At the dawn of time, when names were carefully being picked for the flora and fauna of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve thought they would benefit future generations of nature spotters by giving birds names that reflected their behaviour, their appearance or their songs. This would prove to be both a help and a hindrance, but we will return to this in due course.
Approximately six-thousand years later, one such nature spotter found himself getting off a train at Littlehampton Station.
That person, as you’ve probably guessed, was me.
I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I was excitingly looking forward to tucking into a massive portion of chips on the beach. On the other hand, I was feeling a bit apprehensive as to the birds I might shortly be seeing and struggling to identify. As luck would have it, the mixing of emotions was limited to these two, as I don’t have any more hands.
As I wandered in the direction of West Beach, I began to see an array of gulls. This was part of my apprehension – I really struggle telling one species from the other. What if I saw a species I hadn’t seen before, but failed to identify it? If I was remiss with my IDs a number of times over the year, I might not get close to my goal of one-hundred and fifty.
It would be like my goal to eat a new food a week throughout 2013 and only getting to twenty-eight! I couldn’t have that.
A group of Black-Headed Gulls were sat (well, stood) at the shoreline. I can usually identify a Black-Headed Gull because of its chocolate brown head – Why Adam and/or Eve chose to name them black-headed is anyone’s guess. However, in amongst the throng was a gull with a proper black head. It was a Mediterranean Gull – I knew that because I have spent hours poring over the pictures in my bird book (How cool am I?) Result! A new species for the list (and minus five cool points for getting so excited!)
I took some photos of some other troublesome gulls, in the hope that my crack squad of bird identification experts could help when I got home [They all proved to be Herring Gulls]
In the distance, I could see a line of smallish birds standing on top of one of the groynes. [They’re also known as breakwaters, but for some juvenile reason, I prefer the term groyne!] I ventured closer, but I just couldn’t work out what they were – Too far away, too similar looking to a whole host of other birds that flap around at the coast and too looking in the wrong direction to show any distinguishing facial features. It seems that I’m totally out of my depth identifying birds at the seaside – both metaphorically and almost literally as I continued to almost forget that the tide was coming in, as I strained to make out any potential distinctive attributes with my binoculars.
When I first started taking my binoculars out on nature-spotting visits, I was incredibly self-conscious and would not use them if others were passing me. I felt that they would probably be judging me – “Oh, look at that bloke over there with the binoculars… I bet he’s pretending to look at that pigeon over there whilst we’re here. As soon as we go, he’ll go back to looking into upstairs windows in the hope of seeing someone changing. Weirdo!”
Now I just don’t worry about that sort of thing. I’m not sure what that says about me.
There were a few of the unidentified birds a bit closer, picking at the seaweed on the angled sections of the breakwater. I could make out that they had bright orange legs, a dark short pointed beak and was a mixture of brown and white feathers. It still didn’t help with identification. However, a quick whizz through an app on my phone helped me to reason that it was, in actual fact, a Turnstone – one of those birds I probably could have worked out what it was if it was doing as its name suggests, that is, turning over stones on the beach.
This is where we return to the minefield that is bird names… Some birds are named after their behaviour, what they look like and sometimes after their calls. Unfortunately, this is this is not an exact science, as birds don’t display the behaviour that gave them their name the entire time. There are also other birds that display the same behaviour and birds that don’t always look like their name. The exceptions that disprove the rule can cause novice observers like me confused headaches: –
- Woodpeckers peck wood, but so do Nuthatches
- Male Blackbirds are black birds, but the females are brown
- Oystercatchers do eat oysters, but also other bivalves
- Male Blackcaps have a black cap, but the females’ cap is a rusty brown
- Storks do not follow people around under the cover of darkness
- Bearded Tits have moustaches rather than goatees, although it’s not really a moustache as it’s formed of feathers
- Black Grouse don’t ever drink whisky
- Turnstones turn stones to find food, but also rummage through seaweed on breakwaters for food
I sat on the beach and devoured a large hard-earned portion of chips – In one afternoon, I had added three new species to my 2014 list and probably added about three kilos in weight.
My total for the year now stands at NINETY-FOUR. If you what to see what and where, please click the Bird Board tab at the top of the page.