Me Nature

Red-letter day

For me, one of the nice things about birding in Europe is that, in a sense, every new bird represents a lifetime ambition fulfilled. If you live in the UK, soon after you start taking an interest in birds, you get a book of birds of Britain and Europe, and spend time looking at all the intriguing species that aren’t found in the UK. Obviously, not all the ambitions are equally deeply held; not even the most geekily bird-obsessed six-year old is going to get that excited by the drabber waders and warblers. But at least you’ve known the names for years; it’s not like birding in South America or Africa, where often the first time I consciously register the bird’s name is when I identify it.

There’s one group of birds, though, that I can sincerely say represent a lifetime’s ambition for me. One of the first bird books we had in the house was not a field guide exactly, but a large format book of British birds for the family library. I’m not sure it even had all the British breeding species, and it certainly didn’t have many rarities. But it did make room for one set, chosen more for their visual appeal than because the reader was likely to see them. On what was effectively the ‘colourful birds’ page, along with kingfisher and golden oriole, there were three species that are occasional vagrants to the UK: bee-eater, hoopoe and roller.

Well, as of today, I’ve finally seen the whole set, because today I saw a roller for the first time. I’ve actually seen other species of roller in Africa, but I’d never seen European Roller, and it was even better than I expected. I saw it flutter up onto a bare tree, where it was sitting facing me in full sunlight, and I knew they were blue, but it was just the most beautiful, unreal sky blue colour.

So this is a big day for me. I’ve also seen Golden Oriole, Woodchat Shrike, Quail and Peregrine Falcon, which would be pretty good by normal standards, but today is all about that roller.

EDIT: what’s more, I’ve now discovered that according to the book, Roller is a ‘Very Rare’ passage migrant here, so not only is it a beautiful bird and an exciting one for me personally, it’s actually a good record for Crete! Which isn’t really that important to me but adds a little extra je ne sais quoi.

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