Tuesday 4 August 2020

The Perils of Solo Birding

It's no secret that I like birding alone. Not really because I'm an unsociable so-and-so, but rather that I can one-hundred-percent do my own thing. If I want to pop over there for a quick look, or linger by this field, or sit down and watch that hedge for twenty minutes, I can. Without worrying that a companion is going to be bored out of their boots. However, birding alone has its drawbacks. And one of them is that you have nobody to bounce ideas off and discuss things with.

When you bird alone, you have to identify all your own stuff. All of it. Bird identification is sometimes easy of course, so no problem, but frequently it is not. And if you are busily making some fundamental ID error, who is going to sort you out? No one. You will carry on down that blind alley and make a splendidly royal cock-up. And it's not until you post a photo on Twitter, and someone goes 'Er...mate...I think that's actually a [insert really common bird]' that you find out what a heartless prankster your brain is. That's a worst case scenario of course, but your devious grey matter has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve...

Today I had a bit of a moment.

I'm walking along the Burton Road, which lies just behind the beach at East Bexington, heading towards Abbotsbury. I notice a bird flying towards me above the road, but get on it a bit late, when it's almost overhead. I'd already decided it was a falcon, and was expecting Kestrel, but my bins reveal heavily streaked underparts. Very heavily streaked; in lines basically. My brain starts to play games. I didn't see the head, and now, as it goes away, I am struggling. Initially I'd thought Kestrel, but with those underparts obviously it can't be... And now it dips low enough to briefly show me the upperparts. They appear uniformly dark brown. It keeps going. A few flaps, a glide, no hurry. And is gone...

My brain is shuffling the options. Okay, heavily streaked underparts, so Hobby, yes? But you got that Kestrel vibe, right? Mmmm, so why not Red-footed Falcon? Dark brown uppers, so why not a juv? No colour on the vent area, was there? No. Well, there you go then! Can't rule it out, can you?

A birding companion would have nipped all this nonsense right in the bud...

'Wicked! Gav, see that Hobby?! Brilliant!'

With hindsight I realise it was a Hobby, but at the time I felt a bit bad about seeing yet another one. That makes four Hobbies in five visits to the East/West Bex area, and even I can see how stringy that sounds. What can I say?

Here's another photo of Sunday's West Bex bird, somewhat butchered, digitally speaking, in order to show some detail...

The streaky underparts and colourless vent area are what I saw today. Probably the same bloomin' bird

Anyway, I will continue to bird alone, and try not to string too often...


  1. Gav, I'll never forget, as we alighted in the car park of the Queen Mary Reservoir, your excited cry of, 'A raptor!'. It was. It was a Kestrel. Oh, the disappointment.
    Even now, as at the time, I wish it had been something more worthy of the sheer energy you expended exploding out of the car in order to, well, get a better view.
    The irony being that in contrast to the scarcity then of large birds of prey in the area, nowadays Peregrine, Common Buzzard and Red Kite are everyday species.

    1. Ha ha! Sounds typical of me, getting excited over nothing! 😄
      And yes, how things have changed. Quite amazing...

  2. Gav,
    I'll offer this thought, if I may? The birding alone freedom is a wondrous option and one which I now choose for myself. If a bird is mis-id'd, so what? You've made a genuine mistake and nothing more, no problem with changing the call at a later date? However, those who are prepared to lie to themselves (stringer) are beyond help. Mistakes are part and parcel of being human, everyone makes them. I liken this situation to those guys who fish for carp, yet are incapable of placing their prize within a weigh sling preferring, instead, to guesstimate the weight and boast accordingly. If you are prepared to lie to yourself then there really is no point.
    If your gut feeling is it might have been, then so be it. Not sure? You don't require any other opinion in order to leave it at that. Not knowing can't spoil the excitement of that initial encounter which ever way it turns out - Dyl

    1. Thanks very much for your comment Dyl. I like that last sentence. 😊 👍
      You've touched on a topic that I've been trying for some time to write a post about - our attitude towards errors, mistakes, whether our own or someone else's. For some reason I've not yet been able to put together something I'm happy with. Hopefully will get there though...