Showing posts from 2021

Personal Birding

Twitter is a great thing for birding, in countless ways. In my previous writing, I have sung its praises, from allowing the real-time tracking of rarities to providing an unparalleled community of like-minded people.  However, it can be easy to find yourself constantly comparing your own birding to those on social media. And this can be quite a disheartening thing. Just as with any social media, people usually tend to post their "best self" or in the case of birding twitter, their birding highlights. With a limit of 280 characters, of course we'd mention the Jack Snipe we found on our patch, and probably not mention the 3 hours spent trudging through empty fields. Likewise, in a post of the year's highlights, we're not going to waste precious words lamenting the many dips and bird-less days along the way (unless making a point to that effect).  As a result, a Twitter session can often lead to the feeling that you're the only one to whom the birds don't com

When no news is bad news

I love birding in Norfolk - you can’t quite beat the feeling of walking down the Titchwell West Bank Path with waders calling all around you and the autumn wind heralding the start of migration. I used to come here every year with my grandparents; my grandad got me into birding from the beginning, and this reserve holds some of my most treasured birding memories.   The West Bank Path at Titchwell Marsh, overlooking the reedbed Birds or not, there's just something about being at Titchwell that means I love every visit. Yet I miss the excitement and unbridled optimism that I had here as a 10 year old on every single trip. I know that it’s still in there but has been beaten and aged by pragmatism and experience. The fact is that now when I visit Norfolk I know what’s around and I know what has been around for the last few weeks, if not months. There's no doubt that news services are one of the best things about modern birding - I recently wrote a post expressing this sentiment. H

Mother tongue

When did you start birding? For me, it was when I was very little. I used to sit with my grandad flicking through the bird book and while I was yet to be able to read the descriptions, I could identify most British birds by the age of 4. My birding education was chiefly visual - I couldn't read let alone understand the meaning of a scapular. For some of you, this will sound very familiar, for others maybe you got into birding later on. In this way, there's a huge range of birding backgrounds, which gives rise to an interesting phenomenon that I've only recently started to notice. As birders, when we look at a photo of a Western Sandpiper, lots of thoughts go through our head to try and establish why it is not a Little Stint or a Semipalmated Sandpiper. And when I'm with other birders, I've noticed a lot of the time these thoughts are very technical - half-webbed toes, the markings on the scapulars, the bill length etc. Whereas my response is sometimes "well it

Spurn Residential Volunteering 2021

Sometimes, when you've wanted to do something for a really long time, it can never quite live up to expectations. Thankfully, when it came to my visit to Spurn Bird Observatory that wasn't the case - it matched my wildest expectations. I visited Spurn for two weeks, thanks to the BTO's fantastic Young Bird Observatory Volunteer Fund which funded my stay at the observatory. I'm so grateful to the BTO for providing me with the opportunity through this grant. Having been successful in my application to become a residential volunteer at Spurn in autumn 2020, I was extremely disappointed when the pandemic meant that volunteers were no longer able to visit for anything other than the full 3 month autumn period (which I wouldn't have been able to do due to university). With a similar commitment needed to become a residential volunteer in 2021, I am extremely grateful to Jonnie Fisk for allowing me to come for 2 weeks with the YBOV fund in September before my university yea

The Spurn Effect

The Spurn Effect. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a phenomenon whereby a twitchable rarity is quickly followed up by the finding of one or more rarities at the same site. Such as the recent county-first Rustic Bunting at Ham Wall, Somerset, seen by birders visiting for the River Warbler. There are possibly many reasons for it, but it’s usually attributed to lots more visiting birders on site to see the initial rarity - more eyes mean more birds are likely to be found. It’s called the Spurn effect because the high concentration of birders in such a small area is bound to turn up great birds. But what else might be causing The Spurn Effect and what does this mean for our birding?  Well one answer might be that the favourable weather system which brought the initial rarity was responsible for bringing the other(s). In other words, this really was an isolated incident and the site is undergoing a purple patch due to good conditions.  But what about when the birds clearly have different or

