Wednesday, 24 April 2019
A sad state of affairs.
There are times when birding can seem like a chore. I find that a terrible thing to admit to - after all, shouldn't it be a care-free, pleasurable and please-yourself activity? No-one asks you to do it. You don't have to pick up those optics and go outside. The choice is yours...
Birding is, or more accurately, can be, a results driven enterprise. You put the time in and the rewards come your way. At least that is how it normally works. This year has seen me spend an awful lot of time birding locally. Epsom and Walton Downs. Canons Farm. Priest Hill. Mogador. Colley and Box Hill. The River Mole. Even Holmethorpe. All have had their moments, but those moments are modest. Ornithological crumbs, and crumbs that are largely to be expected. My mantra of "every poor day's birding is one day's birding closer to a good one" is starting to wear thin.
So I double my effort. Check a site more than once in a day. Stay out a bit longer. It is late April after all, one of the best times of year for an inland birder. But no - nothing to see here. The passage of summer migrants has been poor. The wintering flocks were largely missing already, so there are but a few individuals left over (like this Fieldfare, one of five at Canons Farm this afternoon). Resident bird numbers seem to be in free-fall.
I walk across chalk downland, through woods, over farmland and onto heath. The story is the same where ever I go. Hardly any birds. Silent woods. Quiet hedgerows. Empty skies.
Some might say "Why bother? Take a break, do something else." But to a life-long birder you might as well suggest that they give up breathing. Others will suggest going elsewhere - "Go down to the coast!" But I've made my bed locally. I do go down to Dungeness from time to time, but there's a battalion of birder's already covering the shingle, and very few of us up here. My drive is to find birds locally, to watch the poorly covered areas, searching for that unexpected gem or happening.
I've been lucky to witness some astonishing ornithological moments close to home. Trips of Dotterel, large flocks of Hawfinches and Bramblings, singing Quails, swarms of hirundines and flocks of thrushes on active migration. There have been rarities - Little Bittern, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Yellowlegs, Citrine Wagtail - and a host of scarce migrants. It isn't the rarity that is the driving force for me, but it helps.
I'm at my happiest counting birds. Flocks. Fly-bys. Singing males. Species totals. But when the birds are largely missing, counting becomes a luxury. A notebook that stays closed says an awful lot about the state of our wildlife and my notebook isn't seeing much action at the moment.
And so I ready myself for more disappointment. It's a sad state of affairs.