Thursday 3 February 2022

#LocalBigYear Listing Ethics for the Unethical

Off the beaten track again this afternoon, and another wander up a quiet back lane. Slightly NW of where I tried yesterday, and a much shorter route. Still, with all the poking around off-piste here and there I still clocked up more than six miles. This map shows the bare bones of it...

A bit of footpath exploration on the top loop, but mostly on the road.

I was hoping to add to the Marsh Tit tally, but that didn't happen. Still, it was great once again to walk roads I've only ever cycled previously, and there was plenty to keep me occupied...

I was surprised to see this Wild Strawberry(?) flowering in a hedge bank in early February, but I don't really do plants and perhaps shouldn't have been?

This Mistle Thrush was one of four seen, but the only one singing.

Siskins being very uncooperative

Coming across a little group of Siskins was the surprise of the afternoon [correction: almost the surprise of the afternoon - see below]. There were at least six, and at first I could only hear them. Very faint initially, but I was unexpectedly thrilled at the sound. Wow! Siskins! But that's what happens when you try somewhere largely unwatched and have basically zero expectations. Unfortunately they flew off before I could get a better photo.

A bit later I found them again, at least a quarter of a mile from the original spot. Or maybe they were a different lot. Anyway, they were feeding in Alders, a good 150m away across an open field. From the road I could see there were 10 or so. I took a couple of full-zoom photos, with the intention of later trying to count them from the pics. And thought no more of it.

So I get home, enlarge the photos and start counting...

One, two, three... Hello, what's this? What's this brown thing?

In fact there were two brown things...

Hmmm. That's a Lesser Redpoll right there...

...and that's another one.

Careful scrutiny revealed a total of 10 Siskins with those 2 Redpolls.

I could be wrong, but I guess it's likely that many (most?) other birders would find themselves with a problem right now. A listing-type ethical problem. I mean, there's no doubt that two Lesser Redpolls were present this afternoon, but I didn't actually see them. Well, maybe I saw them, but just as unidentifiable blips that I assumed were Siskins. Can I count them? What would an ethical birder do?

Who cares?!

As a not-very-ethical birder in relaxed pursuit of a #LocalBigYear list I'll tell you what I am going to do. Yesterday's Marsh Tit was species number 90. Today's Siskin, 91, and today's Lesser Redpoll, 92. There, that was easy.

And if you think that's bad, wait until I fire up the nocmig kit...


  1. Gav, I'd suggest that thanks to the modern world and all it's technical aids as regards the recording of birds. You could logically list any bird at all regardless of the context. Most would tend towards 'seen in the field' as the ideal standard. But really, we could choose anything between analysis of droppings to eating one raw, caught with one's bare hands.
    Bottom line is, if you've made the effort, you've got them.

    1. I've always felt that unless there's a need to compare lists with others in some sort of 'competitive' way, there's no requirement for a common standard. Do whatever works for you.

      That said, talking about what 'counts' is always fun. 😉

  2. An interesting read, thank you. You're considering the ethics & then making your decision, sounds ethical to me. The only time I would see a problem would be someone ticking a lifer in these circumstances. Which on reflection, I may have witnessed. When a photographer got a pic of a Radde's that no-one else saw. Good luck with the Nocmig dilemma!

    1. Yep, if it had been some rarity I'd never seen before, my attitude after the event would have been a lot less relaxed! 😄

  3. Put a few camera traps out too while youre at it ;)

  4. Dilemma? No not really. You saw the birds and later id'd them from the pic and after all its just a couple of redpolls so get them listed. Now if your nocmig or camera pulls up a rare lifer thats a different story, but its simples really. Did you SEE it? Did you HEAR it? You'd really need a yes to at least one of those other wise you might as well have stuff from Attenborough TV shows...

    1. Ha ha! My standards are so slack it's shameful! Last year's nocmig bagged Ring Ouzel and Greenshank, two species I neither saw nor heard locally, but was quite happy to add to the year's tally of 165. Unless listing is some kind of competition (which then necessitates rules) I just don't care! 😄

    2. And yes, if I had a garden camera trap which filmed a Red-flanked Bluetail, it would be on the garden list like a shot, despite the fact that I didn't see it or hear it. To me there is a logic there, but I realise I'm probably in a minority. 😉

  5. Well, I know Mark Eaton had a White billed Diver here in 2021. I saw his photo but neither saw nor heard it. Can I tick it? ;) I can see my list going up leaps and bounds here!

    1. No, I don't think you can tick that. Because you have proper standards.
      In fact even I would need to think twice with that one. 😄