Birding in the Digital Age

On the 1st of July, a Fea's-type Petrel was spotted flying north past Flamborough Head prior to 10am. What ensued was one of the best examples of birding cooperation that I have ever seen. By quickly sharing the news and communicating online, the bird was seen at a further 13 coastal sites in the north east of the country, 13 more opportunities for photographs and corroboration. Thanks to better photographs further up the coast (and great online collaboration after the photos were shared) the bird was identified as a Soft-plumaged Petrel - a first for Britain, subject to acceptance. This is both a fantastic record and display of the power of digital communication. This bird would surely never have been identified let alone accepted had it not been for technological advancements. You might wonder, with 626 species now on the British list, when will it stop increasing? I would argue not any time soon, thanks at least in part to our ever-improving technology. I think new seabird addit

My Summer Birding Challenge!

It's been a while since I wrote a blog post, but I've been doing lots of birding in the meantime. A month and a half ago I started my June to September Birding Challenge. The idea was to try and see as many birds as I could from the 1st of June until the end of September to take advantage of being lucky enough to have a 4 month summer away from university. The busiest times for a student always seem to be April/May and October, which are annoyingly some of the best months for birding. I seem to have all the time in the world in June and July when there just aren't very many birds to see! The main motivation therefore for starting from scratch being that June and July can be frustrating months for birding (although this year seems to have been a bit of exception) and I was hoping that starting a new list would help make things more exciting. My target, though optimistic, was to beat 200 species which was my previous year list record for an entire calendar year! I would be he

Local Lockdown Bucket List

With an end to restricted travel getting closer every day, I'm sure everyone reading this is keen to get out and spread their birding wings. I know I certainly I am. But to avoid you wishing away these next few weeks or months, my post this week is going to be a series of 'Low Carbon Birding Challenges', to make the most of our local birding scene before we can all travel further afield, and before some of us forget about the spots that we've grown to love over the last year. A Lockdown Birding Bucket List Top 10 if you will.  Hopefully, it might help us to rekindle our love for our local area, a love which might have worn quite thin over the last few months of being forced to visit it exclusively every day! I hope this highlights a few positives that we can take away from this past year of enforced local lockdown birding, and maybe some that we can continue to enjoy after lockdown and beyond. If there are any you haven't done already, there's still time to give

The Birder's Paradox

Something that’s always been difficult for me has been finding the line between listing and watching, between enjoying a rare bird and appreciating what I see every day. It’s something you might call the Birder's Paradox - how can I truly enjoy a rare bird if I forget to enjoy those that are more common? I started to think about what birds symbolise 'home' to me. What birds do I see every day and often forget to give a second glance.  Back home in Leicestershire, this might be the birds on the garden feeder - the Goldfinches, for example - along with House Sparrows and Blackbirds. In my uni house in Bath, larger birds are the main cast - Herring, Lesser-black Backed and Black-headed Gulls are everywhere. Cormorants are common and there's always a Pied Wagtail on the road outside. It struck me how different these were. A Goldfinch in the single tree that I can see from my Bath apartment would be a breath of fresh air, and I find myself celebrating a garden Pied Wagtail b

Mindful Birding

We all need a bit of a boost right now. Fortunately for me, and for many of you reading this post, birdwatching provides some much needed relief in this difficult state of the world. Birding offers a mindful and uplifting escape that remains even throughout the pandemic. Sure, we might not be able to travel to a bird reserve or maybe even our local patch, but I've put together some birding activities that just about anyone can enjoy even now. Hopefully, they provide you with some of the mindfulness and joy that we could all do with at this time. Perhaps the key to all this is that nature is unchanging in the face of all the problems in the human world. Nature can provide great solace during the harsh reality of the pandemic. Watching a Goldcrest foraging in a pine tree today is just the same experience as it was 5 years ago, and it's this normality that we all crave right now. Being present and enjoying the birds you are seeing couldn't be a better way to experience mindful