I don’t know if anyone remembers, but back in the early days of this bird-spotting challenge, I acquired a nemesis. An arch-enemy of such despicableness that it caused me to swear in frustration in front of a nine-year old child.
That nemesis was a Goldcrest and the frustration was a result of trying (and failing dismally) to take a semi-reasonable photograph of it. It merrily flitted around a tree, every now and then pausing long enough for me to get my camera pointed at it, before moving on just a fraction of a second before I was able to click the shutter. This happened on numerous occasions before I said one, loud, debased word in front of an underage audience. I felt bad – not for cursing in front of a minor [kids nowadays seem to know most obscenities before their first decade is out anyway – I blame rap music, the internet, shoot-’em-up computer games and amateur wildlife photographers with poor reaction time and an unreasonable lack of patience], but for not getting the picture I wanted.
Anyway, I eventually got over the frustration, promised never to swear at nature again and moved on with my life. My dalliances with my nemesis consigned to history. If I’m being honest, I had forgotten all about the episode until I unexpectedly bumped into a small group of Firecrests (also members of the kinglet family) on a day-trip to Brownsea Island in Dorset.
Firecrests are very similar to Goldcrests in that they are tiny, have a colourful crest on the top of their head and are an absolute bugger to photograph.
I spent some time observing the group of probably four or five bouncing around the upper branches of a conifer, before taking a deep breath and readying my camera for battle. As expected, they did exactly the same as the Goldcrests had done before on that dreary January morning – buzzed around the tree, stopped for long enough for me to think I could take a photo, then moved off at an inconvenient moment. I frantically clicked away at branches that once had Firecrests perched on them until I felt that my frustration had nearly reached profanity levels, put my camera away, took a deep breath and carried on with my wander around the island. I love nature and didn’t want to break my ‘no swearing at it’ promise – That would be rude.
About half an hour later, hindsight prodded me in the brain and suggested that maybe I could have videoed the birds instead. Yes, that would have worked.
As it stands, I have no proof I saw my first Firecrests of the year – You will just have to believe me when I say that I did.
Apparently, there’s a bird-watching term for someone who fabricates bird sightings. They are referred to as a ‘stringer’. They can either do this intentionally – perhaps through an over-riding need to get attention – OR unintentionally – by misidentifying a common bird as a less common one. Either way, these people are viewed, in bird-watching circles, along similar lines to those oddballs who like to eat children or those unfortunates who wear socks with sandals. Someone who ‘strings’ more than once is a ‘re-stringer’ and is useful to know if you play a lot of tennis.
I do definitely have an over-riding need for attention and my bird identification knowledge is, at times, a little bit sketchy… but, I am an honest person – Honest…
All this said, I hope you will believe me when I say that on this trip, I also saw a pair of Indian Peafowl (on Brownsea Island) and a Hooded Merganser (at RSPB Radipole Lake) – Almost unbelievable, I know. But I did. No word of a lie!
But can I count them for my list?
The Peafowl are obviously from some ornamental bird collection. They are native to southern Asia and can only fly a matter of yards before needing to land, so unless they walked the six-or-so-thousand miles and booked the odd ferry trip here and there, they were deliberately introduced to the UK. This means I definitely cannot add the sighting to my list.
The Hooded Merganser, however, is apparently a little more of a conundrum. The species is usually confined to North America and there is some debate as to whether they could possibly cross the Atlantic and end up in the UK as ‘vagrants’ (birds who inadvertently turn up in places far outside their usual breeding or migratory range). This is always a possibility, but is likely to be unlikely. What confuses the issue is that there are obviously Mergansers in bird collections across the country, so it could either be a fence-jumping escapee or an intrepid ocean-crosser.
The official line on the bird is that it is probably an absconder from someone’s exotic pet collection. It appears that this decision is subject to an incredible amount of internet discussion and I’ll guess we’ll never know its true origin – Unless, of course someone is able to work out if the bird has an American accent or not.
So, as it stands, it is uncountable for my 2014 list… Except if the powers that be change their minds or I finish the year on one-hundred and ninety nine.
I added a Knot to the list at Shell Beach on Studland Bay – Fortunately, I found it just further along the coastline from the naturist area of Knoll Beach, so was able to take a photograph without potentially looking like a peeping Michael. It was a little chilly for nudism, so well done to anyone who gave it a go.