Home
 
 

Rarity finders White-billed Diver in Lincolnshire

 
 

This page contains 1 reader comment. Click here to view (latest Wed 01/02/17 19:50).

Finder David Curtis explains the circumstances surrounding the discovery ...

Having been brought up on a farm alongside the River Witham near Tattershall Bridge I have always had a keen interest in wildlife, much of which I have observed from the riverbank when fishing. It's not always about catching fish — it's always nice to have a Kingfisher perched on the end of a rod, to make eye contact with a hunting Barn Owl or to watch a Starling murmuration against the setting sun.

On the sunny afternoon of Friday 20 January, I walked along the Sustrans Water Rail Way from Kirkstead Bridge to Stixwould. I reached the station house at Stixwould at approximately 3.30 pm and decided to walk back on top of the riverbank. Somewhere in the vicinity of the iron sheep sculptures I saw a Little Egret, and I dropped down to the water's edge in the hope of getting near enough to take a photo. As I got closer I noticed another bird on the water that I had never seen before. While I am not what you would call an avid birder, I am familiar with most of the usual waterfowl, but the colouring of this bird and its large, pale bill particularly drew my attention. Keeping low along the bank I managed to take some photos until the bird gradually moved away across to the far bank.

Back at home I downloaded the photos and consulted the Collins Bird Guide, concluding that it might be a White-billed Diver. My wife works in the offices at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and suggested that we email it to Gibraltar Point warden Kev Wilson to confirm and ask if it was common ... I had no idea what I had started!


The River Witham at Stixwould (Photo: Yoav Perlman)

Kev Wilson takes up the story ...

Sue had sent the email late on Friday evening, so I did not pick it up until the Saturday morning. We often receive emails during evenings and weekends about tidying up any administrative errors that the Field Staff (us!) may have made! Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise to see that I was being asked to identify a mystery bird.

Her message read as follows:

Hi Kev
David, my husband, took this photo on the River Witham this afternoon.
Can you help please — Is it a Loon? Are these common?
Have a good weekend
Sue

My first thought was that, with David being a keen angler, he would be familiar with Cormorants. As such I was expecting to see an image of, maybe, a Great Northern or a Black-throated Diver, which seem to turn up inland most frequently. However, I had a flashback to the White-billed Diver that was found on this stretch of the River Witham by Kev Durose in February 1996 and which I had been fortunate enough to see.

When I opened the image, I nearly fell off my chair! I regularly get sent photographs of birds to identify — often pin-prick sized or blurred images (I like the challenge!) but here was a full-frame, crisp photograph of a juvenile White-billed Diver on the River Witham in January 2017.

White-billed Diver
One of David's first photos of the White-billed Diver, sent to Kev Wilson to confirm the ID.

My first thought was: "It must be a hoax!"

I immediately rang a couple of birders that I know watch sites in that area, with the caveat that it could be a hoax, while I managed to get a confirmatory message back from Sue via another colleague, Dave Bromwich, that the bird was 'for real'. I then sent messages to many local birders and put the news out nationally.

Like me, many county birders were due at a joint meeting of the Lincolnshire Bird Club and Lincolnshire Naturalists' Union at Whisby, Lincoln that day, where an excellent illustrated presentation was to be given by Graham Catley.

Although one or two people did check out some sections of the river, the diver had moved slightly and it wasn't relocated until very late on in the afternoon. Fortunately the bird remained into the following day and until the end of the month, and was enjoyed by large numbers of visitors. I was fortunate enough to be able to see it on the Sunday afternoon, just before the site became fog-bound for almost two days.

The occurrence of a second White-billed Diver on this stretch of the River Witham, some 20 years after the first, was nothing short of astonishing. How could such a coincidence happen — is there any science to it? Is there a previously undiscovered migration flight path of White-billed Divers in mid-winter over central Lincolnshire? I don't think so! This stretch of river now accounts for two of just four British inland White-billed Diver records. Impressively, there are no other accepted records of a live bird for the entirety of Lincolnshire, including the coast — a dead bird was picked up in The Wash in March 1976.

I am sure that there cannot be too many parallel situations of rarity occurrences in the UK but I'd be very interested to hear of any similar.

One that does come to mind is that of Lincolnshire's two albatross records — not seen from coastal watchpoints as one might presume, but the first reportedly shot on the Trent at Stockwith and identified as a Yellow-nosed Albatross in 1836 (although never fully accepted as this species) was followed by an undoubted Yellow-nosed photographed on a fishing lake near Messingham, about 10 miles away, in 2007!

After the 1982 bird, perhaps I should make a diary note for November 2017 to check the plantation at Gibraltar Point for another American Redstart...


(Video: Clare Gillatt)

White-billed Diver
(Photo: Dave Andrews)

White-billed Diver
(Photo: Dave Hutton)

White-billed Diver
(Photo: Ray Hall)

White-billed Diver
(Photo: John Dickenson)

White-billed Diver
(Photo: Paul Coombes)

Related pages

White-billed Diver White-billed Diver
Lincolnshire Lincolnshire


Related articles

Rarity finders Oriental Turtle Dove in West Yorkshire Rarity finders Oriental Turtle Dove in West Yorkshire
A couple of photos passed along by a work colleague alerted Duncan Watson to the presence of a mega eastern dove in West Yorkshire, but the bird now seems to be long gone. read on read on
Rarity finders American Herring Gull in Suffolk Rarity finders American Herring Gull in Suffolk
Pete Wilson's diversion via a local Suffolk pig farm paid off when a rare Nearctic gull emerged from the throng. read on read on
Rarity finders Hermit Thrush on Noss Rarity finders Hermit Thrush on Noss
Craig Nisbet, Reserve Warden at Scottish Natural Heritage, clapped his hands in a Shetland island geo and flushed a mega Yank thrush, which fortunately stayed for others to see. read on read on
Rarity finders Common Rock Thrush on Scilly Rarity finders Common Rock Thrush on Scilly
Ansy Boothroyd was teaching her husband some bird identification tips when he noticed a gaudy but unusual bird perched on a wall. read on read on
Rarity finders Baillon's Crake in Cornwall Rarity finders Baillon's Crake in Cornwall
One of the only birds Alice Davey saw during a morning at a west Cornwall beach proved to be a mega-rare crake. read on read on


The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (1)

#1
No coincidence. Wildlife is cyclical.
   Edward Hutchings, 01/02/17 19:50Report inappropriate post Report 

Back to top Back to top

Latest edition Latest edition
Search articles Search articles
All articles All articles
Popular articles Popular articles
 
   
 
Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Terms of Sale | Cookie Policy | About us | Advertise | Contact us
BirdGuides, Warners Group Publications PLC, The Chocolate Factory, 5 Clarendon Road, London N22 6XJ
© 2017 BirdGuides and Warners Group Publications plc. All Rights Reserved. Company Registered in England no. 2572212 | VAT registration No. GB 638 3492 15
Sales: or tel. 0800 919391 · International Sales: +44 (0)1778 391180 · Office: or tel. 020 8826 0934
 
   

Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites