Where not to see a rare bird

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.

Night-heron, skulking and alert

Night-heron, skulking and alert

Night-heron, peering

Night-heron, peering

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!

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