Find out how Mike fared on his 2016 Peterborough year list record attempt
IT IS ALWAYS ODD to be still going on about last year, when this is the February issue of Bird Watching. But that is the nature of magazine schedules, and it is only the first week of January as I write. And I’m sure you are all on tenterhooks wondering what happened to my attempt on the Peterborough year list record, and that old staple, the New Year Big Day. Well, even if you aren’t, I’m going to tell you. My 2016 Peterborough area bird list was on 183 species when I last reported (six shy of the all-time Peterborough record set in 2008). The Waxwing floodgates never really opened down here in Peterborough, but I was lucky enough to grab a flock of six on a miserable day in mid-november. These birds disappeared almost as soon as they arrived and were the only ones in the Peterborough area until a flock of three were seen on 28 December (by another birder) before also immediately vanishing. On 20 November, another bitterly cold, rainy, windy day saw me twitching a dark-bellied Brent Goose on the Nene Washes for bird number 185. And a few minutes later, I found a long-craved Knot at the same site: 186. It looked like this would be my final score until, just before Christmas, I found a single tundra Bean Goose (a local ‘find tick’, for me) and, the very next day ‘twitched’ an Iceland Gull on the local tip: 188. And this is how my birding year ended, tantalisingly close, just one shy of the ‘all-time’ record, with my second best ever score (and this in the post-ruddy Duck era, of course). But 2017 is a fresh start, a clean slate. And, luckily, the New Year Big Day was going to smash all records. A mix of planning, recces, thinking and more planning, combined with the power of the spreadsheet, had proven that we couldn’t fail to get a total well over 100 species. The birds were in place, ready to be seen, ticked, and left to get on with their business. It was going to be oh so simple. The spreadsheet told us we could narrow the whole operation down to three main sites; the numbers would take care of themselves. Our team, consisting of me, my children (Jas and Ed) and my friend Will, would return with triumph guaranteed. Glory was ours for the taking. It was all there in the palms of our hands. Indeed, having examined my stats, Will had suggested we needn’t even bother going birding, as we could do it all by spreadsheet. In our family, it is well known that the sun always shines on mine and my children’s birthdays (in October for me and Ed and April for Jas). But it is also written that New Year’s Day will provide appalling birdwatching weather. The Met Office had kindly warned us that the first day of 2017 would deliver a greater than (or equal to) 95% chance of a continuous torrential downpour, throughout each of the few daylight hours. Will was ill, Jas too busy with homework, so it was left to Ed and I to embrace the New Year challenge. I’m not really sure why we bothered. The weather forecast was annoyingly accurate. But the strength of the spreadsheet’s latent truth drove us on. And, really, we didn’t do too badly, considering; especially as we didn’t (or more accurately, couldn’t) visit a couple of key sites. A day total of 81 bird species is not terrible in pouring rain. And we had highlights including Cattle Egret, three roosting Long-eared Owls, two Shorteared Owls and a Barn Owl chancing their arms out hunting in the rain; plus three Green Sandpipers, a wintering Chiffchaff, a couple of sneaky drake Mandarins and the delightful spectacle of 15 Cranes flying into roost. And when you factor in that we didn’t see such ridiculous low hanging fruit as Greenfinch, Canada Goose, Red Kite (a very easy bird around here, in the modern epoch), Long-tailed Tit and Coal Tit, the list looks quite decent, taken with a pinch of perspective. It would have been even better if we had taken Will’s advice and wrapped up warm at home and simply ticked every bird on the all seeing spreadsheet. Maybe next year (weather permitting).
It was left to Ed and I to embrace the New Year challenge. I’m not really sure why we bothered...
YEAR ON ICE This first-winter Iceland Gull (right bird) was the final bird added to Mike’s 2016 list