A Lucky Scalp...

I once was signed up to Birdline when we lived in Scotland.

This was long before social media or even mobile phones.

It was when we lived near Falkland and I was a member of the Fife Bird Club.

How it worked was that if a rare bird was seen, the information was passed on by simply phoning the next member of Birdline, after you on the list – and if he or she did not answer, you went straight on to the next person. Speed was of the essence. You would have to explain what had been seen, when and where, and then that person would pass it on to his or her next in line.

Simple… what could go wrong?

On one occasion we had a friend staying with us from Essex – he was a good lad, but he certainly was no birder. Kay was out, and I seem to remember for some reason I was in the bath at the time of the call. I shouted through the door for Ed to get the phone and if it was Birdline to take down the details and then to phone the next number on the pad by the phone and to pass on the information.

The incoming call was brief and just said “Spoonbill on Lucky Scalp”.

Ed duly took down the details and phoned next on the list and told of the Spoonbill on Lucky Scalp.

I think he pretended to be me as I was still in the bathroom finishing off my ablutions. He said that he went into a cold sweat when next on the list wanted to discuss the exact location of Lucky Scalp – was this the sandbar out from Tayport in the Firth of Tay? And was the bird supposed to be one of the juveniles that might have been blown over from Texel in the Netherlands?

Ed simply said ‘Yes’ and hung up.

To this day he still says it is one of the weirdest calls he has ever had to make.


As luck would have it, I had a meeting the next day with the publishers D.C.Thomson in Dundee and on the way home it did not take me too far out of my way to swing round into Tayport and walk along the footpath out of the village along the coast which in turn overlooked the said sandbar.

Spoonbills were (and are) extremely exotic birds and had never crossed my path up ‘til that moment – nor indeed had I ever ‘chased’ a bird from Birdline – but this time, I thought I’d give it a go. The problem was that no one had told me just how far out Lucky Scalp was into the Firth of Tay – at least half a mile. Perhaps if the tide was out you could get a bit closer to see the birdlife, but my timing coincided with high-tide so this sandbar was just a blurred strip in the middle of the vast mouth of the Tay’s wide estuary.

I peered out over a choppy sea and focused my binoculars on a distant white blob. It was my first Spoonbill.

It is fair to say that I did not have an emotional experience over my first ‘twitch’ but until yesterday that was the only time I had ever seen a Spoonbill in the UK.

Fast forward some 25+ years and Stephen and I were escorting a lovely group of keen (if inexperienced) birders out for the day looking for birds in various locations across Somerset. We ending up at the new WWT reserve at Steart near Bridgwater in the late afternoon.

At the first hide we visited (The Quantocks Hide) there they were; three juvenile Spoonbills sifting the water with their huge spoon bills around three hundred yards from the hide. It was fantastic to see such unique birds so clearly – my powerful telescope got me and our friends right in close to the birds – they were an impressive sight.

Then boom! – all hell broke loose. Around a thousand lapwings and the same number of golden plover erupted from next to the spoonbills, and took to the air – something had spooked them. Strangely – would you believe it was just a passing kestrel that caused all the stress?

The large white spoonbills were non-plussed and simply flapped their floppy round wings and took off along with the rest of the throng. All they did was circle the lagoon once and then settle down even closer to the hide.


Birding does not get much better, and my spoonbill sighting at Steart took me all the way back to happy days in Fife.

I wonder whatever did happen to Ed?  

Graeme Mitchell