Public Information Broadcast

White Swallow from Cirencester in 2015, from BBC News website

One of the odd things about bird news is that when it is reported by someone who doesn’t do regular birding they are often referred to as ‘a member of the public’. It makes me wonder what birders are if they aren’t members of the public, some kind of secret society perhaps.

Birders are often cynical about claims of unusual birds from ‘the public’. This is not without foundation, birders make mistakes and non-birders will make more mistakes. This popular internet meme is funny because it has a kernel of truth in it.

But non-birders will sometimes find rare or distinctive birds. On Shetland where birding is a bit more mainstream than on the mainland rare birds are regularly found by people who know their garden visitors and take pictures of things that look different.

Where is this going? Well tonight after a late work finish I went to Skippool for some air and some birds. It was a lovely evening and I saw plenty of waders and gulls, including a dozen godwits fresh in from Iceland. As I was leaving a lady who lives in one of the boats shouted to ask me if I was bird watching, when I confirmed I was she asked me to wait.

She wanted to tell me that she had seen a rare white Swallow from her boat a couple of days last week. She then went through her mobile phone gallery to find a picture. What follows is a shot of a screen, so it’s a bit grainy but it’s clear that a bird looking like this flying with Swallows would also be one.

the white Swallow at Skippool last week

Admittedly this isn’t a rare bird, it’s a rare variant of a relatively common bird. But I’d dearly love to have seen it zipping round with its more orthodox looking colleagues. Be a little sceptical about claims from inexperienced birders if you must, but always check out reports from ‘the general public’ when you can.

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