Tuesday 2 August 2016

The Chicken of the Swamp

I first heard about the Minsmere Purple Swamphen on Sunday evening after I returned home from an afternoon birding (Norfolk 3G grrrhhhh!!!!). Anyway, like some I was a little dubious at first. But this bird had its advocates, right subspecies, recent and notable dispersal from its nearest breeding grounds in southern France and a very recent record in Brittany. I couldn't go on Sunday night, almost went at 4.30am on Monday morning but in the end I threw my gear into the car on the way to work on Monday morning and twitched it that evening.

Purple Swamphen twitch, Minsmere, Suffolk
I'm still taken aback by the crowds at UK twitches, even though I shouldn't be at this stage. Biggest Irish twitch I recall was for the first Irish record of Blyth's Reed Warbler on Mizen Head in 2007*. I think there was ten of us - at the most.

Blyth's Reed Warbler twitch, Mizen Head, Cork - 2007. Look at the crowds!!!
Anyway, back to Minsmere. The bird was elusive but I got decent enough views, no mistaking what it was, unlike the recent Scoter twitch. 
Photos were harder though, mainly because of distance, numbers of people and high growing vegetation. But I managed a blog worthy record shot.

Purple Swamphen, RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk
The poor bird has been given many different monikers - Purple Swamp Chicken, Purple Swamp Monster, Swamp Donkey and Purple-helmeted Swamp Chicken (yes guilty!). Knob gags aside, it does really have good credentials and these have been excellently presented by Josh Jones and Hugo Touze in this Birdguides article. 
Hard to see a strong reason not to add this species now to the British list. On the subject of lists then, on my way home from Minsmere I started to formulate a new list in my head. Its the "Birds I dashed out of work to twitch" list. I started on it ten years ago in Cork when my birding was I suppose at the 'moulting of juvenile feathers' stage. The first bird I twitched from work with a mad dash was an Isabelline Shrike on the Old Head of Kinsale in 2006. I ran the list through my head and its got some fond memories, here are the highlights:

Spotted Sandpiper - Shanagarry, Cork - 2007
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - Ballycotton, Cork - 2007
Dusky Warbler - Ballycotton village, Cork - 2007
Pallas's Warbler - Phil's back passage (yes, really!), Ballycotton village, Cork - 2007
Ivory Gull - Baltimore, Cork - 2009
Citrine Wagtail - Tramore, Waterford - 2009
Two-barred Crossbill, Lynford Arborteum, Norfolk - 2013
Steppe Grey Shrike, Burnham Norton, Norfolk - 2014
Purple Swamphen, Minsmere, Suffolk - 2016

*Footnote: The 2007 Mizen Head BRW was considered the first Irish record at the time. However it was since usurped by a Cape Clear record from 2006 that was initially considered a Reed Warbler until re-identified from photos. There is also a very interesting account of an Acrocephalus spp. found on Cape Clear in 1969 by Clive Hutchinson, Ken Preston and Tim Sharrock which certainly had all the right credentials for BRW (see Partricide by Anthony McGeehan).

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