Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Lady of Lidlington - 3rd April 2015

Whilst it used to be a past time for those in the know, standing on a muddy path and staring through this fence for hours on end has now become almost mainstream!
The assembled twitchers from the 'first' time around. 
I have now been to Lidlington in Bedfordshire three times including twice this year. The reason being is because behind the fences of the Millbrook Proving ground car testing facility, it is believed that the last remaining Lady Amherst's Pheasant resides in the surrounding woodlands. There may well be others and some are of the opinion there are at least four other males, but anyway, as far as most people are concerned, just the lone male occasionally visible from the public footpath behind Lidlington is the last bird. He is almost certainly over 20 years old, so I was certainly very keen to put in a bit of effort to see him. If and when he dies, that may mean 'Lady A' becomes one of the biggest 'blockers' for the next generation.  In mid-March, 
I went with Matt, Beth and Roland along with a few other NGBs. We set off from Rugby, so it wasn't too much of a hideously early start and we gave it all morning. Sadly, that was the first day it didn't show for quite a few days after seed had been put down in the open ride visible from the track. As much as it pained us, we decided to call it a day at midday. I was very disheartened for a variety of reasons. Mainly that I didn't really want to have to go back because it is a long way from Preston and it does seem strange to put in so much effort for a bird that derives from some birds a lord or lady once released! 

After our visit, it all kicked off on Twitter and the news went out to everyone about the bird's location. It even started getting reported on the news service websites and seemed to be maintaining a relatively reliable pattern. I therefore decided that I had to give it another and get it seen once and for all. I therefore set off from Preston at 4am with Jonnie and we were onsite for 7. Rain was forecast for the whole day so we were very pleased to see it hold off until about half 1. It was certainly a test of our patience having to stand up for many hours without anything other than the occasional Robin and Blackbird. It took us seven hours of staring through the fence before we got our first momentary adrenaline rush as a pheasant appeared at the top of the rise. Sadly it was 'just' a female Common Pheasant, which was then joined by a second female and a male. They spent about ten minutes feeding on the newly installed seed hopper.

We were really starting to lose the will to live and I was feeling it standing up for so long with a painful back (I don't stand up all that often...I'm not just getting old!). Even young Jonnie was starting to feel it and went to the back of the group to have a sit down. Not sixty seconds after Jonnie sat down and I was almost ready to throw in the towel, a shape appeared at the top of the hill. It was very dark with a big white back on the belly and white behind the head. It was instantly recognisable and I let out a very audible gasp and I think that was what alerted the others that the bird was there! I couldn't quite believe my eyes! What an incredible looking bird! It was enormous! The tail was so long, the ruff on the head was incredible and when it had a shake, it revealed the blood red and gold rump. It walked back and forth twice on top of the rise and then walked into the vegetation on the left of the slope. Moving to the right, looking diagonally, I could see it stood in the bushes and a couple of us managed to get our scopes on it. Just as I got a decent view through the scope, it walked out back into the open and slowly accelerated right and out of view behind the top of the rise and that was it. 
(Photo: Josh Jones from mid-March)
A nine hour wait for a single minute of pure elation. Some say twitching is a completely crazy past time, and on paper, I think I might agree with you, but to go from such a depressed feeling prior to it walking out, to the indescribable adrenaline rush when it walked out is exactly why I love this hobby! No matter what you think about this bird or even the species in general, you cannot deny that it is incredibly beautiful. I'm just happy I don't have to go back to that bloody ride again! Having said that, I would certainly go back and pay homage to a complete legend of a bird!


Pete Marsh said...

Looks like you need your car confiscating :-). This species used to be so easy to see a few miles from where you work Zac. It will be removed from the British List when it dies

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