Bird Watching (UK)
My 2mile bird year
David Chandler gives his final update on 2020’s two-mile challenge
How David Chandler fared in his 2020 birding mission
My last update took us to July, and 105 species within two miles of the house. You may recall that House Martins were occupying a mud hut under our soffit. The nest was twittering in early August and by the 17th we were expecting fledging at any time. I looked at the nest that evening and it wasn’t there – most of it was in fragments on the ground – a victim of heavy rain perhaps. To my relief there were no dead, or live, birds among the fragments – presumably they got away. As I lay in bed the next morning I could see House Martin shadows on the window blind. They were checking out their old home! There were three there the following day, as well. I tried for a local Spotted Flycatcher that day but failed to see it, and was equally successful with a male Redstart at the end of the month...
The list got moving in September. I went looking for a Wryneck one afternoon – it was there that morning, in the same place as one a few years ago. How does that happen? It wasn’t re-found, but I did find a Treecreeper – which was as valuable as a head-swinging woodpecker would have been. October boosted the list a bit more.
About 50 Golden Plovers and two distant Whooper Swans – which needed quite a walk to see the bill well enough to clinch
ID – were added on the first of the month. Mid-month saw the world’s first Global Bird Weekend. I played a part in setting a new world record – 7,111 species were recorded on the 17th. Most of them weren’t on my patch! Short-eared Owl was, though – it took three mammals, voles presumably, in about 20 minutes.
And I used eBird for the first time and was impressed. Covid restrictions were relaxed enough to allow me to take guests on a Wild Day Out in late October. We had a good session – Great White Egret, a Bittern aloft, Marsh Harriers, a vocal Water Rail and a handful of Beardies. Off the fen we found a small flock of Bramblings feeding on Swedish Whitebeam berries, another addition to the list.
A fine show
Just one species was added in November – I found a Glossy Ibis on the 11th in ‘Tench alley’. I wanted a better view to be absolutely sure, but had left my scope at home. Thankfully, local birder Jeremy arrived with a scope, and confirmed the ID. To add to the occasion, 5,000 Starlings put on a fine show. The Ibis was still there on the 14th. I was birding with Finn and we’d almost finished. An airborne Bittern was probably the highlight, or would have been but for the finale… Great White Egret to the right, scan left – Glossy Ibis, scan left a bit more – Bittern in the open for 20 minutes. That was very special.
December brought a Cattle Egret among the bulls (11th) and an ‘omniscience’, a ‘prayer’ or a ‘pantheon’ on the 29th. They’re collective nouns for godwits, Black-tailed on this occasion. I’d waded through floodwater to get there. Lots of ducks went up, and Lapwings, and with them – long-billed, trailing legs and white wing-bars – Blackwits.
Post-sunset on the 30th saw me scanning through Greylags. Except one wasn’t. It had a bi-coloured bill and a head and upper neck darker than the lower neck. Critically, I thought its legs looked pink – Pink-footed Goose. If they were orange it would be Tundra Bean Goose. But pink or orange can be hard to judge and the following morning I learnt that there were Tundra Bean Geese in the area. So I looked for the bird again, to make sure. There was no sign of it. It looked like it would be one that got away.
The new year dawned. I wasn’t out birding but a different Jeremy was, and he found a Pink-footed Goose…
I finished on 116. It could have been more. Birds were missed, including some I should have seen. But there had been good birding along the way, and chasing birds isn’t really my style anyway. I’m thankful for Jeremys, though.