Twitchers flock to Northumberland after rare bird seen in UK for first time

A flock of Grey-headed lapwing, pictured in Thailand - kajornyot/iStockphoto

A flock of Grey-headed lapwing, pictured in Thailand – kajornyot/iStockphoto

A rare bird has been seen in the UK for the first time, bringing hundreds of twitchers to the coast of Northumberland.

The Grey-headed lapwing was spotted in Law Newton, Northumberland, on Monday by a local birdwatcher who alerted twitchers across the country.

The bird, which stands around 34–37cm long and has a grey head, neck and white belly, spends its winters in southeast Asia and breeds in China and Japan.

It most likely got lost while on a migratory journey, although the British Trust for Ornithology said it could be the same bird as one spotted in Europe on three other occasions since 2018.

Although the Grey-headed lapwing is not considered a threatened species, its presence is still rare even in its native habitat.

Its population across Asia is estimated to be between 25,000 to 100,000 individuals, making it less common than the native lapwing in the UK.

Gary Woodburn first spotted the bird on his regular morning walk on Monday.

“It was absolutely jaw dropper,” he said. “I knew what it was because I’ve seen them in India.”

‘This is what all bird watchers dream of’

The bird had landed on a patch of habitat that Mr Woodburn had created with the local landowner more than a decade ago in the hopes of attracting migrating and breeding waders.

“This is like the Holy Grail for a bird watcher. This is what all bird watchers dream of,” he said.

Mr Woodburn estimated around 1,000 birdwatchers arrived in Law Newton within hours of his sighting on Monday, with dozens more making the journey on Tuesday.

Wildlife photographer James Hanlon, 48, travelled four-and-a-half hours from Cambridge to get a shot of the bird on Monday – and was delighted to find it was still there by the time he arrived.

“This is the first time on record this bird has been in the UK,” he said.

“I felt a sense of relief when I arrived as it can fly off any minute, I was glad we didn’t waste our time. We don’t know how long it will be here for, it could literally fly away at any point.

“One that turned up in Europe recently stayed between two and seven days.”

The species was last spotted in Europe in 2021, when it was seen in a Slovenian nature reserve.