I originally wrote this entry back in March as a summing-up of my bird-spotting endeavours back in 2014 – but promptly forgot about it. I have now rediscovered it, so have decided to share it… I guess it’s a bit like finding a single chocolate Hob-Nob in the back of the cupboard that you forgot was there. When you examine it, you find that it’s gone mouldy. You dust it down and then eat it.
A round-up of 2014’s Bird-Spotting Challenge
Well, it’s been a few months since my year of bird spotting has finished and I’ve had the opportunity to look back over the fifty-two weeks of gawping skywards, ogling treewards, goggling seawards, staring hedgewards and gawking pondwards. I also just looked normally at stuff… One-eyed… Through broken binoculars… Whilst crawling on the floor.
You see, I’m not as weird as I first sound!
If I’m honest, I have been surprised how enthusiastic I got about the challenge – As someone who doesn’t really get excited about anything, I found myself really getting… er… um… well… excited. This was… exciting.
In my naivety, I had plucked a random figure of one-hundred and fifty as my target way back at the start of January, but managed to surpass it by the end of July. I subsequently re-jigged the target to two-hundred and found myself reaching it on the final day of the year in dramatic fashion with an injury time Water Pipit from twenty yards. Score!
That said, after a bit of contemplation, I have decided that I actually got to two-hundred and one species in 2014. I thought I saw a Jack Snipe at Brean Down on the final day of the year, but, at the time, couldn’t be sure. However, I have since definitely seen one and it was certainly what I saw at the time. This retrospectively makes the Water Pipit bird number two-hundred and one and makes a mockery of the tension I was trying to build up in the last blog instalment. The uncertain-at-the-time Jack Snipe was the magical goal-reaching bird. I don’t have any photo evidence of this claim, so you’ll have to trust me.
As seems fitting for a review of a year, here’s 2014’s bird-stalking adventure in numbers: –
201 species seen
199 seen in the UK
2 overseas (Germany)
80 birds I had never seen before
1 pair of binoculars broken
1 pair of binoculars fixed (temporarily) (with toilet roll)
At least four failed trips to find a Garganey
Hundreds of miles walked
Two rail replacement bus journeys endured
1 monthly bird-stalking service subscribed to
And, of course, countless cool points mustered!
Here are just a few highlights from the year [Cue emotional re-cap montage music, probably by Coldplay or Take That]: –
- I learned a phenomenal amount about the avian world, about myself and about others who like to watch birds. I lost my shame about whipping my binoculars out in public (even along Redhill High Street – Pied Wagtail above Greggs), thought nothing of running approximately twenty miles after a bird I hadn’t previously heard of (Short-Toed Eagle) through a forest I hadn’t previously heard of (Ashdown Forest) and even got up when it was dark to look for birds, before realising that evolution hasn’t given me night-vision (yet).
- I joined my first ‘Twitch’ – for the above-mentioned Eagle – and met some friendly bird maniacs. I think I fitted in just nicely.
- I started volunteering at a semi-local RSPB reserve in an attempt to pass on my new-found ornithological ‘knowledge’ to others, but mostly ended up talking to visitors about the weather, holidays and just how good the café was – I mainly used this as a technique to avoid having to pass my ornithological ‘knowledge’ on to others.
- I disagreed with TV’s Nick Baker (I didn’t realise it was him at the time) about the identity of a small, brown warbler in a nearby hedge at RSPB Minsmere – without knowing I was challenging the knowledge of one of Britain’s best-loved naturalists [I’m still adamant I was right and he was less right].
- I stood next to Michaela Strachan in a book shop and blogged about it. I imagine she did not write in a blog that she stood next to me in a book shop.
- I discovered that the Farne Islands was off the Northumberland coast and not adjacent to the Shetlands.
- I found that Goldcrests – In spite of being tiny feathered-balls of cuteness – turn me into a foul-mouthed blasphemer. Firecrests came a close second.
- I learned – sort of – how to converse with fellow bird-watchers using ornithological lingo… My forthcoming book ‘Twitchionary: Birding Lingo for Beginners’ will, amongst other things, include: –
It was a truly great year and there are loads of other highlights [including covertly trying to photograph a Common Gull on a nudist beach, showing my dad his first Goldcrest – He actually let out a celebratory cheer! – and mistaking my phone for a large-beaked wading bird], but you can always click the archives to find out about those.
I seriously considered doing this all again in 2015 and going for a bigger total – But, the truth is, something just didn’t feel right about it.
It’s an odd feeling to have spent 365 days accumulating a list of sightings, then on the 366th day – the dawn of a new year – it all gets re-set and you have to start all over again. You have to remember what you have and haven’t seen this year rather than last. Sparrows temporarily become special* again and you have to think about planning another trip to the Farne Islands so you don’t miss out on the ten or so new species you saw there last year. You have to hope that an Eagle turns up again in a nearby forest and have to go to drizzly Gosport in search of a seagull.
* Sparrows are always special, but I hope you get what I mean.
Obviously, I have still been keeping a list and, if you’re interested, I have got to one-hundred and one without really trying – I was at one-hundred this time last year and was really going for it. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that, bizarrely, I’m doing better this year (End of March).
Note: It’s now mid-November and I’m only one-hundred and sixty-six compared to one-hundred and eighty-six in 2014 – maybe really trying does make a difference!
Thanks for reading… I hope you’ve enjoyed my ‘adventure’, maybe even learned something and, I really hope you might be a little bit inspired to stop and look skywards or treewards now and again to see what’s flapping around – As a guess, it’s probably a Dunnock!
And, as a parting gift to you, I present this…
And, as a bonus (because everyone loves bonuses!), here are the birds I couldn’t count for the list…
I will pop back here now and again to update you all if I see a new bird not on the 2014 list…
Hopefully, I’ll be able to unveil ‘You’ve Got Quail’… ‘Butch Cassowary and the Sundance Kid’… ‘The World is Not a Chough’… ‘Haw the Finch Stole Christmas’… ‘Shearwater World’… and many more.
I bet you can’t wait!