This little darling has been creating a lot of fuss in North West England this week. It's a Pied-billed Grebe and only visits us here in the UK once in a while, the last one being reported in 1999. It's a North American bird which has been blown off course and has ended up in Rochdale at Hollingworth Lake. Being such a rarity it's been exciting birders and twitchers alike, many of whom have travelled long distances just to see it.
So today my wife Sarah and I became twitchers for the day and we went to see it too. It only took about half an hour to get there from our home in Tyldesley and when we arrived at the lake we drove straight into a parking place - we were even given a free ticket to park for a couple of hours by another birder called Sarfraz Hayat who was just leaving. Thanks Sarfraz.
The Pied-billed Grebe was showing very well in the nature reserve pond which is well away from the main boating lake. At first it was on the far side (from the footpath) sheltering in the water weeds and then moving along the reedy edge of the far bank. I thought these distant shots might be the best I'd get today, particularly with all the commotion of birders and twitchers on the path all eager to get a good look.
But then it came across the water to the near bank and was happily catching fish just underneath our noses for five to ten minutes. Unfortunately the tall reeds and branches often obscured our view, but every now and then it popped out into a clearer patch of water and the cameras fired away.
After this feeding spree the grebe went back into the water weeds for a quick preen and nap following Sunday lunch. At this point Sarah and decided to go off and to a spot of geocaching at a cache near to the sea cadets premises a little further round the lake, in the hope that it would show again on our return, this time a little nearer to the path We weren't to be disappointed.
When we got back there were even more birders on the footpath and the grebe was doing another circular tour of the nature reserve pond and came close to the nearside bank again. This time it was being closely eyed-up by a group of Black-headed Gulls which were waiting to mug it, probably for the fish it was catching. Whilst they didn't exactly mob the grebe, their presence was quite threatening particularly as there were five or six of them.
This behaviour eventually forced the grebe to swim towards the small hide at the end of the pond nearest the main lake. I thought I'd just pop in for a quick look, and although it was quite full of birders inside, I fluked a convenient spot by the window just as the grebe was swimming past, not three metres away - what a spot of luck! As soon as that happened there were squeals of joy from everyone here and the noise of the camera shutters clicking was like a burst of machine gun fire! The grebe stayed around for a good few minutes and most of us were pretty happy with some of the shots we got.
It was here in the hide that I met Dennis Atherton again and I started to introduce myself just whilst he was concentrating on taking pictures at the moment that the grebe was in the best position - sorry about that Dennis, I do hope you got some good shots in spite of me!
I'll remember that moment in the hide for quite a long time and today I can say that I've bagged a Mega, seen a UK and County Lifer and been twitching for the first time. What a day!