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 come easily, when really we only see the airbrushed version. 

Not only this, but after a long day stuck at work, it can be tough to watch the incredible birds that others are finding during an influx or a good day of winds. It's a great thing to live vicariously through others' joy, but when every post is a picture of a rarity you are desperate to see, it can be hard to feel happy about it! Indeed, sitting on the bus, seeing posts about the recent BrĂ¼nnich's Guillemot influx inspired me to finally write this post.

So if this constant comparison with social media is my problem, what is the solution? As I'm sure you've guessed, it's stop comparing, by creating my own birding challenges. I'm never going to 'out-bird' Twitter, so maybe I can bring some of that competitive listing spirit into challenges of my own.

It was with this in mind, that I set myself my 200 Bird Summer Challenge this year. I've always found year-listing hard, being in the middle of exams and lectures during the peaks periods of migration. I find myself with lots of time to bird in the height of summer and winter, and then I run out of free time when the birds are at their peak. I quickly lose motivation for the whole idea. So, with my university summer lasting from the 1st of June to the 30th of September, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to condense my year list into one Summer List.

The target for the challenge was optimistic. I would see if I could beat my current 12 month year list record of 200 species in just 4 months! It seemed unlikely, and yet I was looking ahead at a summer visiting Scotland, Spurn, Norfolk and more.

The challenge was a huge success; it kept me motivated right up until the last week and was somehow perfectly pitched; I finally surpassed the 200 mark with just under 2 weeks to go (and in some style, with an Isabelline Wheatear as #200). It was also a great thing to regularly tweet about. I could engage in the social media community that I love, without feeling the need to compare my progress to the posts around me. I was tweeting about my own personal challenge, and loving every minute. My friend Joe joined me in the challenge, which added to the excitement.

Isabelline Wheatear was my 200th bird of the challenge, out of a final tally of 203

I never felt dejected with a lack of ticks during the quiet summer months. I had the exciting feeling of a tick 200 times in 4 months, turning the famously quiet month of June into a frenetic few weeks of ticks. No two people will have the same circumstances, so find a list or a challenge which works for you. Perhaps you have roughly the same amount of free time throughout the year and want to go for the 200 species year list challenge. Perhaps you want to stay local and just beat your long-standing local patch year list. Maybe you don't want to list at all. 

My first day of birding of the challenge was on the 1st of June in the Forest of Dean. This was one of the best day's birding I've had recently, and every bird felt exciting - a feeling I rarely get in June 

Whatever the personal choice, it's all about reconnecting with the way you came to love birding in the first place and finding a motivation, whether it’s listing or not, which drives you. Sharing this experience on social media then comes afterwards, in a far more positive way.


  1. Another thought-provoking post, Matt. It is fascinating the number of different techniques we employ in order to help us with motivation, and it's great to hear that your 200 Bird Summer Challenge did the trick so nicely for you. All the best for 2022!

    1. Thanks Gavin! It is, I certainly find my motivation ebbing and flowing throughout the year, it was nice to have something to drive me during quieter months. I hope you have a good 2022!


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