On Sunday I didn't really have time to get out birding but when I saw a message informing me that a Booted Eagle had been seen at Cockley Cley that had to change. I have never seen Booted Eagle in the UK, let alone in Norfolk, and while I was somewhat sceptical (given past claims that have been decidedly suspect), this wasn't broadcast with any implied uncertainty, or as 'reported', and it was only 20 minutes away. I had to act quick.
I was half way there before I read the message carefully enough to realise the news related to about 2.5 hours earlier. I am not always the quickest to get news out and do not subscribe to the view that it's a twitcher's right to hear about rare birds the second they are seen, but a delay like this inevitably prompts questions. Lots of plausible explanations though, and frankly no reason why I should expect an explanation at all.
I arrived to find two carloads (4 people) present. The two pairs were separated and I parked between them. My immediate enquiries were met with silence. Maybe each thought I was talking to the other, or perhaps they just didn't hear, but anyway my second attempt was more successful and a chap from Leicestershire fessed up to being responsible for the report.
He described seeing the bird coming towards him, thinking it looked interesting on jizz and then seeing its plumage, above and below, clearly and well - an obvious pale-phase Booted Eagle. He was experienced with the species and knew what it was straight away, and had enough time to see that it had yellow legs - and even that it didn't have jesses. The only thing he hadn't seen was the 'landing lights' but a second person (someone from Essex - he had his name but I didn't ask) had said he'd seen the landing lights.
Evidently no-one else present (I'm not sure how many people that was) had got on to the bird - including the finder's mate he'd travelled with. It had gone down behind the trees so no reason to think it wasn't still in the area.
Was it a Booted Eagle? Well the observer seemed to know what he was talking about and people on BirdForum seem to think he's competent. What he described sounded like a Booted Eagle. Inevitably one wonders why no-one else managed to get on it, why it didn't reappear given it didn't seem to be going anywhere, and I'm sure some might read into the fact that despite apparently being confident from the outset a good deal of ooing and ahing took place about what to do with claiming it and putting news out. And then throw in the fact that just two days earlier a very competent raptor-watcher had been there and seen an "amazingly pale Buzzard" with "virtually all white body and underwing-coverts and tiny carpal 'commas'", i.e. about as close to a Booted Eagle as a Buzzard can be (perhaps a bit like this one?). The observer is experienced enough to know that some will be sceptical, and I'm by nature (and experience) sceptical about Booted Eagle claims in Norfolk. That doesn't mean it wasn't one.
On one level it wasn't, and isn't, up to me to judge whether it was a Booted Eagle or not. Having said that, I did have to make some sort of judgment on the spot as on the one hand I didn't want to miss an opportunity to see a Booted Eagle in Norfolk and on the other I still had lots I needed to do that day. I had to make a judgement whether to stay and look or go home and get stuff done. I drove down the road to somewhere that had a good vista in the general direction of where it might have gone if it wasn't showing from the original spot and gave it a few minutes from here. A Red Kite or two were the best of several raptors on view from here. I guess the fact that I didn't give it all that long says something about my judgement. Whether this was right or wrong I don't suppose I'll ever know, though it probably was right in respect of how I best used my time, given that it wasn't seen again during the rest of the afternoon.
I then headed back, passing through the patch where I bumped in to Dave. Had literally a two-minute stop at one of the gravel pits where Dave had seen Little Ringed Plover and Green Sandpiper earlier. Both were still present and I returned home.
me be clear, I have no reason to think that the observer was anything
other than a competent birder, and I do not know if he saw a Booted
Eagle or not - I didn't see it, I wasn't there. Even if he didn't that
doesn't reflect badly on him - the best make mistakes. He is very likely a better and more experienced birder than me and he thinks he did see a Booted Eagle - and I have no desire to rain on his parade, nor any basis for doing so. It's not up to
me to adjudicate the record and I'm quite happy to leave that to the BBRC
chaps if he chooses to submit the record (and if need be the BOU chaps
as well, given the species' ongoing failure to make it on to category
And in other news, not much to report for the past week. In fact the only bird of note was my first singing Chiffchaff of the year, at Dougton on Tuesdsay. Unusual to have heard so few of these by this late in the month - though not as bad as 2013.