This week, once again, has been difficult – New birds no longer appear in front of me when I’m out walking. I have seemingly seen all the easy, local ones and will probably not add too many more new species to my 2014 list until I (i) venture further afield or (ii) the spring migrants start arriving in the country from their winter sun vacations far south from here.
My scoring system has been called into question once again… At the outset of this challenge, I think I probably should have spent a little more time formulating a comprehensive set of rules – mainly to avoid any potential issues regarding what I could include and what I could not include.
The first challenge to my rules came quite early on in the year when I spied a hybrid goose – part Canada Goose, part Greylag Goose… At that point I had not yet seen a Greylag, so wondered if I might count it as at least a 0.5 (or half a tick) – I referred back to my rules and I hadn’t made provision for cross-breeds, so I decided not to include it. I have since seen a 1.0 version of a Greylag, so, I guess, it didn’t really matter either way.
The second challenge to the rules came a couple of nights ago…
It was just gone 1am and I was lying in bed – either in the nude or in my Bill Oddie pyjamas… I’ll leave it to you to pick the one that disturbs you the least! Outside the window, I heard the unmistakeable ‘Hoot’ of an owl. Instinctively, I knew it was the call of a Tawny Owl – the only British owl to make the stereotypical ‘twit twoo’ calls.
I scrabbled around for my torch, found it and quietly opened the window… I switched my torch on and pointed it in the direction of the trees and the owl sounds. It is at this point I should point out that my torch is crap. It only exists in the world because of humanity’s inexplicable need to possess novelty items that actually serve no real practical purpose – My torch is a case in point: it is bright pink, resembles a pig and probably has a lumen rating of almost zero. The light emitted probably just about reaches the end of the bulb and, in actual fact, gives off less light than a real pig!
[As an aside, I was introduced to the wonderful world of lumens when I looked directly into a high-powered head-torch just as I pressed the on-switch in Cotswold Outdoor a couple of years ago – It was not my brightest moment!]
Anyway, where was I?
Believe it or not, I was hanging out of my bedroom window, in the nude (or in a Bill Oddie signature edition pyjama set), waving a useless pink pig torch in the direction of some nearby woodland, in what was rapidly becoming a futile attempt to see a Tawny Owl.
After a good (well, bad!) five minutes, I gave up. I closed the window and slid back into bed. I had failed to see the Tawny Owl that was possibly about as close as ten metres away from me. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. To say I was very disappointed was about right.
Could I include something I had not seen but heard?
My rules for the year hadn’t catered for this occurrence – They didn’t specify if I had to see the bird, but they also didn’t suggest I could put it on the list if I had just heard it. This was the hybrid fiasco again, wasn’t it? Maybe I should have just stolen someone else’s rules for the challenge – They would have pre-considered things like cross-breeds and aural sightings, wouldn’t they?
I haven’t included Tawny Owl on my 2014 bird list, but I have added ‘a torch that works’ to my 2014 birthday list.
Today, I was enjoying the sunshine at Earlswood Lake and in the semi-distance, I heard what I thought might be a Chiffchaff – a new bird for 2014 for me and one who’s arrival back from wintering in warmer climes heralds the onset of spring. The Chiffchaff is one of those birds whose song helpfully tells you exactly who you’re dealing with – a repeated “chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff” – Well, that’s as close as English phonetics can get to it – It often struggles with birdsong. Other similarly obliging birds include the Cuckoo “cuckoo, cuckoo” and… um… er… well, that’s the only other one I can think of at the moment, but I’m sure there must be others.
I followed the calling into the woods and started to scour the treetops for the source… I could hear it clear as anything, but I couldn’t see it. I was hoping that this wasn’t going to be a repeat of the Tawny Owl incident – I’m not sure I’d be too happy with a duo of failures in as many days. You could say it might cause me a ‘double dip depression’.
“Chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff”… The bird continued to shout loudly and incessantly. It was as if it was mocking my inability to locate the origin of the sound.
Come on, where are you?
I gazed treewards for a good ten minutes without success, until, finally, the little olive-brown warbler darted out to catch a passing insect. Excellent, I could now add Chiffchaff to my 2014 list and stop cursing myself for not setting up better rules…
If anyone can think of any birds named after the sounds they make, please let me know – I’m sure there must be more than two!
Here’s some other birds I saw this week: -