Friday, 14 February 2020

Not finding

Dreadful record shot of the last rare bird I found - Bonaparte's Gull at Dungeness almost FIVE years ago.
I'll admit it. I'm pretty crap at finding rare birds. In my first flush of birding youth I went through a bit of a golden period, then it all dried up, with the odd success of recent years not being able to disguise the fact that the number of rare birds that I have found is not a true reflection of the amount of time that I have spent out in the field. You could be charitable and point out that wandering dry inland downland is never going to give me a leg-up in the rarity finding stakes, and I'd thank you for it - but there has been plenty of time spent on the coast, but maybe not enough.

People have been banging on about their 'UK self-found lists' for an age, but I have not sat down and worked mine out. Until now. 287. That is, species identified by me without knowing that the species was present. Some of them have to go down as joint finds, but all of them had input from myself in their identification. If I went and lived on a Shetland croft for a couple of years I could most probably bump this up by 50 species, so the total is relative. It is still a poor total. By admitting to it I have most probably black-balled myself from several birding gangs.

My rarer finds do, however, include: Ring-necked Duck, Surf Scoter, White Stork, Purple Heron, Glossy Ibis, Black Kite (2), Red-footed Falcon, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, Bonaparte's Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Bee-eater (several), Red-throated Pipit, Siberian Stonechat, Aquatic Warbler, Booted Warbler, Hume's Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Two-barred Crossbill and Rustic Bunting. Had I been desperate I could have added things like Richard's and Tawny Pipits, Bluethroat, Marsh, Barred, Melodious, Icterine and Yellow-browed Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatchers, Serins and Ortolans  - dammit, I am desperate, so let's add them as well! Looking back at that list, it isn't too shabby, but doesn't include a real stonker and is scant reward for 46 years worth of birding. That lot would be a couple of year's worth of finds for some of the big boys.

Finding a rarity is not the 'be all and end all' but it gives you a great big thrill when you do so. Part of me wants to get those thrills again, on a regular basis. But to give myself a fighting chance of doing so will mean some changes in where I go and how I bird.


Gibster said...

Birdwise I've had some gooduns including Scops Owl, BB Albatross, DC Cormorant (not accepted but it bloody well was), Caspian Tern, WB Diver, RF Falcon, Wilson's Petrels, Citrine Wag, OBPipit, Subalp, Semi-p Sand, Bee-eater etc. Never self-found a UK shrike though. But if you get more into PSL the stakes raise substantially. I've self-found a new to Britain micromoth, new to Britain plant and new to Britain fungus. I've had several new to Scotland species ranging from terrestrial flatworms to flies and a bucketload of new to county stuff. Birds are brilliant, but very limiting. There's so much more out there to be discovered, noticed and recognised. But yeah ok - adult Great Black-headed Gull loafing on the shingle or a new to Britain Agromyzid - I know which I'd rather!

Steve Gale said...

I’d say your list of finds is one to be proud of Seth. What was your new to Britain plant?

Gibster said...

Mitella ovalis along a watercourse in my local woods. It was in the BSBI mag coupla years back. Several other sites discovered (by others) since. It's only a garden escape, but I'll take that :)

David Campbell said...

All I know, Steve, is that pretty much all of my modest collection of finds have been when I'm not trying, i.e. 'by accident' and NOT through diligent patch work. Three other realisations I've come to are:
A) This seems to be how most rarities are found nationally
B) These days at least, unless your patch is a true rarity hotspot, if rarity finding is your main concern, most of your time will be wasted
C) Fretting about covering ground or birding in a certain way to find rarities can ruin one's whole birding experience. I can easily fall into a truly blissful trance watching a Grey Plover or Collared Dove given the chance, and I enjoy working on, and developing my understanding of, breeding birds, common and localised; I don't want these experiences clouded by nagging thoughts that I could or should be spending that time digging out some rarity which in reality I'll probably never find through directed effort. Yes, finding a rarity is a massive thrill but I'll let them find me, as just about all of mine have done so far.

As a quick example, my first year in Sussex saw me almost exclusively bird at Goring Gap and Ferring Rife. I went in with high expectations and was sorely disappointed: a flyover Rose-coloured Starling and an Iceland Gull. Last year I broke free of the single site focussed birding I've followed for years and ended up with American Golden Plover, Ring-necked Duck, Montagu's Harrier and Northern Treecreeper - still a modest haul but a big improvement and, much more importantly, I enjoyed my wider birding experience far more.

Oh, and a final thought: abroad I've turned up mainland Portugal's first Red-billed Tropicbird and Thailand's seventh Kittiwake - the fresh eyes effect you allude to and/or something to do with observer density...?

James Dee said...

I found two rarities in Portugal in December. Brent Goose and Fieldfare. Probably better than all my years in the UK.

Steve Gale said...

David - thanks for your thought provoking reply.

James - your day will come.