Saturday, 23 January 2016

Listing Blindly

Lists, lists, lists.  I have them and then again I don't, I get to milestones and then lose the specificity.  I did a big year a long time ago and I saw over 300 species in the UK but can't remember by how many.  My UK list is over 400 but by how many I'm not sure.  I know what I haven't seen in the Ely10 but have no idea what my actual list is. I am listing without listing

With limited opportunities to get out birding these past couple of months I decided that the one full birding day I had over the Christmas period I would see how many species I could see within the Ely10.  It was a lovely way to spend a day. 

Along the Washes Swan flocks peppered the fields and a reasonable number of Bewick Swans aggregated on the waters at Pymoor where the American Golden Plover, a great find by Neal Gates, hunkered down with a 100 strong flock of Goldies.  They took off and the diminutive plover with it's grey under wings was surprisingly easy to pick out in the flock as they wheeled around.   At Welney a Great White Egret and Peregrine were out on Lady Fen with a Tree Sparrow on the feeders.  Out to the woods at Fordham where Marsh Tit, Treecreeper, Bullfinch, Goldcrest, Coal Tit and Siskin gave themselves up in the seemingly lifeless carr.  At Burwell Fen a ringtail Hen Harrier worked low along the lode side.  A return to Ely yielded a Grey Wagtail amongst almost a hundred Pied feeding on the filter beds at the Sewage Works.  Checking through the tit flock I had a close encounter with a very likely looking Siberian Chiffchaff although I've not been able to see it again since.  Ben rang to say he had just seen a couple of Grey Partridge flying across Queen Adelaide Way and 15 minutes later I was watching them as we located them across the fields. Running through the list of birds I'd not seen Snipe, Great-spotted Woodpecker and Owls were obvious gaps.  Ben encouraged, probably demanded, that we go to Isleham Water Meadows to see Snipe.  There was not a great deal of light left but it was a great call.  A little squadge through some likely looking mire flushed a Snipe or 6, a little pool looked ideal for a Jack Snipe and within a minute one jumped from between my feet and a larger Pipit, a Water,  silently rose and settled a little further ahead. A great flurry of new birds for the day.  An impressive twisting flock of Starlings split and rejoined time over time, difficult to estimate but 7,000 was discussed before they curled a final time to become one with the Poplars.  So this list ended on 94 species making a winter day total of 100 in the Ely10 a challenging but achievable target for a busy and focused day out birding.

Although I've no idea what number it'll be on my British list I do know that I've never clapped eyes on a Serin in the UK.  I tried, my first ever twitch for this dinky finch, last week at Fen Drayton and failed seeing the pair that had been in elusive residence.  The proposition of a much easier Serin just up the road at Downham Market drew me there first thing this morning and it showed very nicely.  I pottered back into the 10 via Denver where some handsome Goosander were fishing in the relief channel, right within the sluice system. 


Down at Cambridge Research Park I was very fortunate that Jon and David Heath had picked up a Glaucous Gull dropping onto the lake as I was about to leave.  a great bird that departed as quickly as it arrived. 

The gulls here are great, being so close they allow close scrutiny which invariably leads to many more questions and uncertainties.  I videod an adult grey backed gull that appeared to have a paler iris but looked kind of OK for a Caspian or hybrid.  The video grab shows a pretty good wing for a Caspian with clear tongues and black dipped onto p5 and p6.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Listing badly

Like many (surely almost all) birders, I keep lists. Much has no doubt been written about this aspect of birding behaviour. Jeremy Mynott has an interesting and thought-provoking section on the listing habit in his book 'Birdscapes', exploring the link to collecting, to obsessions and eccentricity. The extent of my listing is fairly modest. A life list of course, and a year list too. Standard stuff. The closest I get to what Mynott terms "the slippery slope to eccentricity" is a 'Birds seen from Football Grounds' list, begun after seeing a Kestrel hovering whilst I stood on the terrace at Brentford's Griffin Park. A fly-over Cormorant also enlivened proceedings that day and helped to get the embryonic list up-and-running. This particular list gives a double hit, allowing a collecting crossover between birds and footy grounds. Scanning the skies fills in those rare moments when Cambridge United cease to dazzle and enthrall... Treats thus far include a Lapwing at Gateshead, Red Kite at Northampton and Rink-Necked Parakeets at Wimbledon. Disappointment still surrounds an unconfirmed Woodcock at Southend...

I'm relatively new to the year list and wish I'd started to keep one much earlier in life. It allows competition between myself and a number of friends, but chiefly with myself. As it happens 2015 was my best yet, beating my previous record by a clear 4 birds. The fact that the new record is a mere 158 species is a reflection of many things; the amount of time devoted to birding, limited travel to different areas and, most pertinently of course, birding ability (or lack of it). As with any year, there are some frustrating omissions. Somehow I managed to miss Yellow Wagtail and Garganey (again) in 2015 and that 'lost' Woodcock at Southend came back to haunt me...

Since joining the year listers January 1st has taken on added meaning and a trip out on New Year's Day is now an essential part of the festive calendar, just as it is for numerous other birders. The Common-or-Garden regain rightful significance and the House Sparrow is justly afforded the same status as rarer birds will be later in the year. So...down to Roswell Pits. Colder conditions than of late, lending the day some appropriate seasonality. The ticks mount up as many of the usual suspects are 'discovered' anew. Robin: Check. Mallard: Check. Carrion Crow: Check. Those Feral Pigeon on the Cathedral will do very nicely, thank you. No bird is ever guaranteed of course, so it's nice to nab things like Green Woodpecker and Little Grebe, who might well slip through the net... for a few days at least. Long-Tailed Tit and Dunnock evade me. Kingfisher and Marsh Harrier are particularly pleasing sightings, as they would be on any day. The highlight, however, is a fine male Stonechat, flitting about down by the river. A final day tally of 38, which I later discover is 4 ahead of last year - and which, of course, means precisely nothing!