GOB 179 – The Number 36 Bus

This article first appeared in the February 2024 edition of Birdwatching Magazine

Regular readers will know that Hawkeye is really, by inclination a hunter… the pursuit is almost more important than the catch. She finds 80% of the birds we see, and I keep my end up by identifying the majority. She has never stopped loving birds or birding, but come the dog days when the weather is sad and the duvet your best friend, an early morning start to see everyday birds for the eight millionth time is a weaker pull in her than me; although as I age that duvet is getting harder to be parted from. However, her birding mojo gets a fillip when we venture out of the county, although that’s rare these days. She is also energised by certain birds, owls and woodpeckers probably top her list of entropy banishers.

There is another way to get going again and that is by resetting the clock. January the first our list is turned back to zero and the hunt starts over. Everything we see is a ‘tick’… a lowly feral pigeon or starling as valuable as a Golden Oriole or stranded Serin. The first few weeks of our birding year are a race to 100 before the month is out. Back in the day when we moved to this sceptred southeast isle our New Year’s outing could threaten that target day one! Even now if weather is kind then we’ll drive an hour and a half to the top spots in the county and come home with a tally in the eighties.

Other years, like this one, are beset with doldrum-like weather, not so much becalmed as blown away or flooded out. This year dawned another wet day… the seventeenth in a row. So, our efforts were confined, day one, to a few hours spent within two miles of our house, leaping out of the car between squalls. Who am I trying to kid? Make that awkwardly struggling out like an over-turned beetle at the local park, some over-farmed cabbage fields and, luck for the list, seashore and mountainous waves.

The list was humdrum, but for the seabirds, day two was nearly as cursory until the last half hour when we spied some feeders in a country cottage garden. The usual suspects except for what we would call a ‘good’ bird, one that is not easy for us… Siskin. Two stripy guys were demolishing the sunflower seeds. Then at last knockings… our route home took us past some fishing lakes that are good in summer for warblers so we pulled in. At the top of a row of birch trees a charm of 15 goldfinches hung like Christmas tree decorations with, would you believe it, a few more siskins. A goldcrest skipped to a bush, another year tick. I was told to check out the lakes for grebes and had hardly begun when Maggie spun me round saying Kingfisher… one had perched briefly on a tree between us and flew off. I raced, for which read ‘hobbled in comic double-time’, to the pond in the direction it had flown… I scanned the ledges and branches around the small pond three times before finding Mr Kingfisher stock-still on the reeds. I glanced down at a signboard… it said ‘Kingfisher Pond’. For the whole of 2023 we had not seen a single kingfisher! Result! Ticked on day two for the 2024 year-list.

The next day’s outing further afield turned up, as ‘first bird of the day’… a number 36 bus… or rather something else you wait for forever then two turned up at once… another Kingfisher!

Rant it out!