Lucy McRobert: on the road to Hull


I used to think that enjoying the spectacle of autumn bird migration was to do with avian geography. Now, I suspect it might be to do with personal geography: where in the world you position yourself from early autumn onwards.

Back in the September issue (Birdwatch 351: 42-43), I went toe-to-toe with the formidable Rebecca Nason as we battled over the ultimate autumn birding destination. While Rebecca and I defended the two extremes of the UK (Shetland versus Scilly), it seems we both got it wrong. If you'd like to see rare birds, the best place to be is at a Travelodge on the highway to Hell – sorry, Hull.

I suspect that in the coming years, betting your disposable income and holiday allowance on one rather isolated destination will become unfashionable. Sitting twiddling your thumbs in some nondescript location in the Midlands, with the flexibility to jump in the car at any moment might be the way forward, provided Yorkshire continues its winning streak of  attracting rare species.

Blacktoft Sands RSPB in East Yorkshire was graced with this White-tailed Lapwing, which was present throughout autumn (Graham Catley).

People who adopted this strategy have mopped up big this year. Starting with the White-tailed Lapwing, Yorkshire scored repeatedly with Green Warbler, Long-toed Stint, Taiga Flycatcher and Two-barred Warbler. OK, none of these can compete with a Varied Thrush on Orkney, but no doubt Yorkshire will get one of  those next year, too. A Houdini-style Eyebrowed Thrush and a single-observer Nutcracker (both in north Scotland) can't hold a flag.


Strictly Scilly

For Little Miss Scilly here, who enjoyed seeing just one of the above, this has presented a predicament. On the one hand, my personal carbon footprint has been sanctimoniously low. On the other, twitchy husband has turned sulking into an Olympic sport, with him and a couple of local birders forming a support group. This is the Siberian Accentor debacle all over again (at least we pulled that one back), but worse. Back in 1992, Dr Rob (said husband) actually published A Guide to Birds and Birdwatching on Papa Westray, which you can still buy in the local shop. He doesn't take it well if you ask when he's updating it.

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We do expect to miss one or two birds in the autumn by adopting a strictly-Scilly strategy, but this year has taken the mickey. However, while my metaphorical tail is firmly between my legs, I refuse to back down from my pro-island position in the long term.

BBRC rarities may have been few and far between, but I am relishing having a Scilly list – sprinting for a Great Crested Grebe, chasing a European Serin, scrutinising a scruffy Lesser Scaup, and having my retinas scorched watching a Red-rumped Swallow (I swear at one point it was behind the sun). I love that on Scilly I've seen Snowy Owl before Barn Owl, Cedar Waxwing before Bohemian Waxwing, and Indigo Bunting before Yellowhammer. And at least I can feel smug that I haven't dislocated my shoulder falling 45 m down an embankment into the River Ribble in pursuit of a Belted Kingfisher (on my list).

By the way, I'm delighted that my column will now be appearing monthly. When I was first approached in 2013 by Dominic Mitchell to write for the magazine, I never imagined all these years later I would still be going strong. I've enjoyed my fair share of support and criticism since; as one reader said, 'inspiring and infuriating in equal measure'. I’ll take that.

So, to all of you who have been inspired over the last few years, thank you! I'm always looking for new stories and ideas, so do stay in touch with me on Twitter and Instagram. To those of you who will now be doubly infuriated by my writing, who are now sobbing into your cups of coffee and tearing the page up in frustration, I can only apologise. You can stay in touch, too, but may find yourselves muted (only joking). Thank you!


Written by: Lucy McRobert

Lucy McRobert is a wildlife author and communications professional, as well as a Birdwatch columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @LucyMcRobert1