I like lists. No, I’ll rephrase that, I love lists. Lots of them reside in my notebooks, on my computer hard disks, inked onto printed pages. Most of them are bird-centric, such as life lists (for the World and every country that I’ve visited), county lists, lists for each month, record counts for each species, earliest and latest dates for migrants. I could go on – OK, I will – patch lists, birds seen in the hand, birds seen dead, birds seen copulating, birds seen defecating (the last two kept when I was a very strange teenager), birds seen on TV – I’ll stop now. I’ve yet to mention my lists for plants, moths, dragonflies, fungi... and, of course, the ultimate list of lists, the pan-species list.
If you are shaking your head in pity at such juvenile behaviour, I understand. But there is one aspect of my listing that other listers just don’t understand. I don’t chase my lists. I am a compiler of them, a keeper and maintainer of them but I do not enjoy having to drop everything and chase after additions to them.
This week a Bittern turned up on one of my patches, Beddington Sewage Farm. It was the first one recorded there since 1966. I was at work when the first alert was put out. If I were a true lister I would have feigned a sudden illness and rushed over – I could have got there in half an hour. When I finished my working day I weighed up the situation. The bird was still there. I had a fifteen minute walk to my car and then would have to drive through rush hour traffic to arrive on site, sans optics and not dressed to bird. Even half a lister would have gone. I didn’t. I went home and sat in the garden with the family having an evening drink. Did I think about the Bittern during this time? Yes, I did a bit. Was I annoyed with myself for not going? Not at all.
Do you know what honestly meant more to me this week than seeing a local Bittern? It was recording three species of butterfly for the first time in March. (I have an earliest date list for butterfly species, plus a monthly one). They were, if you are interested, Orange-tip, Holly Blue and Speckled Wood. I wouldn’t swap one of them for the Bittern.
I know a lot of people who won’t understand that. But that is what makes me a keeper of lists and not a chaser of them. Sometimes I wonder if the turning of my back on such events as the Bittern is not some perverse demonstration against running with the crowd or behaving like an ornithological sheep.