Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It Must Be Christmas

Well, maybe not, but it doesn't really feel like summer at the moment either. My cryptic title this week actually refers to that festive standard 'The 12 Days of Christmas'. As you will remember, the words of the song tell us that on the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two Turtle Doves. Putting Mrs Reg aside for a moment, my true love is birding and although it may have actually been the second day of June, as opposed to Christmas, it did indeed bring me two Turtle Doves [year tick 200!].

The aforementioned Mrs Reg was having her hair done yesterday morning, so I decided to take advantage of the situation and venture out in pursuit of the bird that would nudge my annual tally up to the magic two hundred. I decided upon a visit to Throckmorton, which I understood was pretty good for Turtle Doves, but I have to admit I didn't really know my way around this area despite it not being too far from home.

Armed with only a printout from Google Maps, a can of Diet Coke and a packet of Mr Porky's pork scratchings [plus my binnies, of course!], I headed off, spying a Green Woodpecker flying across the A46 on the way, the first bird of note of the day.

I arrived at Throckmorton and was concerned to find there weren't really many places to park the car. I actually drove through Throckmorton, then found a spot at the side of the road. I knew I needed to head for Throckmorton Tip, which was back in the direction I had come from so I started walking and began birding, mainly with my ears. I noted a few Stock Doves and a Whitethroat along the way. A Blackcap was also singing from the trees and bushes.

After half a mile or so, I stopped to answer the call of nature. As luck would have it, I had chosen an excellent spot to relieve myself, as no sooner had I begun walking again, I heard a Turtle Dove calling from the trees to my right. I stopped and looked, but quickly realised that I was going to be fortunate if was to see the bird from the road. I had spotted a public footpath leading away from the road and although it didn't seem to be heading in exactly the right direction, it looked worth a punt. After negotiating a muddy area at the start of the path, noting an abandoned washing machine in the stream [shame on you, flytippers!] and heading down the path for a minute, I suddenly heard the bird calling right above me, followed by another behind me, but I still couldn't see them. Then I caught a bit of movement and saw something fly above me. Almost certainly the dove, but not sufficient evidence for a tick.

Then I saw a small bridge that crossed the stream. I headed across it into a meadow and made my way to the bushes on the other side. Only then did I finally clap eyes on my quarry. The dove flew from the top of a tree and landed in another, affording me some reasonable views. I heard a third bird calling from this area too, so I would imagine that there are at least a couple of pairs breeding here. A good bird to see relatively close to home.

Back at the car I celebrated in fine style with my Diet Coke and Mr Porky's pork scratchings. The last time I sampled these porcine delights, I cracked a tooth, but I'm pleased to say that my dentures survived the ordeal this time!

The Year So Far / Scottish Crossbills

Having notched up 200 birds for the year, now seems like a good time to take stock of the birding year so far. I have to say, I am feeling very relaxed about the whole thing. Having got off to a good start this year, 200 was always my target and I am resisting the urge to set myself any further goals other than enjoying my time in the field.

I will probably squeeze another 20 birds or so out of the year, but I won't be chasing numbers for the sake of it. It's been a phenomenal year up until now and I don't want to spoil it by becoming fixated on the wrong sort of goals.

I thought it might be worth providing an update on the assumed Scottish Crossbills that I found in Scotland [where else!] last month. Feedback from other birders suggests that you can't really be completely happy with the identification of these birds unless you have sonograms of their song and calls to analyse. Well, I don't generally carry around sophisticated recording equipment with me so I suppose I can never be absolutely sure about this one, but I am happy to keep it on my list.

What really makes me chuckle is these people who say it is impossible to separate Common Crossbills and Scottish Crossbills in the field, but when you present them with a photograph, they immediately say they are looking at a Common Crossbill. Come on, lighten up guys! I abhore stringing as much as the next person, but with a species like this I think you just have to be as happy as you can be under the circumstances, else you would never be able to tick it, would you?

Okay, rant over! I'll provide more birding news when it is available, which may be sooner than you think!

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