Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

2014 will be the Chinese Year of the Horse, the Year of the Brain in Europe and the Year of Homecoming in Scotland.  For me, however, 2014 will be the Year of Birds.

If I’m honest, 2013 was a bit birdy…  I think I might have been turning into someone who has developed a keen interest in all things avian for a little while now.  Nature-watching is a great thing to spend your lunchtime doing when you work next to a field.

I’m far from being an expert ornithologist, but am trying really hard to learn what’s what in the bird world.  Hopefully, this experience will be enriching and also give me the opportunity to unapologetically crow-bar bird names into overly-complicated sentences.  Everyone loves a bit of birdplay, don’t they?

It terns out that there is a phenomenon in bird circles, often referred to as a ‘Big Year’, whereby people try to see as many birds as they can in a calendar year.  It’s all supposed to be a bit of fun, but some people can spend a lot of time and money chasing down birds to tick off their lists.

There’s even a film with Steve (House) Martin, Jack(daw) Black(bird) and Owen Wilson(‘s Phalarope) in it that seeks to portray the hobby in an amusing light: –


I was just about to say that I haven’t ever had a bird list before, however, I guess I do have a similar list with Meg Ryan from the early ‘90s on it.  Maybe it’s best I keep that story to myself.

So how many birds should I expect to see?

There are approximately 230 regularly occurring species in the UK and also a whole host of rarities that sporadically get lost on migration and end up here – They probably regret that when it rains all summer!  In fact, the official bird list details the 600-plus species of bird that have appeared in Britain since records began.

The bottom line is that this is a lot of birds!

The UK record for a ‘big year’ is seemingly really contentious.  The statistics suggested for the possible record-holder – Adrian Webb in 2000 – range from the mid-360s to 384.  Differences are semi-explainable by inclusion/exclusion of Ireland, subsequent splitting of species, Great Arctic Skua sightings are not acceptable on Tuesdays (although, I may have made this up) and challenges to sightings, amongst other things.  This sort of thing is a lot more complicated than I had first thought.

Beware of strange men in the undergrowth with binoculars!

Beware of strange men in the undergrowth with binoculars!

I neither have the financial resources or the bird identification know-how to get anywhere near any of the numbers I have quoted so far, so, right here, right now, I boldly announce that I, Michael Jones, am embarking on my very own scaled-down ‘big year’.  For labelling purposes, we shall call it the INTERMEDIATE YEAR…  And I’ll be mega choughed if I can get to somewhere in the region of 150 different birds in 2014 (and 167 if I manage to go on holiday somewhere exotic).

Guidelines – because everyone loves rules: –

  • Identification of bird must be 100% certain before counting (small brown bird with little legs is not acceptable)
  • Bird must be wild (Pet shop sightings are, therefore, not permissible)
  • Bird must be alive (Insert your own Monty Python reference here) 
  • All opportunities to meet Bill Oddie must be seized
Birdwatching essentials...

Birdwatching essentials…

I have a set of binoculars, a bird guide and a jumper with a duck* on, so I am now pleased to welcome you all to 2014 and my close encounters of the bird kind…  Whilst simultaneously apologising for any dodgy bird-related puns I make throughout the course of the year.

* The duck on the jumper is a Mallard – I’m sometimes alright with this identification lark!


About mixaeljones

Hello! I try to undertake a yearly challenge and write about it in a semi-witty manner. I often use twenty words when three will do. I am also a big fan of terrible puns and taking unintentionally blurry photographs of wildlife. In 2013 I tried to eat a food I hadn't eaten before each week (I got to 28!), in 2014 I attempted to seek out as many species of bird as I could in the year (I got to 201!) and in 2015 I delved head first into the world of butterflies and tried to see as many different types as possible (44!)... I've also done some belly dancing, been Father Christmas and nearly played tennis against Bjorn Borg. If any of this seems like it might be of interest, feel free to check out my blogs... Comments encouraged! Have a nice day :)
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