Modern Birding Problems The Strange Rarities Around Llandudno North Wales A New Hastings

Red necked Grebe Anglesey Janice 2017

A real local rarity a Red-necked Grebe seen at Llandudno but no local birders saw it.

Back in the (good?) old days we had to rely on something called the “grapevine” for our bird information. No mobile phones back in the 1970’s we had telephones, landlines, fixed in our houses, can you imagine? And even a strange red structure along the roadside called a “phone-box” a cubicle with a phone in it! These contraptions were used by birders, and others it has to be said, to communicate with each other. Of course it relied on the person you were calling to be within ear-shot of the phone for them to answer it. So as you can imagine bird news was pretty hit and often miss, but on Friday evenings I remember spending ages on the telephone, at the bottom of the stairs at home, calling other birders and asking the age old question “much about?”

Red phone box

No, not Doctor Who's tardis painted the wrong colour this is or was a telephone box!

When there was news of a rarity we all telephoned our regular contacts around the UK who then in turn telephoned their contacts and the news spread via this “grape-vine” and it kind of worked when there weren’t that many people involved. Into the 1980’s and more people were getting into birding and twitching and some clever birders saw an opportunity to spread the word more efficiently and make a few bob while they were at it. Birdline was born, a pre-recorded telephone message detailing all the rare birds known about in the UK available to all! This was huge at the time and it took off like wild fire way bigger than any of us would have guessed, No more missed messages or garbled scribbles on scraps of paper by the phone if you were out – just call Birdline and get all the gen!

Alan two phones

Some days were very busy at Regional Birdline - one day over 1,000 calls to Birdline North West!

The UK Birdline soon became overwhelmed with records from so many birders calling in with their sightings and the message became so long it was no longer practical to include every bit of information phoned in. Cue the birth of Regional Bird Lines to provide news of birds of local interest but not the sort of thing hard core twitchers were calling to hear about and this worked really well. I spent over 20 years recording messages for Birdline North West and Birdline Wales and a lot of fun was had doing it. Sometimes we would receive a call about a bird that didn’t fit the regular occurrence pattern or of a major rarity from an observer we did not know and in those cases we rang the person back had a friendly chat and tried to decide if the record was good or not. If we were unable to reach the observer we put the news out with the caveat “unconfirmed report” so anyone hearing the message would know it was not a definite record at this stage and maybe not travel to look for it until confirmed.

Great Orme

The Great Orme and Llandudno was fast becoming the next "Hastings Rarities" location!

Fast forward to 2021 and birders are equipped with an array of high tech help to spot birds, mobile phones that bleep to alert them a rarity has been seen within moments of the sighting being made. That same mobile phone has Apps for your favourite field guide, a camera to take digi-photos of the birds you see, access to bird recording software such as Ebird and Bird Track and WhatsApp messaging services to keep in touch with birding friends. What a difference to stopping at a roadside telephone box in the 1980’s and pumping coins into the slot to hear Richard Millington say “Welcome to Birdline…”

In these depressing days of lockdown one great thing is our love of birds and the ability to go out for our exercise walks and enjoy seeing birds. Ok, we can’t dash about all over the place and see amazing rarities but we can work our local patch and take great pleasure in local rarities for our area. Here around Llandudno in North Wales there are not that many birdwatchers and we have a great local WhatsApp group for sharing our sightings so it was very odd when recently the national bird information services reported “Red-necked Grebe at Llandudno” a really great rarity locally and one we would all have loved to see! It was made all the more odd by the lack of detail associated with the record, Llandudno has two beaches the North Shore and the West Shore but no mention of which beach the rare bird was seen from? Odd indeed and no one knew where the record had come from, oh well a good bird missed.

Glaucous Gull Mull 2016 2

Another lockdown local rarity missed this time a Glaucous Gull painful.

Then a Glaucous Gull is reported by the national bird information services this time the location is given as “Great Orme, Llandudno” and again none of the keen local birders know of the record or hear from anyone who saw this locally rare bird? Again the information supplied is scant, no age given for the gull most observers would mention that, no exact location for the bird – the Great Orme is a big headland and most birders would add something like “on the rocks at Pigeon Cove” or even “flying west past the headland” to give other people a clue where to look, all very odd, and another good local bird missed. These misses would be painful so close to home at any time but in lockdown when we are all staying local especially painful! Doubly painful in this instance as that very day a few of the local birders had been on the headland watching some Snow Buntings and so could perhaps have seen the rare gull too with better details supplied?

Hooded Crow Finland 2015

The next in a series of locally rare birds missed in lockdown - Hooded Crow.

Next a Hooded Crow is broadcast by the national bird information services and this time a very specific site is given for this local rarity. Same pattern though no local birders know anything about the sighting or have met anyone birding in that area they don’t know well! Of course this time with a specific location given for the bird it was worth a look and one brave birder donned water-proofs and spent two hours searching his local patch for the Hooded Crow but to no avail and saw no other birders, not surprising as it is just some farm fields, hardly a birding hot spot! What on earth was going on, were we all being wound up by some local birder who was laughing at us? We even began to form a list of suspects, a very short list at that!

Then one of us who was giving the matter a lot of thought checked their mobile phone Ebird records and….oh….oh dear….a few errors had crept in while recording in the local area! Now old age creeps up on all of us and sadly many of us need spectacles to read the tiny mobile phone screen when inputting data! Doing it without said spectacles, with cold hands on a winter’s day well let’s just say mistakes can happen!

So Red-necked Grebe, Glaucous Gull and Hooded Crow have all now been deleted from the local Ebird database thankfully! And now we know how it happened it was so very, very funny! Walking over your local patch looking for a bird that was never there in the pouring rain cursing the person who reported the bird, only to find it was you yourself that entered the record in error! Modern day birding problems.

So if you hear of a locally rare bird and don’t know who has been “poaching” on your local patch maybe check your own EBird and Bird Track before heading out in the rain! A great lesson for us all here wear your glasses when using your mobile phone - especially to enter bird records.

Of course a wonderful way to see more birds is to join one of our Birdwatching Trips and learn a lot about the birds you are enjoying too. We have tours suitable for all from beginners to experienced birders that are seeking particular species. Just drop us a line here and we can arrange a perfect custom tour for you!

We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds with you as soon as it is safe.

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