Bird Watching (UK) - - What To See And How To See It -

OW­ING TO THE weird­ness of mag­a­zine sched­ules, it is mid-july as I write this. Euro 16 has only just fin­ished and I’m yearn­ing for the start of the foot­ball sea­son in mid-au­gust. But I am yearn­ing more for the start of what we bird­ers choose to call au­tumn. Now, some bird­ers de­clare the dawn of au­tumn as when the first non-breed­ing Green Sand­piper comes back through at the end of May. I’m talk­ing about the meat of the mat­ter, the good stuff, the glory of re­turn mi­gra­tion. Much as I like but­ter­flies, love the height of moth sea­son, to­tally get dragon­flies, and revel in the long days and (oc­ca­sional) warm weather, I want birds, new birds, mi­grat­ing birds. The trou­ble is my lo­cal year list has ground to a halt. Af­ter an ex­cep­tional spring, since I ticked Spot­ted Fly­catcher on 21 May, I’ve added noth­ing new. In­deed, I have even turned to a wee bit of twitch­ing fur­ther afield than my usual Peter­bor­ough area con­fines. Con­trary to what you may think, UK listing is not re­ally my thing. In­deed my per­sonal Bri­tish list is so small that I fear you may think less of me if I were to re­veal it. You see, back when I was first see­ing what I con­sid­ered rare birds in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the size of one’s list was how one was judged as a birder. That and whether you had a scope. I had a small list and no scope. In those days of my youth, I clung to the idea that see­ing a bird in Bri­tain was much bet­ter than see­ing a bird ‘abroad’ (one of those ugly words that thank­fully seems so hor­ri­bly dated now). A rare bird, no mat­ter what it was, ticked in the UK was some­thing very spe­cial, and so much more sat­is­fac­tory than tick­ing it in a ‘for­eign’ coun­try, which only felt like a half-tick. The fact that the for­eign bird would be seen in its own coun­try, in its nat­u­ral habi­tat, fit and healthy and be­hav­ing as that species ‘should’ was un­der­stood, of course, but some­how seemed like cheat­ing. But, more re­cently, I have done a fair amount of bird­ing in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. In fact, I have seen most of the birds on the of­fi­cial Bri­tish List. Just not in the UK… Re­frain, please, from ask­ing me how many birds I have seen, though, as I’m not a ‘world lis­ter’, ei­ther. Don’t get me wrong, I do love see­ing new birds, I just don’t have the hard­core col­lec­tor’s drive that is re­quired to take such listing to the com­pet­i­tive ex­tremes nec­es­sary. See­ing birds in their ‘nat­u­ral habi­tats’ is great, but I am not against go­ing to see rare birds in the UK. I just don’t do it much. How­ever, one bird which tick­led my fancy was the re­cent Great Knot in north Nor­folk. GREAT KNOT The rar­ity liked to stay on the edge of the mass of Knot (those are god­wits in the back­ground) Though it is a bird I have seen be­fore in In­dia and Aus­tralia, I had never seen one in breed­ing plumage, and, af­ter all, this in­di­vid­ual was the­o­ret­i­cally only a tad more than an hour from home. So, I headed out to Titch­well with my friend Will Bow­ell to see the mag­nif­i­cent wader af­ter work on day one of its stay. Ex­cept, of course, it wasn’t there. It wasn’t there the next time we went, ei­ther, when we slogged more than eight miles at Titch­well and Bran­caster through wind and rain and still failed to con­nect. But, I’m not re­ally grum­bling, as the next day we re­turned and it was easy to see do­ing its usual thing of stand­ing on the edge of a flock of sev­eral hun­dred densely packed Knot on Titch­well’s ex­pan­sive fresh­marsh. And the next time we went, it was do­ing ex­actly the same thing, all day. Like a Knot in Turn­stone’s cloth­ing, it was a thing of beauty. Slightly big­ger than the back­ground masses, with a longer bill, grey headed, lib­er­ally splashed with jet black on the breast and with del­i­cate orange mark­ings on the shoul­ders and fine black rows of dots on the flanks. Yes, it was fairly dis­tant and spent most of its time asleep, only oc­ca­sion­ally wak­ing and stretch­ing its neck ready for flight, in sync with the tan­gled mass of Knot on the fresh­marsh. It only oc­ca­sion­ally fed and bathed and wan­dered around. But it was a lovely bird to watch and en­joy. In fact, it was much nicer than the grey ver­sions of Great Knot I had seen in the species’ reg­u­lar haunts of the fine sandy beaches of Gu­jarat or Queens­land. Per­haps there is some­thing in this Bri­tish twitch­ing af­ter all. Mike

And the next day we went it was do­ing the same thing all day. Like a Knot in Turn­stone’s cloth­ing


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