This article first appeared in the July 2023 edition of Birdwatching Magazine
I have no birding rivals, so I’ve no idea why I set myself birding targets. Maybe it’s because the older I get the harder it is to motivate myself to do the things I most enjoy – what is that contradiction all about? The quiet observation of the beauty of birds reduces my blood pressure, raises the winter gloom and reinforces what is actually of importance in and for the world.
I have two targets… to see 200 species each year and to have seen 100 by the end of January. These days my self-imposed rules of environmental care, coupled with my mouldy old bones, makes the target just that – a hope not an easy goal. It’s more than a decade since I achieved it. Its three decades since I reduced the target from 300!
I mostly bird close to home – within 15 miles of my house. I allow myself a longer outing every so often, but never outside of the county. Whenever possible my hybrid miles are dual purpose. The sea is not far from the GP surgery, my favourite reserve is owned by an organisation I’m treasurer of, so the weekly visit to empty the safe and pick up mail is an excuse for a couple of hours birding. Some outings are just because I need nature. Driving for an hour to get somewhere with special birds is restricted by my wanting to have a low impact on the natural world, but, truth to tell, there is another limiting factor… how crippled I feel the day after a long drive.
This January we were doing well and by the end of week one had 86 species under our belts within 12-miles of home. Then the weather changed and rheumatism reigned. With less than a week before month end we were still stalled when number 87 landed on my fence above the feeders. I watched him cocking an eye every two seconds searching our bushes for a sparrow to hawk. Ten minutes of pure birding joy to see a close raptor from my study window.
Then the weather turned fair and the anti-inflammatories kicked in enough to allow us the forty-minute drive to a reserve with a dozen guarantied year ticks. Except, when we got there, water levels were so high that most of the ‘bankers’ were nowhere in sight, even although half were ‘every day’ birds like Reed Bunting and Canada Geese, they did not oblige. The other more special birds hid or had found better wet weather options.
Never-the-less, we left having stretched the total to 92. Between the reserve and home is a patch of ancient woodland holding a few species we cannot connect with closer to home… so we diverted and I headed into the wood with my pushable seat to stake out the ‘togger’s log’ (where photographers take stunning shots of woodland denizens). Hawkeye stayed in the car, discommoded by a vicissitude that is another tale.
I baited the log with bird seed and sat back with my bins and within a couple of minutes number 93 obliged. We cannot see them close to home which is tragic as nuthatches are a favourite for us both… two or three obliged, swooping in, grabbing seeds and filling oak bark crevices with the spoils. Half an hour of blood calming, spirit-raising beauty for me and back at the car, of course Hawkeye had been watching nuthatches right next to her. Two happy birders got their avian ‘fix’… number 93, outstanding!
Just in case you were wondering, we made it to 101 before February.