, quite literally and in terms of timing, by a King Eider to the east and a Pacific Diver to the west. Incredible stuff. Well, if you could get to Fife...

Whilst I sat gnawing my fingers to the bone here in London, incapable of action despite several long weekends, a Grey-headed Lapwing appeared in Northumberland. This is scarcely believable really, another first for the UK following on the heels of a bird in Holland. Northumberland is not as far away as Fife, but neither is it a casual journey. More gnawing, but you can probably see where this is heading.

As I vacillitated other people made plans. I stayed silent, annoyed at myself for being both rational and pathetic. I very nearly bit the bullet on the Coronation weekend, but by the time I was half committed the departing cars were full. Back to Wanstead then, birding without fingers is quite hard. 

Saturday was spent at home in a state of high anxiety - this is absurd. These are just birds after all and by seeing them or by not seeing them nothing changes. We vaguely watched the Coronation, it was on in the background as we were doing other things. Mainly this was scoffing at the silly fawning and orgasmic descriptions of men marching around in fancy clothes, but I have to say that the spectacle as a whole was actually rather splendid, if totally out of place in 2023. But the music...... when Zadok the Priest started up it sent a tingle down my spine. What a piece that is, and in that setting it was spectacular. Anyway, all that finished, a bunch of helicopters and the Red Arrows flew over our house, and we thought little more of it.

Come Sunday morning and I head out to Wanstead as usual. Both the Grey-headed Lapwing and Stejneger's Scoter are continuing to be soaked up by birders from across the land. I am about halfway through Wanstead Park having seen very little when I crack. Screw it. I am going. By myself. It is 9.30am, I can get to Northumberland by 3pm and Fife by the evening. Monday is a Bank Holiday again, and although I do unfortunately have work meetings these are not until the afternoon. I have not seen my parents since February, it is a great time of year to be birding in Fife, I can possibly go see my colleagues in Glasgow too. Yes. I can make this happen. I strode home, picked up my laptop and scope, and got in the car.

The next part is very boring and involves sitting in a car on the A1 for an eternity, but by 4pm I am watching the Lapwing and by 9pm I am on the Scoter. Hard work finding it amongst the thousands of birds there, but I was confident I could do it and I did. Job done. The longer I bird the more I hate twitching, but there is no denying that this was very exciting and extremely satisfying. There was joy actually, I am not ashamed to say it. I am not a get in the car and go immediately person, I am far more considered than that, and I spend a long time weighing up my options whilst secretly hoping that the bird will do a runner and make the decision for me. I think I hate the thought of twitching more than twitching itself, and combined with the fear of dipping this means I hardly ever bother. But in reality it is just a day, usually, and the next day you wake up just the same as you did before and it is all behind you. 500 miles and eight hours of driving fade very quickly I find, and a new day dawns with new possibilities. For me that meant birding my way around my favourite spots in Fife for the morning - Wood Sandpiper, Jack Snipe, Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon, seconds of the Scoters and various other things. A bit of family time (I even got to mow part of the lawn for the old man!), a bit of work, a day in Glasgow with the team and then a very long commute home. And the next morning I woke up and went to work in London and it was as if nothing had happened at all. But that faint glow still remains. I did it, I got off my backside, I made a decision, and somehow it all worked out. It is very odd, at work I make decisions all day long, often very material ones, yet outside of that environment I can be decidedly useless. I am not a better birder for having seen a two firsts for the UK in a single day, but I am pleased that I did.


  1. good on ya! Birding time spent off-patch can only be a bonus in my book!

  2. Replies
    1. There is a photo! Of my scope. I was in birding mode, did not bother with a camera - this is especially true at twitches.