It’s confession time again.
I’ve been guilty of occasional birdwatching for many years. Nothing too serious – putting out food in the garden, listening to birdsong, watching the buzzards over the fields – the usual stuff. I thought I could handle it.
But now I’ve crossed a line. I’ve joined the hardcore of birdwatching. I’ve become a twitcher.
There is something about birds that seems to affect men of my age (no 1970s sexist pun intended!), and we seem to get strangely obsessed by ticking them off lists. There are people who take this to extremes, attempting to see every single bird species in the world (seriously), and many more that will travel across the UK to see a rarity that has been blown to these shores by freak winds or got badly lost while migrating.
I’m not in this category, but I have developed the list-ticking habit. I’ve been looking at the birds in my local area, and idly wondering how many different species there are, and how many I’ve seen. One thing led to another, and I downloaded the county bird list from the Bedfordshire Bird Club. Birdwatchers keep many lists, so there are lists for each county as well as for the UK as a whole. A bird that may be commonplace in one area may be a rarity in another, so there is a challenge to ticking off these county lists.
I’m not at the stage yet where I’m prepared to jump in the car and dash off to the other end of Bedfordshire to tick off a Siberian Lesser-Spotted Gronky Bird or some such rarity that has just arrived, but I am working my way through the list, ticking off the species as I see them in the course of my usual rambles. As a very novice birdwatcher, the challenge for me is not so much spotting a rare bird, it’s identifying the common ones that are all around me. There’s an awful lot of birds out there, and ticking off the list helps me to learn to recognise them, particularly the little brown ones that all look the same to me.
So how am I doing? Well, I’m afraid I’m not going to have Bill Oddie knocking on my door any time soon. There are 292 birds on the Bedfordshire county bird list. So far, as the title of this post suggests, I’ve seen and positively identified 45 of them. I have some way to go yet!
This is the 45th bird on my list – the Dunnock. Not a great picture, but you get the idea. The Dunnock is a small, brown bird that looks pretty much like a sparrow to the novice. In fact, I’ve probably had them in the garden for years without noticing. The defining features are the orange legs and the row of pale spots on the wings. Dunnocks also tend to keep low, and they are happy to hop around the garden and flit from bush to bush.
You see, not only can I tick off number 45 on my list, but the list itself is encouraging me to learn more about my local birds. Bird lists are good things!
Now, where was that Siberian Gronky Bird reported…