Posts Tagged ‘Australasia’

The end of a white-throated needletail

Today it’s time for guest blogger Rambler5319 to take over again. Enjoy!


What, I hear you say, is a white-throated needletail? Never heard of it? Well if you hadn’t up till last week and you live in the UK you certainly will know about it now. It’s a bird. The paper I bought had an article about one; curious I thought – how come? Well because it died. However it’s the manner of its death which caught the nation’s interest. Surprisingly, here in the UK, the papers took on an almost “Chat” type of presentation. It was possible to read the story in The Guardian, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail, The Independent, The Spectator, The BBC News Channel & innumerable blogs and various bird appreciation forums & websites (NPR, The Scottish Sun, The Scotsman, Rare Bird Alert UK, International Business Times) to name but a few. Amazing. What had happened to merit such blanket coverage? Well, this particular bird had flown into a wind turbine blade and killed itself. What you might not know is that the bird in question is quite rare in the UK as it generally lives in the Far Eastern/Australasian area. The Australians apparently call it the Stormbird because it is often seen during stormy weather and bushfires.

Now it’s the rarity value that got certain people interested: since 1950 only 5 recorded sightings of this particular type of bird and only 8 or 9 in the last 170 years! In fact there hadn’t been a sighting over here since 1991. About 200 birdwatchers (some sources say 20, some 40, some 80 etc – I’m not kidding) from all over the UK had travelled north to the Island of Harris off the NW coast of Scotland. (Apparently if you’re a native of the island, though it’s not actually an island in its own right, you’re called a Hearach; as of 2001 Census there were less than 2,000 residents. You may of course recognise the Harris bit of the name being that of a world famous cloth produced there: Harris Tweed.) However, back to our bird; somehow it seems to have either got lost or been blown off track because it shouldn’t have been anywhere near the UK.

I thought a few pertinent facts here might dispel some of the near hysteria about the event. Let’s be quite clear, it was one bird! The Australian Government is quoted as saying that although worldwide numbers of the species are not known it is not considered to be threatened.

It can reach speeds of up to 106mph in flight and, so my paper told me, “copulation takes place in mid-air at high speed!” Report headlines varied from an “accident” to “killed by a wind turbine” to the somewhat OTT Men’s Daily News which led with “rare bird slaughtered by a turbine”. Nothing like a bit of hyperbole to get the readers flocking, eh?

Some called it “the bird of the century”. One group of four friends had driven for 17 hours to get to the spot. Obviously this was a big event in the bird watching world. So up they went; set up their cameras & video recorders; got their binoculars out and waited. And then all of a sudden there it was – the white-throated needletail. In it came, flying across the sea heading for the island. Cameras clicked, videos recorded, twitchers watched with great anticipation hoping to see it for a while flying around. However for some reason the bird didn’t see the 120ft (36.6 metre) high wind turbine and flew straight into it – BOOM, down it went. Bird watchers raced across to the turbine hoping to help it up after it knocked itself out. But NO, there it was, lying on the ground, just dead. And that was it. Don’t ask me how it didn’t see a wind turbine when, in its natural habitat, it allegedly flies around in bad weather and around bushfires. I can’t explain why, but it didn’t. The death was pounced on by the anti wind farm lobby and there was even talk of a serious threat to the species. Remember it was one bird and from a species which the Australians do not believe is threatened at all but hey who wants the facts?

Maybe it was what is called a “slow news day” here in the UK. (This is when not much reportable news is available on the recent main topics so the various papers and agencies grab whatever miscellaneous bits of things happening that they can.)