Musings on Western Purple Swamp-hen

2 Aug

31/7/16 The report early Sunday afternoon of a Purple Gallinule at Minsmere RSPB for the 2nd day didn’t raise too much excitement with me due to  it’s history in this country.

My first was in Cumbria at Sandscale in October 1997 [see here]. The article is a bit ambiguous but nothing came of it. The second in 1998 was by the River Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire near the Dog-in-doublet pub. Still remember the pub sign of a dog wearing a padded Elizabethan-style jacket. Anyway it was proclaimed, not long after RL and I left the site, as an escape from a wildlife park nearby at Sawtry. It escaped in 1998. and lived on the river until late 2006. See here for a picture and more info.

On a more positive side it’s on my World List from a birding trip to in April 2001 . The site was a marsh in Sotogrande, one of those posh guarded estates where you expect British criminals like Ray Winstone’s character in “Sexy Beast” to live. Also saw them again in Spain at April 2007 at Cote Donana centre in April 2007. Remember on the trip calling them ‘Swamp-chickens’ closer to the current name.

However the Minsmere bird got a mega alert having been identified as Western Purple Swamp-hen, which with its recent northward range expansion including one present in France in Morbihan at Guidel at Le Petit Loch 47.754, -3.510 was deemed a good bet of a genuine vagrant.  We were in the North Yorkshire Moors [see here] and so it was going to tomorrow at the earliest. Made it clear I was up for it but nothing had been arranged by late evening so went to bed thinking of the possibility of going on my own. This would be my longest ride for many years and Minsmere an awkward place to get to anyway.

1/8/16 Fortunately got a phone call from TD at 7.00 and had just over an hour to sort things out and get to the Humber Bridge. This included a quick look at the moth trap to recover any visible ones before covering it. Only a couple of White Satin were obvious.


White Satin Moth

On the Humber Bridge approach road had my first nightmare. In the past you could turn right into the Country Park but sometime ago [likely a very long time!] this gap had been removed and there was no way of during a u-turn. In retrospect could have just gone over the bridge and park up at the lay-by near the Far Ings turning. A quick call and it would have only caused a small diversion for my friends. Instead I pulled up then started pushing the bike back up the road with no real idea what I’d do when I reached the roundabout. Not really a too wise move going against a heavy flow of traffic. Fortunately at the stop for southbound bus there was kerb drop that allowed me to at least get on the pavement. There was path leading to the road below and but had no idea if I could get out the other end. Fortunately although there was some kind of barrier I got the bike through and parked it on the road below. Suspected I was now running late so quickly extracted my stiff from the panniers and tried ringing TD as I walked back to the bus stop. Couldn’t get through but got ‘phoned back almost immediately and was able to say where I was and was picked up in a matter of minutes by TC, TD and AW.

Although a much longer route, because of the holiday and farm traffic, TC  decided to head for Lincoln then across to the A1 before heading back east on the A14. Wasn’t very easy that way either but later learned that other birders taking the alternative routes had also had a bad time with traffic. Arriving early afternoon were told the Swamp-hen had been showing recently but as is normal we then had c45mins wait. Glad we all had RSPB membership card as they’re charging 9 quid. Challenging WWT! There was a few calls usually of movement of reeds but when we finally saw it, it was just a static red leg attached to a blue-black body with the occasional sighting of a large red bill. It did eventually move and although always close to the reeds did gave some good views although a bit too distant and the light not right for my camera at least.


Little Egrets on pool behind Minsmere RSPB South Hide with Western Purple Swamp-hen behind.


Close up of Western Purple Swamp-hen on pool behind Minsmere RSPB South Hide


A more typical view  of Western Purple Swamp-hen on pool behind Minsmere RSPB South Hide.

Having put on a fairly regular show it became elusive just as the sort of twitcher who lacks the patients surely essential for our hobby turned up. A lot of moaning including inferring  that other birders were somehow withholding information. Didn’t reappear for another 45mins so late afternoon called it a day. A good call as it was near 3 hours before another sighting.

The return journey was a lot easier. Stopped as Cambridge services where a snack cost almost as much as decent meal out back home. Also almost doubled the cost of the trip!

Back on the road got an anonymous called. As usual asked for someone who sounded very little like my name. Did what I usually do with unsolicited calls and denied knowledge of the name but on asking the business of the caller found it was Humberside Police. As my bike had been left unattended for near 11 hours there was some concern for my safety. Showing the positive nature of my mood didn’t twig that parking so close to a short cut to the Humber Bridge might cause some worries.

Back over the bridge had my final nightmare. Got dropped at the entrance to the Country Park which is still accessible from the northbound lane of the approach road. Maybe a bit tired I just couldn’t work out how to get back to my bike. Walked in circle for a long time before doing the sensible thing by just following the road out the park away from bridge approach road. Soon found my way helped by a sign for the southbound bus stop. Was now drenched with sweat and rode home with my jacket undone.

For Alan Whitehead’s version of the twitch check his blog.


3 Responses to “Musings on Western Purple Swamp-hen”


  1. Alkborough Flats | Erich's birding and biking blog - August 3, 2016

    […] After yesterday’s excursion [see here] had a late start on Tuesday and didn’t get out until mid afternoon. Again over the bridge […]

  2. Black Terns are like buses…… | Erich's birding and biking blog - September 2, 2016

    […] thought of getting straight off and beating the crowds passed my mind but having already seen the Minsmere bird at the start of the month and a juvenile Black Tern present since this morning at Hornsea Mere, a […]

  3. 2016 in 12 picture | Erich's birding and biking blog - December 31, 2016

    […] August was a good month for waders at Tophill Low NR, had a site tick in the form of Spotted Crake at North Cave Wetlands and some good insects. All these are covered in the blog but the choice goes to the Western Swamp-hen at Minsmere RSPB on the 1st [see here]. […]

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