If you want to see rare birds, it helps to recognise the kinds of places where they are likely to turn up – such as islands, coasts or large reedbeds. You would never want to spend time in a public park in the centre of town – there are too many people, and all you’ll get is mallards and gulls.
That’s why the black-crowned night-heron that turned up at Pittville Park in Cheltenham last week was such a surprise. It even spent most of Friday at the upper lake, nearest the Pump Room – the most popular part of the park. Nevertheless, being a bird that usually skulks, it found a bush behind which it could creep and disappear, and even when it did emerge it managed to remain obscure.
It had been discovered by an avid local birder, John Sanders, so as he was there when I arrived at the site I asked him whether Pittville Park was a local patch that he regularly monitored. “No,” he answered, “I was just walking back from getting the morning paper”!
The night-heron is one of the birds I’ve most wanted to see, though I’d be hard pressed to explain why: perhaps it is the name, which evokes a certain mystique; or perhaps it is its reputation for being elusive. For it to turn up in Cheltenham on a day when I was already intending to travel there was a real treat!