“You’re a twitcher, aren’t you?”

I still get that, from time to time, and for the most part I issue a full denial. I haven’t left the county, or the town even, in pursuit of a bird in a long time, and rarely chase one unless I was going to go out birding anyway. However, I suppose there are still birds that would push me over the edge and back to the dark side. For example, an undeniably, outrageously beautiful bird that I’ve yet to see anywhere in the world, a bee-eater or a roller, say – providing I wasn’t taken too far out of my way. It would need to be no more than an hour’s drive, and I’d want somebody to take with me. Preferably there would be other good birding to do in the area so we could make a full day’s outing of it. That would be an acceptable sort of twitch.

Better, much better than even this modest form of twitching is to watch birds on one’s home turf. Local is where I am, where we all are day to day. To encounter something wonderful in the places we usually live or work is, I would suggest, a deeper, more transformative experience.

So when I got a text from The Ricebirder (now returned from his sojourn in the Philippines) on Friday morning that simply read ‘Yellow-browed on site. You around for lunch?’ I panicked, just a little, at the thought of missing a pretty high-quality patch bird. What did he mean on site?! He couldn’t possibly mean campus! Some other site nearby? I was about to depart with a minibus full of students for a morning field trip. This was incredibly inconvenient timing.

What was truly incredible was the manner of this bird’s discovery – it was seen by a meteorologist through his office window. Just as I’m pretty sure birds of this caliber aren’t supposed to turn up on campus, they certainly aren’t supposed to be found by so huge a slice of luck. On the other hand, luck is about the only way a leaf-coloured bird the size of a goldcrest paying a fleeting visit to a 320-acre park is ever going to be found.

A little piece of his luck stayed with us, in that once I made it back to campus we managed to relocate the bird over four hours since it was first found and a mere half hour after beginning our search. Yellow-browed warblers, along with the closely related, rarer Pallas’s warbler, are often referred to as ‘sprites’, and it was clear why. As bright and fresh and sharp as a lemon, it zipped and flitted about a small stand of silver birch trees, charming all of us who saw it, a glimpse of wonder that opened up the magic in our everyday surroundings.

For a first-hand finder’s account and a bit of background on yellow-browed warblers, see the Whiteknights Biodiversity blog.

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