When I started this bird-spotting challenge back in January, I really didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t really done much bird-watching in the past, so decided to pluck a random number of one-hundred and fifty as my target for the fifty-two weeks of blindly wandering around the natural world with a pair of kiddie binoculars. I didn’t really know what number I should be expect to be seeing, so I picked a total that, to me, seemed a combination of challenging and semi-achievable. In my distant educational past, I’d studied the principles of goal-setting in GCSE Physical Education, so thought my aim met at least some of the SMART philosophy. Sort of, anyway!
Well, somehow I managed to get to the magical 150 by the end of July, leaving five months to see how many more I could add to the tally before 2014 was out. New birds became quite hard to come by without getting in my car, doing some stalking via a bird app and organising weekends away to get to places that might bring about sightings of new species. It was in these weeks and months after achieving my initial target that I finally had to admit that I had (at least for the remainder of the year) become a proper bird-watcher and, dare I say it, a bit of a shameless twitcher.
With just under three weeks to go to the end of the challenge, I found myself on one-hundred and ninety. Wouldn’t it be great if I managed to get to two-hundred? For me, anyway.
This weekend, a trip to the Isle of Sheppey presented me with the opportunity to have a bit of a scout around some different shrubbery for new bird species. The bird stalking app had suggested that a Hooded Crow (sadly, no relation to Penelope Pitstop’s similar sounding arch nemesis) had been spotted at Capel Fleet – I had previously missed out on one at a rubbish tip/disused quarry in Portland in Dorset over the summer, but strangely never mentioned it to you… Which is odd, because, unlike a lot of stuff I write at you, it almost sounds interesting.
To cut a long story short, I found loads of standard Crows and got a bit lost, but never found a Hooded Crow. On this occasion, I didn’t find a Hooded Crow either, but I didn’t get lost, so I suppose that’s progress. I did, however, notice what I thought might be a Corn Bunting sat on an overhead power line. According to the RSPB website, the Corn Bunting is a ‘nondescript, stout, dumpy brown bird that is most usually seen perched on a wire or post’ – To me, that all seems a bit harsh – especially for bird species one-hundred and ninety-one for the year.
The road I was on led to a place called Harty Ferry – the site of Sheppey’s one-time only passenger boat crossing to the mainland. I had been to Oare Marshes a couple of times before, which is where the ferry crossed the Swale River to, so thought I’d have a wander and get the view from the other side. I guess it’s always nice to get both sides of the story.
At the end of the road was a pub, a car park and a big sign indicating a clay pigeon shoot. I had wondered why there were a handful of people carrying guns around – I had initially thought it might just be the Sheppey way. A friendly chap indicated that he was the landowner and that it was fine to have a walk around. He promised that, as long as I didn’t deviate from the path, I wouldn’t get shot. I’m not sure if that counts as helpful or threatening behaviour. I imagine that he couldn’t really guarantee the shooting accuracy of his clients the morning after one of the biggest nights for Christmas parties of the year. In spite of my concerns, I pressed on…
I didn’t see any new birds, but I didn’t get shot – So, I considered that a fairly successful half an hour’s walkabout.
The next stop was Swalecliffe – a village situated between Herne Bay and Whitstable on the north Kent coast, the venue for a hearty cooked breakfast and, for the time being, home to a reported six Snow Buntings – a new species for the year and, indeed, a new species full-stop.
I wandered along the seafront for a while and eventually managed to spy a few small birds flitting around in the distance at the edge of Swalecliffe Brook. I got a bit closer and could just about make out that they were the Snow Buntings I had been looking for – Species number one-hundred and ninety-two!
Just as I had got in a better position, a man and a woman decided to walk in front of me, resulting in the Buntings flying off.
This was the first time I had found myself getting annoyed for purely bird-watching reasons. These people must have known I was looking at something – I was obviously pointing my camera at something close by – but they opted to walk directly between me and the Snow Buntings. What? Really? Have you no manners? Could you not have walked on the path behind me? Grrrrr.
The birds had flown across the Brook and were hopping around on the shingle over the other side. I spent a few moments cursing the ignorance of some people, trying (and failing) to get a decent view and working out if I could jump far enough to clear the water feature in front of me.
Never one to shirk a challenge, I gave it a go…
I crossed back over the Brook using the sewage pipe I had just seen a woman and her two dogs traverse and continued my bird hunt, proud that I had almost seen enough Buntings for a street party…