So, 3-0 down to a total newbie- its time for me to take this competitive birdwatching seriously!
Whilst Chris has hinted at our top 10s, I feel I need to explain this further. On New Years Day, we both sat down and chose 10 birds we would each aim to see this year. This post has been a long time coming, saved as a draft post on Jan 3rd, I’ve never quite got around to finishing it and making it public. I think that makes the challenge feel final, something I’m not sure that I’m ready for.
Losing miserably on the top 10 front so far, these are 10 birds I’ve managed not to see at all one month into the big year. Whilst I’m probably ahead of Chris on total species seen, its the top 10 I really care about, ten birds that I would absolutely love to see. Its time for me to gain some birding ground.
My top 10 target birds are…
Dartford Warbler– these scruffy little beauts are a New Forest specialty that I’ve managed to never see in my birding life. Favouring gorse and heather areas, I’m hoping that being local I can spot one at some point this year. Come warbler breeding season, if you can’t find me I’m probably out on a heath somewhere trying to catch a glimpse of one of these birds. Must brush up on bird song so I know what to listen for!
Crossbill– another must see. Whilst the variety I’ve chosen is the Common Crossbill, its easy to see how their cousins came to be called the Parrot Crossbill. The exotic looking male is a bright pinky red, and the female a murky parakeet green, and what makes them even more striking is their bills, which are quite literally crossed. Another New Forest species, fingers crossed I manage to track one down this year.
Hawfinch– an amazing bird, with an incredibly powerful beak that can crack a cherry stone. Looking at these birds they appear such a hodge podge of colours and features with a huge, squat bill they almost look like an imaginary species. Several reported not far from home, so surely I can see one of these some time soon?
Merlin– falcons have to be my absolute favourite bird family, and what’s not to love? Streamlined, agile, speedy and full of personality, any falcon sighting brightens my day. Merlin is a species that I’ve never seen and these diminuitive birds live up to their family reputation. This is the species I’ve come closest to seeing so far, with 2 probable sightings I’m unable to count as I’ve not been 100% sure. Predominantly a winter visitor, I’d better get a move on if I want to see one before spring arrives and they move on.
Great Grey Shrike– another winter visitor and New Forest local, I need to aim to have sight of a Shrike pretty soon to stand a chance of completing my top 10. Shrikes are also known as butcher birds and are known for spiking their catches (lizards, shrews, voles…) along their own stretch of thorn. For anyone who was a childhood fan of Farthing Wood, there was a particularly heart-breaking scene where a shrike catches a mouse (I think?!) and impales it on its branch spikes. Not a nice trait, but it is fascinating and pretty unique.
Marsh Harrier– this is the bird on my list that I know the least about. They’ve often been reported when I’ve visited nature reserves but I’ve never managed to actually see one, which is why they appear on my list. Hopefully this year my luck will change.
Ruff– this one could be tricky. Apart from gulls, waders are the group of birds I find most difficult to ID. And if I don’t know what the bird I am looking at is, there’s no chance of me being able to count it on my year list. Ruffs are as cool as waders come- the males have a genuine neck ruff of feathers reminiscent of the collars worn back in the day by elizabethan nobility. Whilst these beautiful feathers are striking, they are only displayed by the males in breeding season when they hope to catch the eye of a single lady. Its highly unlikely I’ll see them in this guise, more likely I’ll come across one looking pretty indistinct, but its a bird I would love to see none the less.
Bearded Tit– also known as Bearded Reedling, the male looks like men from oriental art with long, drooping black moustaches. Resident in reedbeds, these are only ever seen fleetingly and are notoriously difficult to spot amongst the reeds. This will be another case of learning the call so that I can track the bird down.
Little Owl– aside from Long Eared, this is the other species of British owl that I have never seen. I’ve heard them call from my bedroom at night, so they can’t be far away but tracking them down could prove difficult. Owls are tricky at the best of times, so these miniature versions will be even more elusive.
Bullfinch– these may be up there on my favourite birds of all time list. I have a soft spot for finches and buntings at the best of times, but the bold cherry pink and black of the male bullfinch is a sight to behold, and a bird that seems completely out of place in a soggy country such as ours.
Whilst most of the birds on this list will be new spots for me, what compiling this list has made me realise is just how amazing a lot of British Birds really are and we have some stunning looking species that most people have never even heard of, let alone had sight of. Its all too easy to get excited about Parrots, Hummingbirds, Birds of Paradise or other brightly coloured feathered friends, but when you start to examine what is living close by, its just as exciting. Even the commonest birds are easily overlooked. Most of us will come across a Blue Tit on a fairly regular basis, but do we ever take the time to appreciate just how vivid its yellow and blue markings are? I don’t think we do, but its about time more of us did.
Here’s to February and beyond!