Looking back to my schooldays I recall certain birds in the bird books which none of us exploring boys had ever seen. They seemed rare and exotic.
Over the years I have been fortunate to see most of them,the whimbrel included. The books showed Whimbrel as very similar to curlew but with a striped head and slightly shorter bill.
How I have stared at curlews over the years,many of which have apparent striped heads,though the effect tends to be due to streaking in their normal flecked pattern.
Curlews have fairly variable bill lengths too, so telling curlews from whimbrels seemed fraught with difficulty.
However,when you finally do see a real live whimbrel,the differences stick out a mile . The whole bird is smaller and lighter, and the bill is well short of even the shortest curlew bill.
Locally whimbrels tend to be passage migrants refuelling on the coast for a while before moving on.
They may be seen in spring as they head north,or in autumn as they head south.
Even after all these years it is still a thrill for me to see one,especially if I hear it too,the call being an unmistakable rippling trill of distinctly spaced notes.
There is a romance to meeting a travelling whimbrel,knowing it is on it’s way to or from southern Africa, a journey of many days and nights over seas,deserts and mountains. A few do breed in the far north of Scotland and on Orkney or Shetland,but most we see will be from farther north still.
For these reasons the whimbrel is always a sight and sound to be treasured. And always a reminder of the way it seemed so special when I only knew it as a picture in a bird book.