Birders were once again left in confusion after yet another 'dubious' heron was found close to Hythe, Kent. Over the past few years, within the small confines of this sleepy seaside town, birders have come across Chinese Pond Heron, Green Heron and several Night Herons, not forgetting assorted white egrets that have largely been ignored because they are so common. The incidence of these rare herons has led one well-known national twitcher to label the sightings as "flawed" and another to suggest that foul-play is behind their appearances.
Fingers have been pointed at 'No Ardea', the Lympne bird park owned by Ken Sprockett, a 59-year old retied policeman. His collection is largely kept away from the public eye, but is known to contain up to 80% of the heron species of the world. Upkeep of the park has proved difficult for Mr. Sprockett, who recently lost a lot of money in a Little Bustard breeding programme and the escape of his entire stock, thought to number 15 birds. The fencing surrounding the entire site has fallen into disrepair, with locals used to an evening fly-by of up to 30 Yellow-crowned Night Herons, that circle above the town before settling back down in their enclosure. "I've taken Little Bitterns back to Ken on several occasions", says Irene Burke, a neighbour. "They land by my patio doors and come up and peck at the glass'.
There are also unsubstantiated reports that Sprockett's Great Egret breeding programme has been so successful that he has been releasing birds from the boot of his car at night in the Dungeness area.
As Hythe readies itself for another invasion of birders, Irene had this to say: "I just couldn't understand why so many of them spent so many hours on top of that hill standing by a busy road, just to get a glimpse of Henry - that's what they called him in the bird park. They could have paid £9.50 and seen some of Ken's collection without the need of telescopes. Or just gone to Birdworld or London Zoo"
The BOU have reportedly dusted down their copy of the 'Hastings Rarities Report'...