Saturday, 8 January 2022

Listing for Dummies

What exactly is listing?

Listing is simple enough. For example, on January 1st I tried to keep a list of all the species I encountered that day, writing each down as it came my way.

You mean, as you saw each species, you wrote it down?

Well, yes and no. Some species I didn't actually see at all. Like Water Rail, which I only heard.

So it's okay to count a species you didn't see?

Yes. Hearing it counts.

Does that mean some birders' lists might include birds they've never actually seen?!

Er...well, that probably depends which list you're talking about. And what you mean by 'never'...

And so the rabbit hole beckons...

Listing is only simple when you don't keep any. The moment you decide otherwise, welcome to a world of pain. On January 1st I just couldn't help myself. I kept a list. In fact, throughout 2021 I couldn't help myself either. I kept a list. I am actually a hypocrite. For all my talk of eschewing the very idea of list keeping, I keep lists.

Lists used to be very important to me. I once knew my British List exactly, but not now. Mind you, I could still tell you my biggest London Year List, and well remember the grief involved in getting it. Nowadays I keep lists simply out of idle curiosity. Yes, idle curiosity informs me that on January 1st I tallied 51 species, and throughout last year, 165. And therein lies a fundamental truth about lists...

A list is not a list

A list is actually a number. When someone asks what your British List is, they are not expecting a roll-call of bird names - they want to hear a number. Ditto every other list. A list is only a list when it is totted up to produce a number. Fine, so when someone asks what my 2021 list was, and I say '165', they're happy now, yes?

No. Because the number needs context...

Do you mean 165 in Britain? In Dorset? On your patch?

Actually, none of those. I mean 165 locally.

Well, that's your patch then. You must mean your patch.

No, locally.

Okay Mr Pedantic, so what boundary do you use? Five km? Ten? Five miles? Your 10km square?

None of those. I don't have a boundary.

You have to have a boundary!

Well, I don't. Also, I counted White-tailed Eagle.

Not one of those Isle-of-Wight birds?!

Yes. And I counted a couple of species that I didn't actually see and didn't actually hear.



At which point I am written off as a complete loser.

Well, against the sage advice of the sensible bloke who usually writes NQS, this loser is going to keep a 2022 list too. Another local one. It's the #LocalBigYear challenge what made me do it guv. And unlike the super-relaxed idle curiosity type list I kept in 2021, I plan to make a bit of an effort this year. Let's see how it goes...

Fieldfare - in at number 65


  1. No, no, no, no, nooo. A list is not simply a list of numbers at all, otherwise we'd all be stood chest deep on a railway bridge or beneath the flight path of Heathrow or Gatwick airports scribbling numbers and times. A list is a story to be regaled with pride and pomp, fanfare and red carpets! My British list stands at precisely 6499 species, just one away from a significant number. None of these are heard-only's (though I have several heard-onlys on my world list, mostly from Nicaraguan mountainsides) and none at all from nocmig kits (can you imagine the shame!) Happily all of my White-tailed Eagles are the real deal long established plastic dross (rather than the IOW newly fledged plastic dross) so my birding conscience is entirely clear too, even though it comprises less than 7% of my British list.

    1. 6499? Are you sure? No splits or lumps while you weren't looking? 😄

  2. A list is just date, it's interpretation that gives in a meaning. At best it's a historical, scientific document, at the least it's a bragging right.

    1. A list can be a source of motivation, pleasure, frustration, disappointment, and all the rest of it too. Amazing what a column of bird names is capable of.

  3. Handy if you can remember lists. I've two location lists of exactly 100 but wouldn't be able to say what was on them.
    A Jan 1st London list of 90, is one I can remember. Species involved? Nope.
    I stopped twitching once my British List made 300. Later I went through the list and eradicated everything I couldn't remember seeing clearly. That combination of poor views and loss of memory cost the list at least 30 species.

    I have a couple of fishing lists as well. Both 100 of perch and roach respectively weighing over 2lb's each, but the exact number is unknown.

    So for me, the lists are largely meaningless. Content and quantity; and which lets face it, are the core of the items, are rendered irrelevant if you can't remember either. Good luck to those who can.

    1. Apart from a handful of enjoyable day-list efforts (which as we both know can be a lot of fun) I normally prefer not to 'chase' a list. Too much angst. Happy to keep a tally, though like you I rarely remember them!

      This year I'll make a bit of an exception, and try seeking out some of the trickier species. While I'm in the mood... 😄