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Posts Tagged ‘Bedfordshire’

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!

Dunnock

Dunnock in my garden

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…

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It’s always the way.  You wait for ages for one Red Kite, and then three turn up at once.

On  Sunday I got up early, packed up a flask of tea and some food, and went out for an early stroll and a picnic breakfast.  I sat under the big oak tree and looked across the valley, drinking tea and watching the antics of a Chinese Water Deer in the field below.

At 7.40am three Red Kites rose up from the woods on the other side of the valley.  They circled slowly, gaining height, and then soared away in different directions.  Within five minutes the valley was empty again.

It was as fine a view for breakfast as you could hope for.  The Red Kite is now definitely ticked off my local species list.  I need to find something else to focus on.

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The Red Kite has been preying on my mind.

After my wife saw it, and after I saw it myself from my car, I just had to get a better view of it.  Like I said, it isn’t a great rarity, but it is unusual for this area, and for me that’s a good enough reason to try and track it down.  I resolved to get outside and find it.

I’ve got friends who live in the Chilterns who would be perplexed by this.  Over there the kites are almost as common as sparrows and it isn’t unusual to have ten or more in the sky at one time.

But as far as I know we’ve only got the one kite around here, and this makes it special.  So what are the chances of finding one individual bird?  I love a challenge so this is just the sort of thing I enjoy, and it gave me a perfect excuse to get out and about.  I was a naturalist on a mission!

Half past seven this morning saw me wandering the countryside, binoculars in hand.  I concentrated on the road where I saw the kite, and followed a big loop all around it.  The road itself is at the bottom of a broad, dry valley, so I followed the footpaths on either side of it.

Two hours and five miles later my breakfast was calling me, and I conceded defeat.  Perhaps looking for a single bird, one that could effortlessly cover a territory miles across, was a bit far-fetched after all.

But the idea wouldn’t go away.  By early evening I had finished what I needed to do around the house, so I grabbed the binoculars and headed out for a short walk.  It was a beautiful evening to be out, so it seemed a waste to be sitting indoors.

Half a mile or so from my house there is a large oak tree where you can sit and look out across the valley.  I sat and scanned the landscape slowly, and there, perched on a tree about 500 yards away, was a large bird of prey.  As I watched it slowly flapped off and glided into a patch of woodland.

I couldn’t see the shape of the wings or the tail as it was flying directly away from me, but it was a reddish brown colour with a distinctly pale head.  It was my Red Kite.  I had managed to find it.

The reintroduction of the Red Kite has been a phenomenal success story, and the rate at which they are spreading across the country means that they are likely to be commonplace here within a few years.  Nevertheless, I’ll always be able to think of the time when I tracked down the first Red Kite I saw in Bedfordshire.

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