This article first appeared in the February 2023 edition of Birdwatching Magazine
There are more than 600,000 breeding pairs of Goldcrests in the UK and an estimated five million that overwinter! How come it took until 1st of October for me to see one this year? My 175th year tick? The scrap of woodland near the observatory where I am a trustee has been a guarantied spot. I usually catch up with them there in January when looking for their cousins, Firecrests which are regular there. Finding firecrests has always been a matter of looking for a goldcrest that is a bit less frenetic then looking for the eye-stripe. When I tried this back in winter I found firecrests, but no common cousins. Picking the bird-filled brain of the ‘obs’ Warden brought forth a reason for the absence of Regulus regulus, forest fires in eastern Europe led to a poor breeding season so a lot fewer made it to their winter dachas in the balmy climes of southeast England. By the same token, there were fewer home-grown crests to expand and breed in my locality. So my year list had firecrest and yellow-browed warbler before a goldcrest made it to my patch.
Bird finding when you are overweight, arthritic and idle can be a challenge. The hotspot where this year you could see Eleanora’s & Red-footed falcons in the air with half a dozen hobbies, and four other raptors is just beyond my reach, although I’ve found a spot where I could scope most of it. Some of the migrant traps spread about the area are also a step too far. Even, commoner species, that others find with ease, elude me.
Guarantied Kingfishers, didn’t show in the spot I dragged myself too. Ibis and Stilt were also beyond me although my attempts could not have been far short. On a good day I recon 300 meters is the limit before joints seize up and muscles cramp (on the worst days I can’t even walk to the office, and that’s next to the bedroom!). That gets me to a viewing ramp where I can rest and wait until the creaking and wheezing subsides. The Kingfisher hot-spot is 600 meters from the carpark, and my two-hour unproductive sojourn was not patience, but the inability to get up and go. Everyone else connects; they have the photos to prove it!
All is not lost as I have Hawkeye to spot the unexpected and even manage a few weird finds myself. Kingfisher was serendipitous in September… while scoping across fields I found one sat on a fence in the middle of nowhere! In that same spot, an almost ignored ‘buzzard’ sat in the grass only displaying diagnostic features when it rose up twenty feet away, all honey-buzzardly.
Sitting in the reachable hide (50m along a concrete path with resting benches), I enjoyed the solitude even although the scrape was practically bare. Apparently, the cute avocet chick got eaten! Breeding waders had flown and the winter ducks weren’t ready to commit, so I enjoyed the dragons and damsels until two raptors hove into view. A marsh harrier was really going for the other bird… a black kite! My second such county tick in twenty years. It was all over in seconds as one chased the other off into the heat haze.
Over the years I’ve lost count of when there’s ‘nothing about’. On the other hand, I’ve never counted up the unexpected finds and the glorious moments either. Like two weeks ago, when I heard the oddest of ‘never heard before’ sounds, looked up, and a bittern flew over my head! That’s birding – Tales of the Unexpected.