Saturday 2 January 2021

Cirl Bunting Revisited

This afternoon I was dead keen to go and have another look at (or, more appropriately, look for) the female Cirl Bunting which Alan, Mike and I discovered at West Bexington yesterday. Particularly I was after some decent scope views - ideally including the rump - and some photos if possible. In the event things panned out well. Despited its tendency to play hide-and-seek among the Yellowhammers, and to sit motionless inside the hedge for ages, I got terrific scope views, including the streaky, olive-greyish rump. The range and the rather feeble light mean my photos aren't great, but here you go anyway...

Quite similar to yesterday's photo, but nicely shows the streaky crown, with no pale centre.

On the deck it shows almost no yellowish tones at all, and a surprisingly striking face pattern.

It didn't move from this spot for 15 minutes. At least it was visible though. Frequently it wasn't.

That evenly-streaked crown again. And is that a tiny sliver of rump on view between the wings...?

Eventually the gloom deepened and rain began to fall, so I'll have to try another time for those rump shots. Still, it was a very entertaining couple of hours. Educational too, because I so rarely see Cirl Buntings and have never made the effort to get to grips with the finer points of identifying females. Watching this subtle beastie among its common congeners, in a context where it is actually a very scarce bird, forces you to up your game a bit. All good.

While out and about I also had great views of a hunting male Sparrowhawk, saw 2 Canada Geese fly past and a Kestrel on the beach, and heard a short burst of Cetti's Warbler. These four species take my 2021 total to 68. The only reason I know that is because yesterday I kept a tally as I saw (or heard) each new species. I did that purely out of curiosity, not because I intend to keep a year-list. And yet here I am today, keeping count still...

Lots of birders do keep a year-list, and many of them will actively look to add to it, perhaps aiming to beat the number they got last year, or in some previous year of plenty. I've done this myself, several times. However, while some birders clearly find listing a source of personal encouragement and motivation, that's not necessarily been the case for me.

In recent years I have learned something about myself. When it comes to birding, sometimes I get a little bee in my bonnet, get slightly obsessed with some random, niche aspect of this hobby, and just have to focus on it until I no longer want to. Listing interferes with stuff like that. For example, I can think of many times when I've found myself birding uninspiring habitat in search of some species I 'need' for the list, and resenting every minute of it. The only reason I'm there is because the list demands it, not because I want to be. For similar reasons, rigidly defined patch boundaries don't work for me either. Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticising year-listing or patching. I know that many birders absolutely thrive on chasing year-lists or concentrating on a much-loved patch. If that's you, great.

In the past I've erroneously believed that ought to be me too. And ignoring the warning signs that were telling me otherwise has contributed to some serious phasing.

It's taken me many years - too many - to shape a kind of birding that fits comfortably with how I'm wired. If you are relatively new to it all, be warned! Seriously though, just keep checking that you're enjoying it still. If in doubt, re-evaluate and maybe change tack.

So, in the shiny new year that is 2021 I shall keep counting until I don't want to any more. If that makes sense...?


  1. Interesting thoughts, and well done with the Cirl Bunting! I've found half-heartedly listing works for me. In other words, it's interesting to compare years & as I note it down I end up with a list, but that's not what motivates me to go out most of the time, as if it was I'd probably get bored given how many days won't add to your year list! Personally find the patch boundary "comforting" and it's nice getting to know an area, which you do anyway, though mine aren't fully rigid - just extended it quite a bit to a boundary which I feel makes more sense. It's great how birding can be done in different ways! Amy

    1. Thanks for commenting, Amy. I could probably manage a bit of 'half-hearted' listing too, but the danger for me is in allowing it to become my master. That has happened in the past. Finding what works for you seems to be the key to birding longevity. It's just taken me longer than I would have liked... 😉

    2. Yes, definitely. Glad you have now found what works well. I think I've mostly worked it out, though still testing out a few things. Ah, I know what you mean but have thankfully reached a point where I keep forgetting about the actual list and just enjoy the birds :) I too wouldn't want the list to become the master