So our first full day in Cambridge I decided to tackle the Lady Amherst’s Pheasant to try and see it before the species goes extinct in the Western Palearctic. I’m sure my family were thrilled when I arose at half 5 in the morning to set myself up and then be on my way.
I had worked it out, so I had a 50 min walk into Cambridge itself, followed by an 80 min coach journey to Bedford, followed by a train to the village where the bird was supposedly residing. I did not know if I would see the bird, or how long it would take. I envisaged that I may have to spend most of my holiday given the patchy nature of sightings but since time was running out I really wanted to see it before it died.
I arrived on site for 9.00 and recognised it immediately from the photos I had seen of the site. I then set up for my long, lonely watch. At around quarter past 9 I was joined by another 3 birders which helped pass the time and give another 3 pairs of eyes for the watch.
At 25 past 9 the unthinkable happened. The bird put in an appearance. On the back of the ridge that we were looking down the birds head appeared, clearly showing the large white on the back of the head. It moved to show the red on the rump but the tail remained obscured. It did not last long as the bird quickly moved away down the far side of the ridge, running away from us. It was probably spooked by our rapid reactions to its presence, but it all happened so quickly that there was not much we could do.
It all happened much too quickly for a photo, but we knew we had seen it and so cued the celebrations. I was thrilled, but of the 4 of us present only 2 of us had picked it up, so I felt a little disappointed for the other guys, especially since one was my age and it would have been a lifer for all of them.
We continued to wait but there was no sight or sound. We had great views of Long-Tailed Tit and Blue Tit but there was little else besides a large group of 7 Squirrels feeding in the area on the path. A Green Woodpecker flew overhead which was a yeartick for me and a great opportunity to get my bogey bird out of the way.
It took 2 hours before the LAP showed itself again. I caught a glimpse of its head clearly coming over the ridge and responded by quickly going for the camera. As soon as I got to the satchel on my shoulder I realised I had made a mistake as the bird had strolled very quickly across the gap. I could only watch as the bird strutted across the top of the ridge before re-entering the scrub. Its profile was distinct and I got a good view of the tail feathers. Sadly I could not get my hands back quick enough for the bins but I could see enough without them. It was a much better view second time than the first and really got to grips with the remaining plumage features.
Fortunately the other 2 guys saw it this time, but the man who had seen it initially missed it this time. Either way, it was great that we had all seen it, even though its appearances added up to less than 10 seconds in total. That was that for the rest of my stay. The 3 other gentlemen left and I was joined by a host of new birders that totalled 7 by the time I left at 3 o’clock, bringing my hours spent up to 6 watching the woodland.
The only remaining sign I got was when it called 3 times at 2.00 but it was further down the bank and did not sound like it would be returning to the ridge any time soon. Also given that the wind had picked up and that it was supposed to rain, and that there was more of a crowd now I decided to call it quits. I was a very happy bloke though, that’s for sure. Having got to grips with my target species at the first time of asking when I thought I would be spending days looking for it. Result!
I headed back and made it back to Cambridge for 6, just in time to crash exhausted in the caravan and enjoying a well-earned victory dinner. I spent 6 hours at the site and saw the bird for less than 10 seconds, but the anticipation made the time fly by, and the bird itself made the trip worthwhile. First lifer of the holiday; the last tickable Lady Amherst’s Pheasant in the UK, a bird possibly as old as I am!
Lidlingham: Blackbird, Dunnock, Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, Green Woodpecker, Common Pheasant, Long-Tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Jackdaw, Common Buzzard, Rook, Carrion Crow, Mistle Thrush