Hundreds of birdwatchers queued outside a suburban house today to catch a glimpse of a rare bird in the back garden – after paying a £5 fee imposed by the canny homeowner.
More than 500 twitchers descended on the doorstep of amateur ornithologist Steve Akers, 56, from 6.30am after he spotted the Oriental Turtle Dove feeding in his garden.
The bird – normally found in Russia and Siberia – has only been spotted twice before in Britain and news of the discovery spread like wildfire through the birdwatching world on Monday afternoon.
By yesterday morning a queue of ornithologists stretched for hundreds of yards along Mr Akers’ road in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.
The father-of-two drafted in two ‘bouncers’ from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to control the crowd.
Entrants were charged £5 each and herded into his kitchen in groups of ten, which were each given a five-minute time slot to photograph the bird.
Mr Akers – who is donating all the proceeds to charity – described it as a ”once in a lifetime” experience.
He said: ”It is brilliant to see this beautiful and very famous bird – especially in my own back garden.
”I was massively excited when I spotted it. You know this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and for it to happen here is very overwhelming.
”We must have more than 450 people outside now waiting to see it. Word got round quickly in the birding community – they are all being well behaved at the moment.
”They are waiting at the door and it is all being well organised – there are people from the RSPB here.
”We are letting people in ten at a time. They then get five minutes in our kitchen, starting from when they spot the dove.”
Mr Akers, a trade union regional officer for Unison, lives with wife Sharon, 46, and sons Rory, eight, and Louis, six, in the Victorian property.
They first spotted the dove’s distinctive red eyes and feet as they were sitting down to breakfast on Saturday morning.
The bird was eating scraps underneath the bird table in his 120ft long garden.
Mr Akers immediately realised it could be the Oriental Turtle Dove and called in RSPB experts to have the sighting confirmed.
They identified it as the Eastern Orientalis, which, along with the Western Meena (corr), are the two sub-species of the Oriental Turtle Dove.
It is only the third time the Orientalis has been seen in Britain since 1881 and the Oriental Turtle Dove only nine times in total.
Mr Akers – a keen bird watcher since the age of seven – said: ”I immediately noticed its red eyes, red feet, white markings and distinctive brown and back tortoiseshell feathers.
”They usually migrate to Pakistan so this bird must have lost its way somehow.
”It is a very pretty bird. The birds are quite habitual by nature and I called the RSPB on Monday to come out and confirm it.
”We then put the word out to bird watchers.”
All the #5 fees will be donated to Bird Life International and Bird Life Malta, which works to protect the doves.
Mark Thomas, an investigations officer with the RSPB who was on hand outside Mr Aker’s house yesterday, said the sighting was extremely important to ornithology in Britain.
He said: ”It’s tremendously exciting – we are here today because of the huge interest in this bird.
”Our message is that this should encourage people to feed birds in their gardens – you never know what might turn up.”
However, the elusive bird only made a brief appearance yesterday morning but had not been seen since 8am.
Only the first group of ten – who were admitted into the kitchen at 6.30am – got to see the bird.
”It turned up this morning, but has gone away again now – we have several hundred frustrated people outside,” said Mr Aker.
Ian Lewington, a local volunteer bird recording officer, said strict rules were being enforced to keep back over-eager twitchers.
He said: ”We are stewarding the operation. We have a number of people on the door and are managing the queue – which stretches up to the end of the road.”
The Oriental Turtle Dove, also known as the Rufous Turtle Dove, is most commonly found in countries such as Russia, Siberia and Afghanistan.
In the winter the birds migrate across to Pakistan and India, southeast Asia and southern Japan.
This small species has similar in plumage to its European counterpart, the Turtle Dove, but is a little larger.
It has a black and white striped patch on the side of its neck, but the breast is less pink than its Western relative.
The orange-brown wing feathers of Turtle Dove are also replaced with a browner hue, and darker centres and the tail is wedge shaped.
The Orientalis sub-species has a grey tip to the tail.
Its call is quite different from the purr of the Turtle Dove and is described as having a four-syllable “her-her-oo-oo” sound.