Saturday, 17 October 2020

Out of Sync

During this morning's second cup of coffee I opened up Twitter and discovered that it had finally happened. A Rufous Bush Chat went and burst its own mythical bubble by turning up in Norfolk. The last UK occurence was the very day that Sandra and I got married: August 9th, 1980. Forty years, two months and eight days ago. Birding wasn't my main hobby back then, so I didn't get the gen until I read about Richard Millington's August 10th dip in A Twitcher's Diary, some 18 months later. As the years clocked up, and Rufous Bush Chats resolutely avoided British soil, it became one of my most wanted. So what did I do about this morning's revelation?

Tucked it away for blog post material later.

It's at times like this that I most feel completely out of sync with so many of my fellow birders. And indeed, with my former self. If my desire to rush off to Norfolk and see this bird could have been measured on a gauge, the needle would not have flickered. I see all the photos and read the euphoric tweets of triumph, and feel...nothing. Well, not nothing, I suppose, but certainly not envy, regret, longing or lust. Rather I feel utterly disconnected from it all. Like the last place I would want to be right now was Stiffkey in Norfolk...

At lunchtime yesterday I spent an hour or two poking around Seatown, a coastal hamlet between West Bay and Charmouth. I was hoping for Yellow-browed Warbler. I got Goldcrest, 2 Coal Tits, 2 Siskins, 2 Redpolls feeding in a silver birch, and 7 Clouded Yellows in a single field. There were quite a few folk out walking in the sunshine, but they were easy to avoid. There were no birders at all.

Seatown. Basically a few houses, a caravan site, a pub and a car park.

This afternoon I ventured out to West and East Bexington again. Just 3 Chiffs, a Blackcap, a Clouded Yellow, and this...

My first Wheatear in a while.

Again, a few out walking, lots of anglers on the beach, but no birders. There is quite a long stretch of rough habitat between the beach and coast path, and I thought it unlikely that anyone had explored it this afternoon. I flushed the Wheatear from it, but fancy it for a Snow Bunting or something.

Beach on the left, coast path on the right, quiet zone in the middle. Containing who knows what? Today, a Wheatear and some Meadow Pipits.

In the main I have little interest in chasing someone else's birds. That's not to say I won't, but I rarely get anything meaningful from doing so. In fact, frequently it's been a massive anti-climax. I would much, much rather find my own. That's where I get my birding jollies. And it doesn't have to be something scarce or rare. Context is everything. I am realistic enough to appreciate that my chances of finding a local Pallas' Warbler or Red-flanked Bluetail are super slim, but a Yellow-browed Warbler is on the cards. And if that happens it will seriously make my day, because I have never found a local YBW while birding! Yesterday I was chuffed at the perched Redpolls (a rare local sight for me) and today the Wheatear was enough to put a big smile on my face.

In the last two days I've put in a few hours for what might seem scant reward. Many of today's Rufous Bush Chat twitchers might think I'm daft. That's fine. I'm happy with these few miles of beautiful coast, and the amazingly low birder density. I don't get upset or frustrated when it's quiet. If the birding is slow, there is always a lovely walk to enjoy. And as we all know, it only takes one bird...

13 comments:

  1. And that's why I read your blog and not some manic, overly competitive twitcher.

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    1. Thanks Dave. And even when I was a twitcher I was ultra-relaxed about it. I never once wept when dipping.

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  2. My feelings these days are much as yours. In some ways I'd like to see the bird, but the travel & the crowds are not appealing. To be honest I'm struggling motivate myself to get out on my local patch never mind driving to Norfolk (or Durham, East Yorksire, etc.). Might have something to do with my patch being in north-east Worcestershire!

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    1. Yep, I reckon there are many of us feel similarly...

      When I first got keen I lived in Northolt, Middx. So-called 'local' birding for me was a 20-odd minute drive to Staines Res, or to Stockers Lake in the Herts Colne Valley. I sympathise with inland birders, and know it can be a challenge.

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  3. I identify with the pleasure those who saw the bird gained from having seen it. For some it was a defining moment I'm sure.

    As for the species, I had an inkling that J.T.R Sharrock in the publication 'Best Days with British Birds'; which featured Cape Clear after a gale force storm from the south, mentioned a bird -or was it two? - that sounded like A Rufous Bush Robin. He couldn't quite get onto them/it for a clear ID.

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    1. Photos of the bird depict a somewhat bedraggled specimen, Ric. Imagine a bird used to hot, dry conditions, on a North Norfolk saltmarsh. Not great.

      Yes, you're probably right. They're probably as chuffed with it as I was with the Cream-coloured Courser I saw in a soggy Essex field in 1984 or whenever it was. Unfortunately, all I can say about that is 'I was there'. In fact, you and I can both say that about loads of rare birds. Some were a real buzz, some not. Finding a decent bird locally knocks all of them into a cocked hat.

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  4. Rufous Bushchat, what Rufous Bushchat? I had a wheatear too though... ;)

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    1. Yes Stew, now that I've acquainted myself with your latest Twittering I get the joke! Jammy so-and-so!!

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  5. Like many birders yesterday morning, I awoke to the news of the Rufus Bush Chat in Norfolk. I immediately headed to the shower while my wife dutifully made me some sandwiches. In short-time I was on my way; a little while later I was back on my drive. Something just didn’t feel right and I had returned home. The initial fission I felt on reading the news had evaporated and I was left with the nagging question ‘just want the hell was I doing’? It wasn’t the thought of spending nearly 11 hours in the car. It wasn’t the amount of carbon I was about to generate, it wasn’t an irrational concern over Covid transmission. It was more what’s the point of wasting my time travelling to see a bird just to put a tick in a box? A bird that I had already seen several times on various trips abroad. Can I say straight away that I’m not attacking listing, I’ve done more than my share in the past and have nearly 530 ticks in boxes of my own and with a little more application could be well beyond that number. No, it was the realisation that’s been dawning on me slowly for some time but only crystallised yesterday, that the whole exercise is pointless. Now, I know some will argue that anything we humans do that isn’t concerned with survival or procreation is pointless and that’s probably true, but I also know that we can derive a great deal of pleasure from these pursuits whether it’s watching 22 players chase a bag of air around a pitch or spending a night drowning maggots but for me the pleasure of adding this bird to my ‘list’ just wasn’t there. The antidote? I went down the ‘patch’ instead. Didn’t see a Bush Chat, but had a great time…. I went down again this morning and I’ll be there again tomorrow. I think my twitching days are over….probably.

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    1. Wow, Mike! Thanks very much for relating your experience on here. And I shan't say any more than that...

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  6. Birds are interesting for sure. But even more interesting given the context under which they are observed. Under those conditions, the possibilities for extracting the greatest personal value from a bird are limitless.

    Whereas in Twitching, birds are involved, but appear to be reduced to mere items in a strange mix of competition and kleptomania.

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  7. Interesting post. You are definitely cured. What did you take that the Prof didn't?

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    1. Bad habits are harder to break when they've been entrenched for millenia, and I am much, much younger than the Prof. ;)

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