I was going through some photographs the other day. Amongst them were some snaps taken in Devon in April 2007. Mrs Reg and I had booked a long weekend in Dawlish Warren - one of our favourite destinations. I was still fairly new to what I would call hardcore birding - in fact, 2007 saw me make a proper year list for the first time, and the word lifer had only been in my vocabulary for about 12 months.
Armed with some excellent gen gathered from the internet, I was able to see my first Dartford warbler on Aylesbeare Common, and a cattle egret along the Otter Estuary was located without too much difficulty. I'm sure that cattle egrets will become easier to see over the next few years, but almost two years on I'm still waiting for my second one. I have a feeling, however, that I could be ticking this bird when I return to Devon in July this year.
You're Having A Laugh!
Another bird that I saw on that trip was a laughing gull that had been around the area for a week or two before we arrived. I was aware of its presence, but never thought that we would catch up with it. It just so happened that the gull decided to put in an appearance at Bowling Green Marsh on the Sunday morning. I would never have spotted it, but two chaps in the hide pointed it out when it dropped in.
I rattled off a few pictures at the time, but none seem to contain the gull in question. I recently put a request on the internet for a picture of this bird and was delighted when a gentleman by the name of Brian Heasman was able to oblige. Thanks for the use of the pic, Brian.
All of this reminiscing got me thinking about the rarer birds I have seen - particularly the ones that I might have to wait some time to see again, assuming I ever do of course!
The first that springs to mind is Wilson's phalarope. This bird turned up at Upton Warren on 23 September 2007, and in case you're wondering, I didn't need to look that date up - it will be etched on my mind for eternity! You can read a full write up of that memorable day at my old Surfbirds blog here. It could definitely be some time before I see another Wilson's phalarope, but as my old man still needs it I dare say we would twitch one if it wasn't too far away.
Next up is the American golden plover at Slimbridge in December 2007. This was another bird that I wouldn't have had a hope of seeing without the assistance of a few helpful birders in the Holden Tower. As you'd expect, the bird was with a sizeable flock of golden plover. Just as we got into position, something spooked the birds and they took off. When they settled again, one of the birders was somehow able to locate the American golden plover again, and I grabbed a quick look through his scope.
I saw the lesser scaup at Draycote Water twice - once in December 2007 and then again in January 2008. Therefore, the bird appears on two different year lists, but I think it still warrants inclusion here. It's another bird that seems to be turning up more regularly, however, so although it may involve a twitch, I'm sure I will see this one again at some point.
Another Devon bird was the long-billed dowitcher, again at Bowling Green Marsh, in February 2008. I never saw the one that turned up at nearby Bittell Reservoir in 2006, but I think it was dipping on that one that triggered my interest in twitching for the odd rarity here and there. It was a great bird to get, and a bit of a milestone as it was my 200th lifer. On the same trip we also saw the surf scoter at Dawlish Warren. Although another bird has been present there this winter, I wouldn't like to say when I'll connect with one again.
Looking through my 2008 year list, one or two more stick out like sore thumbs. It could be a long wait before I see green-winged teal, great skua, red-necked phalarope, Temminck's stint, black-winged stilt, ferruginous duck and ring-necked duck again. Going back to 2007, the spoonbill at Foryd Bay won't be an easy tick to repeat. On the other hand, I've got quite a few one-timers that I'm sure I will see again before too long. These include curlew sandpiper and pied flycatcher. I was going to include black grouse and ptarmigan, but then I remembered I saw both on two separate occasions in Scotland last year.
If The Bill Fits ...
The most controversial one on the list is Scottish crossbill. I had to bend the rules a bit when I ticked this last May. Whilst the birds showed enough features to suggest they weren't common crossbills, one can never be absolutely sure. It always makes me chuckle that people say you can't tell these species apart without analysing calls, but throw a picture of one on the internet and plenty will be immediately happy to say it is a common crossbill without a moment's hesitation! There seem to be a number of people who make it their personal mission to shoot down possible rarities on the forums, but I'll save that rant for another day.
I'll close by assuring you that I'm not trying to boast about the rarer birds I have seen, or to sound like some kind of expert on these matters. That's not how I get my kicks. In fact, whilst I take an interest in other people's birding, I dislike the competitive element that surfaces every so often. In my opinion, birding should be a pleasurable hobby, not a sport. I feel very privileged to have seen the birds I have and I'm sure most of you have seen many, many more. I actually envy those people that haven't got huge life lists, as they've got so much to look forward to.
As ever, enjoy your birding - whether you're looking at yet another blue tit, or getting up close and personal with Syke's warbler.