This article first appeared in the May 2023 edition of Birdwatching Magazine
Hawkeye is a carnivore, and a hunter. She’d have to be really hungry to chase down a bird for the table, but otherwise the hunting instinct is strong. It’s a large part of her birding motivation… don’t get me wrong she appreciates avian beauty and the miracle of unmanned flight, but the actual finding of birds has always been her thing. On a number of overseas forays she has found a lifer for the local guide! Notwithstanding the ever-aging eyes, she can still spot a raptor when it is but a dot in the sky and, nine times out of ten, when toggers and birders are staking out a known haunt, with everyone waiting for some spotter to yell out the location of the quarry, its Hawkeye’s voice that pierces the air. Her ID may not be so hot, but that’s my job.
The same nine times out of ten she is the one to point out a bird to me, some red-letter days I get the honour, but that is small consolation for mostly being pipped to the birding post. I get to scope the throngs of ducks and shorebirds and show her the Jack Snipe bobbing among its common fellows, or the tucked up Pochard hiding among the tufties. But its only because wildfowl and waders are low down on her want list.
We are a good combo… I name what she finds and that gives both of us satisfaction.
So, the 2023 early kick-off was unusual. Sure, she found the majority of birds on day one… to the extent that by the middle of week one she led by four species! Whilst her finding abilities are legend her directions occasional fall short. Sometimes, the instruction is perfect; ‘ten o’clock in the tallest hawthorn on the south side of the stream’ gets me on the Song Thrush. However, it can be random. Sometimes I’m told its ‘over there on that tree’, which helps little in the woods… or just ‘it’s over there’, not even accompanied by a directional digit. Nevertheless, over the years she has found and shared some of my most sought-after lifers, and very few outings go by without me thanking her for getting me on a bird I would have missed.
Day two was no exception… our year list grew (hers more than mine), but we were on a mission. Our usual patch surrounding the ‘obs’ is great for Short-eared Owls in winter. But this year an obliging Barn Owl had also been reported meaning we would not have to go as far afield as we generally do for that ‘tick’. Mid-afternoon we had clocked up at least four ’shorties’ (driving off with frequent sightings boosted that to eight). 2.40pm, the time the ‘barnie’ had been seen on New Year’s Day, came and went. It was nearly an hour later that I spotted the Barn Owl and shouted out directions to the toggers and my better half. A huge grin of satisfaction spread across my face… not just first to see it, but able to hand to Hawkeye her favourite bird.
Day three’s tick collecting was just half an hour slipped between other commitments and a source of great consternation in that all the year ticks were added due to my unusual acumen. The Yellow-legged Gull didn’t impress Maggie, nor did the Jay. The Rock Pipit did get a tad of envy, but my triumph were two couples of purple sandpipers at two locales… all the sweeter for my 2022 tick having been a lone bird in flight I would have missed entirely had not Hawkeye nailed it!