Black-browed Albatross, Minsmere 12 July 2015
by Peter Hobbs
It had been five weeks since I had done any birding in the UK. I had been on an amazing trip to Alaska with Sunbird’s sister company in the USA, Wings. Travelling to the remote Pribilof Islands, the beauty and the beasts of Denali National Park, the isolation of Nome, majestic fjords of the Kenai peninsula and finally to the top of the world in Barrow. Phenomenal birding, cracking scenery and a superb group of travelling companions all Americans except me and the lead guide, a Canadian, but he lives in Arizona.
But now it was back to Britain and I had arranged with my birding mate Pete Webster to look for Nightjars. So, as it was to be a late finish, we decided to make a late start. Travelling up the A12 from the south of Essex we were soon over the county border and into Suffolk.
We called in at Boyton marshes and immediately had good scope views of a Turtle Dove, not a bad start and a year tick as well. We then headed up towards Minsmere and once again our luck was in with three Stone Curlews. The heathland was quiet so we decided to visit the tea room and then made our way around to South Hide. Common and Little Terns, Little and Mediterranean Gulls, a selection of waders, nothing special, well it was July after all. We made our way up to the sluice to get better views from the far end of south scrape. We weren’t there too long before the clouds darkened and rain began to fall and so we hurried back to South Hide.
On entering the hide we saw that it was now occupied by two other birders and an RSPB ‘guide in the hide’ volunteer who later we knew to be Ian Salkeld. He was in the top right-hand corner and we sat to his left and continued to scan the scrape as the rain continued to fall. Ian who had been doing the same decided to turn round and check the back pool and said something incredible ‘Albatross.’ He said it in a normal voice, not loud, not excited but just ‘Albatross’. You do hear some odd things from time to time whilst in a hide at Minsmere but not normally from an RSPB volunteer.
So my mate Pete Webster who was sitting closest to Ian got up and turned round to look over the pool and Ian said once again in a cool voice ‘It’s between the two Swans’ By this time I was just a second behind and looking out myself when Pete said something like ‘************ it’s an Albatross’ And it was, drifting from right to left barely twenty yards away.
With Ninja-like skills I quickly raised my camera into position and began firing away to get some record shots. Wilst Ian was radioing HQ and alerting them of his find continued to take some more shots and then the bird which had drifted behind some reeds began to move, running through the water to gain momentum and soon it was airborne and turning though 180 degrees passing around the end of the hide and over south scrape where it banked right and was lost to view heading out to sea.
It was all over in less than five minutes. I checked my camera and saw that I had got quite a few images, enough to identify the bird and to prove to any disbelievers that we had just met Mr Albert Ross.
Adam Rowlands the Senior Site Manager was eager to see the images, we hurried back to the visitor centre while I believe Ian went to the beach to scan out over the sea. Adam saw the photos and quickly confirmed that it was indeed a Black-browed albatross and undoubtedly the bird recently seen off the west coast of Denmark and Germany and put out the news.
We were all in shock, an albatross in Minsmere, seen because someone decided to check the rear window and someone just happened to have a camera to take some half decent images to prove that it had all happened, an amazing coincidence. What to do next, contact information was exchanged with Adam Rowland of the RSPB, I confirmed the news with Rare Bird Alert and that was that.
Still in a complete daze we talked about what we were going to do and eventually decided on fish and chips from Southwold and then to continue with our plan to go looking for Nightjars. The two elements of our plan were successfully accomplished but we were constantly drifting back to that moment with the albatross both in our thoughts and conversations. This continued on our return journey to Essex and finally being dropped off outside my home I entered and cracked open a beer to celebrate, quickly followed by a second and finally a third.
And so ended a far from normal birding day in the UK, and they don’t come any better. Fate had been kind to a lucky few and it will be a day never to be forgotten, the day Minsmere received a visit from Mr Albert Ross.
14 Jul 2015
Black-browed Albatross in Britain and Ireland
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