Saturday, 31 October 2015

Birdwatching and lists

I’ve got am embarrassing confession. Don’t worry, this time it’s nothing to do with my internet search history (though for the record ‘Great Tits’ I think I can explain, but ‘Bearded Tits’ might be more of a challenge). No my confession is this. I’m a birdwatcher, but I don’t keep any lists. Well apart from shopping lists that is, which don’t really count, as you can’t buy a Dartford Warbler in a supermarket (which is a shame – coz it would be a tick for me). Most birdwatchers of course, keep lots of lists. Indeed some seem more proud of how many lists they keep, than how many birds they’ve seen. They have their British list, annual list, local patch list, holiday list, list of birds seen whilst ordering beige curtain material, list of birds seen whilst wearing blue frilly underwear (and another for when the bird was wearing the underwear) and so on.  

Now I did used to keep lists. When I started birding (I would have been around 11 years old). I had two lists. Birds seen in the wild, and birds seen in captivity. You won’t be surprised to learn that the latter was considerably longer than the former. In my defence, it was good for a beginner birdwatcher. When I started, if I made a list of birds I could successfully identify, if would probably have been shorter than the list of birds I’ve eaten (I should emphasise that this was because I wasn’t very good at identifying birds – not because I ate lots of them). So it was good to be able to pop over to Birdworld in Surrey, read the names by the cages and get lots of ‘ticks’, which was satisfying (I like the idea of a captive bird ‘bird race’ with teams racing between British zoos and private aviaries). It also meant I got Hyacinth Macaw and Ostridge on my ‘British’ list – not something a lot of birders can claim (trickery has its perks). So why don’t I keep lists any more? Of course it’s partly due to laziness, and partly to embarrassment. Coz my British list wouldn’t be very long (and because I suspect someone might ask me to remove Ostridge from it).

However I did see my first Pintail the other day, or at least my first Pintail since I restarted birdwatching a few months ago. Now I don’t expect you to be impressed – if you want to switch across to something more exciting, the Dulux colour chart perhaps, I won’t blame you. But I was excited. Since I restarted birding Pintail has been a minor bogy bird, something which I should have seen, but kept missing. I expected that when I eventually did see one it would be a drab female bobbing about in the distance, just about identifiable with my binoculars. Instead there was a group, both male and female, feet away from the hide window – if I’d wanted to charge out to tear off a feather (and I won’t pretend I wasn’t tempted) I probably could have done. They wouldn’t have been any more conspicuous if they were performing the Macarena – and I would have been only marginally more impressed. I will get round to starting a list eventually, but I’d like to have rather more than Pintail to put on it (stick around to find out if I do). 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Blog post number one

I’ve had blogs before. Mind you they don’t tend to last very long. I have a rough routine. I create a blog. I briefly feel that I’ve achieved something, and decide I’ve earned a break. A few weeks later I wonder if maybe I should think about possibly trying to write something in the near future. I find this thinking quite strenuous, and take another break. A week later I manage a few hundred words, decide that will do and post it up. And quite understandably no sod reads it. Or if I’m very lucky the odd poor bloke who’s clicked on the link by mistake, perhaps from some strong subconscious sense of sympathy. A few weeks later I might manage a few more short pieces, which attract an even smaller audience (I didn’t realise negative view counts were possible…), then I pack it in. But this time it will (or at least might) be different, coz this time I’ll be writing about birds. The feathered kind of course, though I’m not ruling out a bit of x-rated filth if I need to boost my view count.

I became interested in birdwatching when I was a child. I took it reasonably seriously, to the extent that I was a member of the RSPB, BTO and WWT, and still have a pile of aging copies of Bird Watching somewhere in the loft. However as I got older I realised that it was a somewhat unusual hobby. Specifically I noticed that as a teenager, when asked ‘what you up to over the weekend’, answering ‘going to see Arsenal play at home’ pursued a noticeably lower level of laughter than ‘going to see if I can find a Spotted Redshank’. In short, at school, birdwatching seemed to be ranked somewhere between picking bogies from your nose and eating them, and campaigning for the legalisation of paedophilia, in terms of social acceptability. This trajectory broadly continued through university. But having finished university I now feel free to say, loud, proud, and most important anonymously, I am a birdwatcher.

So why the blog? I’ll be honest, this isn’t the best place to come for sound ornithological advice. The only way I’d be able to tell the difference between a March Tit and a Willow Tit, or a Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler, is if I sent them off for DNA analysis. All I can offer is enthusiasm (and, if you’re very lucky, my recipe for mosaca). Still, it’s a well-known scientifically proven fact that you can always make up for incompetence with enthusiasm (just ask any WW1 British General), so I should be alright. I’ve wanted to write about birdwatching for some time. Initially I thought that, to avoid embarrassment, I should get a hang of the subject first. Then I changed my mind. There are, after all, already lots of people who write about birdwatching based on extensive knowledge and experience, but relatively few who write about it based largely on ignorance. I’d found a gap in the market, and one that I’m well qualified to fill! So please do follow this blog if you want to chart my development from birdwatching novice to, well, someone who can tell the difference between a Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler (we can all dream can’t we). If might not be informative an informative read, but I hope it will be an entertaining one! And I promise to update the blog more than every other month. Probably.