Sunday 17 October 2021

Not Mainstream, Possibly...

Since Tuesday's Portland jolly I have managed four local outings to various points along the coast between Burton Bradstock and East Bexington. More than ten hours of birding, most of it in the afternoon. I can tell you that only once during that time did a bird have me ripping frantically at the flap on my camera bag. It was yesterday, at West Bex. Circling with a Kestrel was a surprise Hobby, which headed rapidly west along the coastal ridge the moment it saw me trying - and failing - to focus on it. If I kept proper records I could tell you for sure that it was my latest Hobby ever, but as I don't...

Anyway, nothing else has even tried to get me excited. If I reveal that my efforts have produced exactly 1.5 Chiffchaffs and 0.2 Goldcrests per hour, does that tell you anything? I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture. So that's West Dorset. But a similar vibe is apparent elsewhere too, and reading between the Twittery lines it is obvious that many birders are currently underwhelmed by the goods on offer, even at popular birders' holiday locations with a good track record.

Social media exacerbates the issue of course. Reading that East Yorkshire is hosting a Taiga Flycatcher and Two-barred Greenish Warbler does not help you feel better about your patch's empty bushes. And when gripping photos (which you feel grudgingly obliged to 'like') are posted by friends and acquaintances who were quick to respond to the urgent prodding of their mega-alerts, well, it almost makes you want to join the circus doesn't it...?

And yes, that's one option.

It's funny. When I sit down to write a blog post, usually I know exactly where it's going. But sometimes not. And this is one of those times...

Before I wander too far off-piste though, a few local bits and bobs...

Wednesday lunchtime, and 2 Red Kites sail over the garden like it's May. Superb!

Foul weather put a stop to nocmig at the end of September, but I allowed the brief pause to develop into a long one, and it wasn't until October 8th that the kit was deployed once more. However, since then I have recorded almost 2,500 birds! Most of them have been these...

Redwing calls

The nocmig tally for the last nine nights includes 1814 Redwings (918 on 12th/13th), 589 Song Thrushes, 17 Blackbirds, a small flock of Common Scoters, 2 Skylarks, and singles of Snipe, Meadow Pipit and Golden Plover. Here's the Golden Plover...

At East Bexington yesterday I could see a very distant flock of ducks offshore. I was sure they were Common Scoters but took a few photos for insurance purposes. And yes, Common Scoters. But...

7 Common Scoters, almost all males...

...but this one has more yellow on the bill than I'm used to

I must admit that my main reason for taking these photos was the Surf Scoter possibility, and Black Scoter never entered my head. It has now! Clearly this is just a Common Scoter with a little bit more yellow on the bill than usual, but I must confess it made me realise how easy it would be to overlook a very rare bird that was hiding in plain sight!

Right then, where was I...?

Social media. On Twitter I follow many birders who post terrific photos of birds they've seen, and I am used to long-staying rarities featuring multiple times on my timeline. And some of those pics will be stunning. I am also used to the tendency for birders to congratulate one another when they 'connect' or 'catch up' with some rare bird they've twitched. I do get it. It is just birders expressing their pleasure at a friend's success. And what's wrong with that? Thirty years ago I'd have said: 'Nothing.'

Recently I was chatting to someone very well known in the birding world, and it was refreshing to realise that I am not the only birder who feels a measure of dismay at the seeming 'as you were' behaviour of so many, including a sizeable (and influential?) contingent of young birders. The recent Long-toed Stint in West Yorkshire is a case in point. By lunchtime on its first full day as a correctly-identified mega, 2,000 twitchers had reportedly 'connected'. Strewth! Anyway, cue ensuing glut of pics on Twitter. Normally I would simply enjoy them all but, let's be frank, hardly any of them are better than record shots, and most are simply rubbish, even worse than you might find on this blog. So, what is it that drives loads of birders to post on Twitter very poor photos of the same bird as everyone else? I really do not know...

If you have managed to get this far, and have concluded that I am just a moany old fart who begrudges others having fun, well, fine. But really, I'm not, and I don't. I simply find it very difficult to reconcile what one might call 'mainstream birding' with evidence of concern for our environment. I feel like I'm enjoying a different hobby somehow...

Right. Enough of that.

Going back to how this post began, I would like to conclude with a photo that emphatically illustrates the truth of that old saying: it only takes one bird...

Never give up, and always look at gulls thrushes.


  1. Another, "Go and get a fresh cup of tea, with which to sit down and read" job Gav. Better than anything else that I read. Dyl comes very close I'd like to add.

    So, what is it that drives loads of birders to post on Twitter very poor photos of the same bird as everyone else?
    It's possibly some sort of tribal thing. A collective approval/connection, where not acknowledging an item is regarded as some sort of insult.

    I don't do twitter at all. And on my Strava (Cycling) feed, I get but a handful of Kudos (likes). That's fine by me. It means I only have to reciprocate a handful back ๐Ÿ™„. Others get sixty plus! which is a lot. Too many for me. The price of popularity I guess.

    1. Thanks Ric. You might well have something there. Recently reread 'Birders - tales of a tribe' by Mark Cocker. Published 2001 but the birding ethos it essentially celebrates looks incredibly dated through the lens of 2021. Doesn't mean that ethos is dead though.

      Strava always felt unpleasantly competitive to me. I could easily imagine that runners using it would be severely tempted to go much faster than they ought to, just to keep their average pace looking good, or to chase segments.

    2. I must admit that on wheels I'm partial to taking on the odd Strava segment. That said, I'm still birding/observing as do so. Not too long ago I slammed the brakes on to collect a newly departed Edible Dormouse near Denham and also pictured a slightly dented Polecat at Chorleywood.
      I didn't keep the Polecat though. It was not just a bit too big for the bike bag or my pockets. It ponged a bit as well๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  2. Your Scoter Gav? Just an odd Common. Why is it not just an odd Black? That yellow on the bill is not just extensive it is 'swollen' too...It might be worth trying it again to see if its closer...

    1. Interesting. Must admit I dismissed that possibility as too unlikely Stew. Unfortunately the weather is dire here right now, so I'm not that tempted to follow up on your suggestion! ๐Ÿ˜„

  3. You have certainly qualified as a moany of fact Gav, welcome aboard. As you know, I equate everything with fishing and aspiring anglers want to appear as one of the club. Media is full of poor images of unspectacular fish as the catcher plays the part of an expert, having your crap bird pic viewed alongside the best probably gives them a buzz. They may even believe its good.
    Gave a Werthers Original and chill ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Interesting thought re 'liking' something, I'd not really thought about it. However, I suspect it's mainly local stuff from mates, celebrating small successes in landlocked Worcestershire! As for twitching, I seem to have lost most of whatever it was that has driven me in the past. Apart from Worcs twitches (yes we have had good birds in the county this year!) I have been on two this year - BBA at Bempton & LTS at St.Aiden's. I have felt that I 'ought' to have gone for the Two-barred at Spurn but didn't. I suspect it was the extra time/distance involved (an hour or so) coupled with my burgeoning 'can't be arsed attitude' to many things these days.

    1. Celebrating local successes is one of the main reasons I might 'like' someone's tweet. Definitely worth a metaphorical thumbs-up. Long distance twitching successes, not so much. These days I don't see them in the same light at all.