04 October 2010

Reflections on 200.

Naturally I am delighted to get 200 for the year. A lot of driving and a lot of patience has gone into that. Feels like a real milestone and one I hope to reach earlier next year.

Still, there are absentees from the list that really bother me, that make me question my skills at locating birds that are, I suspect, there. The most glaring example of this is Pied Flycatcher. I spent hours at Nagshead earlier in the year and didn't see one. Everyone else I went with, and met, did or had. I reckon I must looked straight through one or two...

Then there are the birds I just didn't run into - despite putting in lots of effort. Ring Ouzel, for example. I died several deaths hiking over Cleeve Common, got good advice where to go and saw nothing but Blackbirds. It was, to be honest, totally dispiriting. I think that - however you spin the 'win-some-lose-some' nature of birding, it's stupid I haven't yet got Pied Flycatcher or (preferably and) Ring Ouzel.

Must. Do. Better.

I have the enthusiasm and am developing a pretty good eye for a bird when get it in my bins or scope - or when I'm tracking a bird I've seen - but to be honest, lack an eagle eye for picking out the diamonds in the rough. Still, I know I'm more observant now than I was 18 months ago, so progress will continue I've no doubt. Additionally, having taken the time to learn it I am now familiar with bird topography, and thus am increasingly able to consider an individual in the field based on it's plumage, but more importantly pick out a rare bird should I come across one. I am also getting good at recognising the common bird song - my Garden Warbler this year was initially picked out by ear. So there's progress!

Anyway... I've listed below (in a more comprehensive format than before) birds that - for various reasons - I have not seen this year. The first category is birds I should definitely have seen, or consider myself unlucky and / or basically BLIND to have missed. The second are birds I came within a whisker of seeing, or could've made a trip to see and didn't. The flip side to that category is, of course, that I only have so much disposable income to blow on petrol and only have so much free time. The third category are birds that - IMHO - you just have to be lucky to run into, or to be within shooting (no pun intended) distance of a twitchable specimen.

Category One

Barn Owl, Brambling, Dipper, Firecrest, Grasshopper Warbler, Grey Partridge, Guillemot, Jack Snipe, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Nightingale, Pied Flycatcher, Redpoll, Ring Ouzel, Tawny Owl.

That I haven't had so much as a glimpse of a Barn Owl this year is annoying, particularly as I spent (what I could consider) 'enough' time trooping around the Hawling triangle (and further west towards West Wood) to get lucky once. Similarly, I saw a few Grey Partridge out there last year, but no joy this (I suppose a visit to Otmoor would've got that, though).

Brambling, yeah I'm confident of snagging one or two before year's end. Same goes for Redpoll (considerable effort will be put into this bird). A few Dippers are showing up withing a reasonable distance of Gloucester now, so that should be okay. Dipping a Dipper is bad!

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Nightingale remain elusive despite a number of lengthy stakeouts. I recall a furiously cold morning staring at trees on Cox's Meadow in Cheltenham hoping a long-staying Lesser Spotted Woodpecker would show - all the while being hassled by curious and / or ill-mannered school children / dog walkers / joggers. It did not show.

Grasshopper Warbler. Boy can these things throw their voices... or at least, I assume that's what they're doing because it's the only explanation for one now being where it darn well should've been along Green Lane this summer! Seriously though, a bit of unidentified movement in thick thickets is as close as I've come to this prize.

Guillemot? lol. I'm a bit stuck on this one. Scilly produced the odd Razorbill, but how I'll feel to finish a year list without Guillemot on it I don't know.

Category Two

Arctic Skua, Bean Goose, Bearded Tit, Chough, Cirl Bunting, Common Scoter, Dotterel, Eider, Great Bustard, Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Hoopoe, Leach's Storm Petrel, Purple Heron, Red-backed Shrike, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe, Waxwing, White-tailed Eagle, Woodlark, Wryneck.

I could've made trips to coastline to see birds such as Arctic Skua, Chough, Cirl Bunting, Common Scoter and Leach's Storm Petrel. I could've gone up to Scotland to get White-tailed and Golden Eagle, or to Dungeness to see the Purple Herons, or more recently to Cheddar for the Red-breasted Merganser (etc..., etc...). I didn't, but as I said that's a victim of my budget.

