I will readily accept that many people reading this post will not believe that I saw a hoopoe last week. Sightings of hoopoes in Dumfries and Galloway are so rare that the last recorded and verified appearance was almost five years ago. But I gladly open myself to scorn and disbelief by saying that beyond any doubt whatsoever, I saw a hoopoe on two occasions. It was standing out on a long, dusty track where I was working a few miles west of the Chayne and rose up on black and white striped wings at a distance of about fifty yards. Surprisingly weak on the wing, it flew rather like a little jay, taking wide, paddling grasps of air and undulating slightly like a woodpecker. When it landed, it was over a hundred yards away and revealed a massive head which can only have been a raised crest viewed from a distance. I have seen hoopoes before in Sicily and there was certainly no mistake. The following evening, I saw it again at a distance of around two hundred yards, flying over a young plantation of sitka spruce trees.
Despite careful examination during subsequent nights, I haven’t seen it again for almost six days. I hope it has the sense to head south where the weather will be more appealling to its mild African disposition. Looking online, I see that a hoopoe was once found on Shetland, so while Dumfries and Galloway is quite a long step from the Mediterranean, it could have been worse. Asking around amongst local keepers, one or two have seen hoopoes at various stages of their lives. I’m no twitcher, but to have this fantastically unusual bird land almost on my doorstep certainly has made me keep an eye on the skies.
If that white throated needletail swift on the Isle of Harris is anything to go by, there is probably a streak of hoopoe mince trickling down the blade of a wind turbine somewhere in the vicinity by now.