As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Friday 31 May 2019

Rarity finders: Great Spotted Cuckoo on the Isle of Wight

I'm a keen birder and photographer living in Ventnor, on the south coast of the Isle of Wight, and regularly bird the environs of the village in the hope of bumping into something unusual. On 21 March I decided to take one of my regular walks along the seawall from Ventnor to Bonchurch. It was a dull afternoon so I decided not to take my camera with me, instead opting just for binoculars (something I later regretted). The sea defence wall is backed by chalk cliffs with scrub, including brambles and various interesting plants.
While walking I was aware of a largish bird hopping in and out of a patch of brambles to my left. It was quite close, so gave me a good view through the 'bins', allowing me to note the plumage. With a long tail, spotted upperparts, slight crest and creamy throat fading to white underparts, it was a really striking-looking bird. It stayed for a few minutes, then flew off around the corner to the east.
I didn't stay around but turned back quickly to the car to consult my Collins Bird Guide, which confirmed that I'd seen a Great Spotted Cuckoo. That afternoon I posted the sighting on our local birding website. This brought about a reaction from some local birders who I (mistakenly) failed to tell of my find! Being a relatively novice birder by their standards, I was not at the time aware of the significance of this rarity. I didn't realise that it was the only one in the country at the time − and only the second-ever sighting on the Isle of Wight.
By next morning the word was out. From 6 am onwards there was a flurry of lenses, binoculars and telescopes making their way along the seawall, constituting a mega twitch for the island. Fortunately, the bird was still around and in fact it remained into April, feeding on Brown-tail Moth caterpillars. And in the latter days of its stay, it started moving up the cliff face to feed on the caterpillars of an Isle of Wight speciality − Glanville Fritillary. A change of menu, I guess!

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