I'm still hopeful of a Waxwing or two showing up before the end of the year. My sole effort to see a Red-backed Shrike ended in failure (inevitable given the cursory effort I had to put in) at Land's End the week before last. I should never have missed Woodlark during the ill-fated trip to Suffolk for the Lesser Kestrel.

I'd love to go and see the Great Bustard on Salisbury Plain. I'd count them as a tick with glee, btw.

And the less said about my Wryneck blank on Scilly the better. I'd previously had Merlin down as the bird I'll probably never see short of running one over. Now, Wryneck holds that distinction.

Category Three

Black Kite, Caspian Gull, Citrine Wagtail, Corncrake, Glaucous Gull, Great Grey Shrike, Honey Buzzard, Icterine Warbler, Long-eared Owl, Melodious Warbler, Ortolan Bunting, Quail (I refuse to count it unless I see one), Red-rumped Swallow, Richard's Pipit, Roseate Tern, Rough-legged Buzzard, Snow Bunting, Snow Goose, Stone Curlew, Water Pipit, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Woodchat Shrike.

Of these, I'm disappointed I didn't get Citrine Wagtail, Ortolan Bunting, Icterine Warbler and maybe even Wilson's Storm Petrel on Scilly. The others require the rub of the green, as every one (save Red-rumped Swallow, Great Grey and Woodchat Shrike would be lifers). It'll take many years to get them all. But that's the fun!

Still... that's not to say I haven't had the rub of the green elsewhere! The highlights of the 200 were:

• Fantastic views of Bitterns (FIVE at once at Ham Wall). I've never seen so many Bitterns at once, and would wager it'll be some time before I do again. To get one in my scope and watch as it flew was magical.
Tree Sparrows at Hawling. A bird that was high on my wanted list.
Black Redstart at Sharpness. A very showy bird.
Willow Tit at Highnam. My first solo ID of this species.
Scaup and Smew at Cotswold Water Park. Both first for me, but Smew was a long-held ambition. I'd still go a long distance to see a male Smew, and suspect that will always be the case.
Ring-necked Duck all to myself in a far corner of Court Lake. It was long-gone from Slimbridge, and was showing periodically on Court Lake. After much effort (isn't it great when effort is rewarded?) I tracked it down on the far side in a small inlet. Just me and the duck. Fantastic.
• The two Greenland White-fronted Geese at Slimbridge.
• My first solo ID of a female Scaup on the sea. This may not sound like much, but I was - and remain - chuffed with it.
• The Pallid Swift at Kessingland. Not really adequate compensation for dipping the Lesser Kestrel, but a great bird none-the-less. The same trip bought my my first ever Dartford Warblers.
• Running into an extremely late Short-eared Owl at Hawling. I thought I'd probably left it too late to get one, and so my trip was very much a shot in the dark.
• The drake Garganey at Saul.
• The Osprey at Witcombe Reservoirs. Easily the best bird I've ever seen there. It arrived one evening, and to my shame I'd not checked the net to see if any birds had turned up in the county that day. Thus I didn't find out about it until 11pm (thanks for some great photos on The Gloster Birder), and had to get up before sunrise to see it the next morning. Even then, I only just saw it as it flew off within a couple of minutes of my arrival.
• Getting down to Slimbridge on the one summer evening the Spotted Crake was showing... and showing well. A blisteringly beautiful bird.
• Being on the second (older) viewing platform off Green Lane just as a Spoonbill flew past heading north (mobbed by Gulls).
• Going for a Red-footed Falcon at Wiltsone Reservoir, and getting great views despite terrible conditions.
• It's a pleasure to be so close to Boys Grave, and the Nightjars. Any trip there is a treat. They come so close. Insect repellent a must, though!
• A great view of the male Little Bittern at Ham Wall.
• It took two attempts to see the Gull-billed Tern at Exmouth / Bowling Green Marsh, but I did. Although the views were distant the behaviour was great.
• Great views of a Merlin on the ground at Slimbridge.
• Again at Slimbridge, the time when at least 20 Curlew Sandpipers turned up on the mud off Middle Point hide. Amazing.
• All the birds I saw on Scilly count as a highlight! But... the Lesser Grey Shrike was the clear winner. Not only was it a wonderful bird, but it hung around for a few days and gave exquisite views.

So there we go, a moan about my failures and near-misses, and the happy highlights of the year so far. I think - given luck and a fair wind (and in places a keener eye) - 215 isn't beyond me. We'll see...

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