Wednesday 1 January 2020

Fresh Approach For a New Decade

Twitter has been alive today with birdy reports about who has been where and seen what. Me? I had to wait until mid-afternoon for my chance to join the fray. I chose West Bexington, and walked W along the beach to the end of the mere, and back again, slowly...

The entrance to West Bex Nature Reserve is currently a wellies job. Or waders maybe...

I saw singles of Sparrowhawk, Red-throated Diver and Guillemot, 6 Great Crested Grebes, and many gulls. On the mere were Shovelers, Tufties, Teal, Gadwall and more gulls. Whenever I spotted a Med Gull I lingered for a few seconds, and was pleased to realise I've not quite relegated them to dross yet. Water Rails squealed, a Cetti's Warbler did its thing. All in all I was content with my little walk and its outcome.

What I didn't do was write anything down. Nor go out of my way to count anything. I had no expectations, but was happy just to be out there. Since rekindling some enthusiasm for this hobby I've been wondering what I can do to keep the fire burning a bit. Because I need an approach that is going to work long term...

Twitching is one approach. In my younger days I was a pretty keen twitcher. Despite many terrific birds, and a lot of fun, twitching all became a bit meaningless eventually, and is a rare thing today. So no, not twitching...

Another approach is local patching of course, and one that I have tried several times. But for some reason it has never kept me going long term. I'm not sure why. I like the idea of it, but many of the elements that patchers commonly employ to give depth and meaning to their local birding leave me cold. Various kinds of survey, for example. No thanks, I find it a chore. Diligent record-keeping and submission thereof. No thanks, and ditto. Even the simple act of listing doesn't do it for me...

Am I a lost cause? Maybe you've read that last paragraph and judged me a bit of a birding waster. No surveys? And what?! No records either?!! Well, I have tried both, and at one time would have championed the submission of records, but experience has taught me to go with what I've got, not what I would like to have. And though I would like to have that consciencious, contributing-type birder in me, he really isn't there. Sorry.

So what do I like? Well, I like this...

West Bexington this afternoon. Relative solitude.

I also like finding stuff. Now when it comes to finding good birds I know I am not the world's best, but when it does happen I love it. I love the thrill of it. By now most NQS readers will be aware that I love places that are off the beaten track too. I love the feeling that I'm on some kind of 'pioneer trail', even if that's just in my head.

Solitude. Finding stuff. The road less travelled. Put those three things together and what have you got? Possibly, hopefully, a recipe for birding longevity. I am dead fortunate to live in W Dorset. I am surrounded by acres and acres of barely-birded countryside and underwatched coast just begging to be exploited, and not constrained by the self-imposed limitations of a patch.

But am I just a selfish, birding hedonist? a NON-contributor? This thought has crossed my mind, but I am reassured by a couple of things, which I'll illustrate by relating a message that appeared on the Patch Birding WhatsApp group chat today. The gist of it was this:

Kilmington WTW: 100+ Pied Wags, 20 Chiffs, 1 Sibe Chiff, 1 Firecrest and some Goldcrests.

Someone else had visited Kilmington WTW on the strength of my visit yesterday, and scored. I was absolutely delighted to see this message, and (I think) for all the right reasons. Firstly, it felt great to have shared some good birds. If I hadn't visited yesterday, that wouldn't have happened. And secondly, it felt great to have promoted a good birding location, and particularly that one. When I first began birding in the Seaton area, Phil put me on to Kilmington. Apart from the sewage works, there was also a disused quarry that held the occasional Jack Snipe. So, originally Kilmington was part of the Axe patch. And then - around 2006 or so - we deliberately reduced the size of the 'official' patch, and Kilmington, as well as one or two other good spots, fell outside the boundary and have since received far less attention. My 2020 approach to birding is no longer fettered by the confines of a patch, or even a county, and a neglected spot like Kilmington WTW fills my needs perfectly.

Despite how I may come across, I do like to feel I have been helpful and enhanced someone else's birding experience in some way. And I'm hoping my fresh approach will occasionally allow me to feel I have in some way contributed, after all. So far, so good...


  1. Well, I guess your current life is all about you doing what suits you and you shouldn't need to apologise for that. I guess the fact that I have birded the same patch now for 33 years, as a Vol. Warden, and send in monthly reports of what I've seen, must seem the height of boring, but like you it's what suits me. Other than that I'm pretty anti-social as far as bird watching goes. Do what suits you Gav. and enjoy it.

    1. Thanks Derek, I'll certainly try! Each to their own. If your approach has worked for 33 years I guess you've hit on a winning formula! Fair play.

  2. Gav, I once met a birder who had gone to Stockers Lake on spec without knowing a Night Heron had appeared. The finder had gone home and I had returned to the site having had to go home myself first.
    His look of surprise when I declared 'You haven't heard about the NH then?', was priceless.
    We went to the spot, just the two of us there. He looked, checked the ID, and then made some calls.
    Ten minutes later the first of the subsequent hoards arrived. The buzz was palpable. These people were really happy.
    I guess that's why I go birding in the way that I do. I want to find something that others will be happy to see. Ok, I didn't find the NH, but was party to the reaction when it was publicised.
    That was the part I liked. Not that I want any credit or recognition for finding things. To me it seems almost a wasted bird if others don't see it.

    1. Ric, I totally agree. That's a great story, and it's given me an idea for a post. Thanks.

  3. Another good post Gavin. Made me think about the time I asked a 'serial bird finder' at Spurn about his technique when I first moved in. "Just enjoy doing what you do Colin" he said. Sound advice I reckon.

    1. Thanks Col, it is great advice. And so simple. Looking back at times when I wasn't enjoying it, I wonder now if I was in various ways trying too hard, 'forcing it', rather than simply relaxing and going with what suits me best. Even something as seemingly innoccuous as year-listing on a patch... I'd find myself traipsing round some horrible conifer plantation in search of elusive Crossbills, and hating every minute. Seemd necessary at the time, but with hindsight, stupid!