On May 17th I was lucky enough to be walking the Liben Plains in southern Ethiopia doing habitat transects in the company of BirdLife International's venerable Dr Nigel Collar (google him as he's a Don) within the known range of the poorly known and severely threatened Liben Lark. We strolled through an area of slightly longer grassland which suddenly made me think about Quails. I was explaining to Nigel that despite having heard Quails singing for the past 25 years I had never actually seen one when I suddenly flushed a quail from underfoot. I got onto it as it sped away only to dump down a few yards away and realised that it wasn't a Common Quail but a close relative, the Harlequin Quail.
Although I was excited to see a quail of any description, especially a new one, I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't my holy grail bird, my bogey bird, the only regular species on the British list that I was yet to see. To add insult to injury, an hour later a real Common Quail began to sing from an area of grassland literally yards from where I was standing on the plain. I didn't even attempt to kick it out because knowing my past track record for flushing these tiny gamebird my chances of seeing it would have been virtually nil.
It has always been a fantasy of mine to flush a Quail or Corncrake out from the grassland at my beloved Scrubs. Every autumn, I would religiously stride through the grass at Wormwood Scrubs ostensibly counting Meadow Pipits and secretly wishing for exotica. Imagine my horror a few hours after seeing a Harlequin Quail when I got a text from a fellow Scrubber informing me that he had just found a singing Quail on my patch! I throw my hands up in despair. Here I was some 5,000 miles away from home (or thereabouts) whilst a lifer was striding around on my patch in my absence!
I thought that the Scrubs Quail would be a one day bird but text updates kept arriving for a couple of days after it's initial discovery. When I got home a week later I didn't bother to hit The Scrubs thinking that it would be long gone. Last weekend I was on Alderney and I received a call from yet another Scrubber. He told me the news that I didn't want to hear. There was a Quail singing in the grassland again! That bird must have been there the whole time!
As soon as I got back to London, some three days later, I staked out the grassland for three days on the trot and for three days I heard nada. Sometimes things are just not meant to be. My search for the holy grail continues.