Saturday, 9 January 2021

Going local to prevent going loco

The latest Government suggestion is that we behave as if we ‘have the virus’, which would mean that none of us leave home for any reason at all - no shopping, no going to work, no exercise. The GOV.UK website is, however, suggesting that we can still exercise, once a day and locally. There is no definition of ‘local’ nor of any time constraint. And does exercise mean that we can birdwatch during said exercise? From a personal point of view, seeing that the government have announced that fishing and rough shooting can be considered as exercise, I’m taking that as a green light to carry my binoculars without guilt. As for the vague definition of what is local, I’ve decided to only birdwatch from home, on foot. In effect this has confined my birding radius to Canons Farm, Epsom and Walton Downs, Epsom Common and the watery Ewell sites (plus the dry Priest Hill). Of course we may get further directives which are more detailed, and these may alter my take on it, but for the time being this is my birding world. I will not loiter within proximity to any other persons exercising and will keep clear of any place that is popular with the same. Scope and tripod have been mothballed. These are small prices to pay.

Such restrictions can be seen to have a diminishing effect on the birding experience. That would be a fair comment, and even in a local context, as I have removed Beddington and Holmethorpe from my birding map. But even when we are having to pull in the birding horns, our immediate areas, wherever you may be, will provide much interest. There might not be much rarity - as far as such a definition applies on a national (or even county) level - but as for local rarity, well that definition has an altogether looser meaning.

Within three miles from home I have recorded Cattle Egret, Spoonbill, Brent Goose, Ring-necked Duck, Common Scoter, Honey Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Quail, Dotterel, Jack Snipe, Iceland Gull, Short-eared Owl, Bee-eater, Woodlark, Black Redstart, Ring Ouzel, Grasshopper Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Waxwing and Hawfinch. All these birds were seen in what can be described as non-birdy places, which defies the logic of ever giving any place such a description. This same area sees a considerable passage of migrants each spring and autumn, in particular chats, thrushes and finches. Some of my more notable counts have been notable even on a national scale, such as four-figure flocks of winter Brambling and Chaffinch, 600+ Linnet, visible migrations of 6k House Martin, 4k Swallow and 7k Redwing, and some of these have been viewable from the garden - a modest garden at that. 

So, as can be seen, staying local needn’t mean that you are not doing ‘proper’ birding, or that your birding is going to be ‘birding-lite’ compared to other places. Of course it is more limiting. My lack of substantial water bodies close to home means a paucity of wildfowl and waders entering the notebook. But you cut your ornithological cloth to what you have set out before you. The birds are out there. Lockdown might at first appear to be a tying up of freedom, but it can also become a key to the opening up of local knowledge with some very gratifying and surprising results.


Gibster said...

I'm up on a faraway island, I personally don't feel overly constrained mooching around my home monad ad infinitum. I know that there's good birding to be had here upon occasion. But your words will surely buoy others' spirits in these times, Steve. This blog and your thoughts are a lifeline to many, I'm sure.

Getting back to your 2021 Challenge and the 700 plant species you were aiming for, obviously that's been kinda kicked into place. But I bet you have stuff like Pink Shepherd's Purse and Water Bent in the local streets. When the birds are less than inspiring, you still have the reined in challenge to grapple with. I'm looking forward to that, and to reading about the day you find a shrike in Priests Hill!

Steve Gale said...

Thanks for those kind words Seth. I’m holding onto being able to wander more freely from late-Spring onwards, so 700 still the aim - plus many of the early flowerers are pavement dwellers anyway!