A minute closer

The last post saw me expose myself as a serial underachiever at finding rare birds. No big deal, and as I am fond of saying, finding rarities does not define us - or do I protest too much?

So, if I don’t find them, who does? You may assume that the answer to that question is obvious. It must be the good birders who do, those that are highly knowledgable about identification. No, it’s not as simple as that. I will not name names, but I know of a number of excellent birders who are obsessional field workers but do not find many rarities. I know others who I do not rate as highly, who bird less, but find more. Some people just have it. What ‘it’ is is the magic ingredient - an indefinable ability to know where, and when, to look.

When I was a regular at Dungeness it became apparent that most rarities were not found by us regulars, but the casual day trippers. We would be up at dawn and have been burning up the habitat for hours. They would turn up late, amble away from their car, and stroll straight into a rarity. It was often the case that these birds were also found in random places, not necessarily the traditional hot spots. Were we trying to hard? Were we doing things ‘by number’? Did we need to change the way we approached things?

You do, of course, increase your chances of finding rarity if you bird a good spot where few birders tread. Spurn might be a hot spot, but good luck with competing with the several hundred birders present over who will find the rarity. What you need is a Scottish Island or a lonely headland where distance or inaccessibility puts others off from attending and your chances of being the one who will come across the rarity increases.

There are times when just being good does makes the difference. These are the people who turn up and announce that the Subalpine is, in fact, a Spectacled; that the Richard’s Pipit is really a Blyth’s; know when to invest the time to investigate an ‘interesting’ call or a half-seen shape; can read the weather conditions to increase the chance of finding that rare seabird. They do walk amongst us!

When all is said and done, if you systematically work a coastal patch, visit it almost daily and have done your identification homework, you will increase your chances of finding rarity many times over.

But whether or not we have that magic dust within us, we all have our moments. If you are undergoing a dry spell, just remember that every minute that you spend in the field is a minute closer to finding your next rarity. It will happen. Be patient and keep looking. But remember this: rare birds are just that - rare. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try and how well prepared you are, they will not be there to find.


Gavin Haig said…
Steve, the last BB rarity I co-found, I called it as a Richard's Pipit. It was a Blyth's. I might have got there eventually, but my friend twigged what it was before I did. It was very unsatisfying! Unless you count Caspian Gulls, I have been in a rarity-finding drought for many years. In 1982 I was just getting into the swing of being a proper birder and found (or co-found) three BB rarities in three months, two in London, one in Wales. I assumed that this was simply how things were going to be...

bob smith said…
Hi Steve
Your penultimate sentence reminds me of a line in RSTHOMAS'S poem seawatching-in another context though.
Ric said…
Steve, you've missed one major element of finding rarities, it's the non birding public.
How is that so?
It's because even the unobservant pedestrian gets used to what is normal without being aware of it. So when a bird appears out of the ordinary, they sort of notice without understanding why?
We hear of someone who says they have a friend who's seen a 'funny looking bird', and it isn't always a 'Jay'. Clearly something subconscious catches the attention.
That said, Many birders who became birders did so because a bird caught their attention and held it just long enough for the questions to arrive.
Steve Gale said…
Gav - you are, without doubt, a finder of birds. I hate to think how much you would find if you were as obsessional as some!

Bob - I’ve just looked this up. Thanks.

Ric - very true. It pays not to dismiss such claims.

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