Well, my Intermediate Year of bird-spotting has come to an end and, in some ways, I am glad, as it has been both physically and mentally tiring.
Way back in January, when I set out to see as many species of bird as I could in fifty-two weeks, I didn’t really know much about the avian world at all. I’m no expert now, but I know a heck of a lot more than I did before.
Not really knowing what to expect from the challenge, I initially set myself a target of one-hundred and fifty, but managed to reach that by the end of July. I then readjusted the target to two-hundred in order to further motivate myself to keep crawling through undergrowth, wading welly-deep across boggy fields and getting monsooned-on in the middle of nowhere.
As the weeks ticked by, I slowly but surely managed to add new species to the list (a lot of which I had never heard of at the start of 2014) and with just three days left of the year, I found myself still needing to see six new birds to reach my goal.
I could just tell you all what number I got to and be done with it – but where would the suspense or intrigue come from?
If I was lucky, I might have one additional sighting of a flock of birds that looked a bit like Cranes or Storks to add to my list if I could definitively work out what they were. The only problem was that the photo I took was really rubbish owing to the fact that I had taken it out of the back window of a car that was going at about 80 miles an hour with my camera on a shaky 200x zoom on the way to the airport in Cologne over Christmas.
Even if I could work it out, I would still be five short. That would leave me with two-and-a-half new birds a day to spot and it doesn’t take a fully-fledged ornithologist to know that birds don’t come in halves.
My task was clear: I would need to see six new birds in three days. My limited mathematical expertise told me that that was an average of two per day. My knowledge of reality told me that this was pretty much an impossibility. It looked like I would fall just a bit short. However, in the spirit of adventure, I would give it a go…
Monday 29th December: T-minus 3 days and 6 to go
I was spending the last three days of the year visiting the in-laws in Weston-Super-Mare, so I reasoned that, at the very least, this would provide me with a different set of fields, ponds and shrubbery to trawl through from the usual (and definitely score me an additional Christmas dinner). I wasn’t sure if this would help me find new birds, but as I was geographically closer to America, I reasoned there was always a chance of a more exotic sighting.
A quick scan of the ‘nearby’ section on my bird stalking app had informed me that there had been a Lapland Bunting, two Water Pipit(s), four Twite(s) and four Jack Snipe(s) spotted at Brean Down just down the road. At the start of the year I hadn’t heard of any of these, but now (after spending a lot of my spare time with my face in a bird identification book) I instantly knew what to look out for – I just hadn’t learned what the plurals for a couple of them might be. I hadn’t seen any of these four species this year (or ever), so if I could catch a glimpse of all of them, the quest for two-hundred would well and truly be back on.
When I arrived, I was greeted by the beautiful sight of a vast frosty landscape… A large chunk of the Severn Estuary fringed by a saltmarsh out in front, the 300-foot tall Brean Down promontory looming imposingly to the left and an expansive set of fields and a farmstead behind and to the right. After a quick scan with my binoculars, I wasn’t confident of finding anything new – unless, by sheer chance, it decided to hang around near the assembled humans. Over the past year, I have found that this sort of thing rarely happens.
A couple of chaps suggested that they had seen some Twite(s) [I wasn’t paying enough attention to notice the plurality they used] earlier, but not for a while.
I saw a couple of what could be Twite(s), but turned out to be Linnets – Grey beak instead of yellow and light rather than dark primary feathers, apparently.
I got excited when someone pointed out what they thought might be a Water Pipit in the distance… As much as I wanted it to be one, I couldn’t see enough distinguishing features to confirm the ID. As I checked my bird identification app for clarification, I’m fairly sure the man who pointed it out pulled a Dictaphone out of his pocket and started playing an audio guide to Water Pipit(s). Bizarre. However, even using a range of multi-sensory sources of information, neither of us could be sure of the identity of the bird.
I had seen no new birds and dabbled with frostbite – All a bit demoralising.
On the way back to the car, I took a wander to the beach to see what was about. A couple of girls were kicking around a large inflatable football that would be too big to fit in a goal (I wish I’d had that excuse when I used to play competitive football – ‘Sorry I didn’t score again, the goal was actually too small!’). Aside from that, there was a group of twenty or so Sanderlings dabbling for food at the water’s edge. Their constant skittering about to avoid getting their feet wet cheered me up no end.
- The plural of Twite is Twites
- The plural of Pipit is Pipits
- The plural of Jack Snipe can be Jack Snipe or Jack Snipes
Isn’t the English language helpful?