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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 September, 2004, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Bird lover misses out on sighting
Purple martin - Copyright The Purple Martin Conservation Association/James R Hill III
The purple martin is a rare visitor (Purple Martin Conservation Association/James R Hill III)
An unlucky bird lover has travelled the length of Britain only to just miss sighting a rare American visitor.

The purple martin, which matures to a glossy, purple-black plumage, is the largest of the North American swallows.

When Lee Evans, from Buckinghamshire, heard one had been spotted in Scotland he set off for the Isle of Lewis.

But after travelling more than 650 miles, Mr Evans missed the martin by only an hour, the 12th time he has missed a bird in the last few weeks.

The first sighting of the bird was made on the north tip of Lewis on Sunday afternoon.

I feel absolutely gutted
Lee Evans
Purple martins are native to large parts of North America and after breeding they usually migrate to parts of South America, including Brazil, the Amazon basin, Bolivia and Paraguay.

Mr Evans said that after it was clear the martin was still in Scotland he decided to make a dash north from his home in Little Chalfont.

He said: "I had to get up to Luton and rendezvous with four others and we then had a 12-hour drive all the way up to Ullapool without any sleep to get the ferry.

Good weather

"We then got a three-hour ferry across to Stornoway, hired a car in Stornoway, drove all the way up to the Butt of Lewis and got there just over an hour after the bird had last been seen.

Map of the UK
1: Mr Evans set off from Little Chalfont in Buckinghamshire
2: A 12-hour road trip, via Luton to pick up friends, took the keen birder to Ullapool on the west coast of Scotland
3: The group arrived in Stornoway after a three-hour crossing and hired a car
4: The end of their journey at the Butt of Lewis lighthouse proved to be a disappointment
"We then spent five-and-a-half hours on Monday afternoon just searching the entire area and there was no sign of it."

He said a front of hot and clear weather that came in over Monday meant the martin stopped flying so low and moved off.

Mr Evans said it had been a juvenile, so was unlikely to attempt to return across the Atlantic.

He added that it probably had little chance of survival but that he was praying it would reappear somewhere.

However, some enthusiasts who had opted to fly up when the martin was first spotted did make it in time to observe the visitor.

"I feel absolutely gutted because this is my 12th dip in the past few weeks," said Mr Evans.

"That's going for a good bird and spending hours and hours searching, perhaps all day, and coming back with nothing - and none of it's cheap.

"I do up to 80,000 miles every year in the pursuit of rare birds."

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