Birding is all about listing right? Ticking each new species off a list and moving on? .........
Well, not for everyone actually! Twitchers often get a bad name for just ticking a bird and moving on, never taking the time to watch, observe and take in the experience of watching birds. I am a self-confessed ‘Twitcher’, and have travelled to Shetland for one bird, and to Scilly and back twice in one week. These days I am a lot more chilled, those mad rushing about days have been curtailed by circumstances, a job, the higher cost of travel, a greener conscience (carbon footprint concerns) and the fact that my list is a lot bigger and fewer new species come up that need twitching!! These days I keep a yearlist and my local patchlist, and take much more time to just watch birds (and wider nature) than some twitchers reputedly do. But once I have seen a species, is it worth going back when another of the same species turns up, for second (and third) helpings as it were? Is this sort of ‘repeat prescription’ necessary?!
This was put to the test only last week when, in quick succession, two species of birds turned up locally that were already well and truly ticked off on my yearlist. However, since Lockdown, ‘local’ has meant a lot to me, and has been my escape and provided many good sightings; so, yes I would go to try to see them again, definitely!
First of these was a Spoonbill, a majestic large, white waterbird with a spatulate bill used to sieve food out of the water using a side-to-side motion. This is a scarce species on our shores, which in line with several other European species, is starting to colonise the UK due to climate change. I’d seen a Spoonbill earlier in 2020 on Parkgate Marsh, so it was ‘on my list’ as we say. But when an adult bird turned up at Neumann’s Flash near Northwich Town Centre, only a mile or so from the Focalpoint Showroom, it was a no-brainer to pop down to take a look. This species has a reputation for sleeping most of the day and, on arrival, a pal was leaving saying that in the last two hours it had roosted up continuously! Well at least that meant it hadn’t flown off! Sure enough the Spoonbill was asleep on ‘Stilt Island’ viewed from ‘Pod’s Hide’. I managed to position myself with a little more height and socially distanced from the hide and anyone who wanted to use it and waited. Luckily for me the Spoonbill did wake a few times to preen and generally look around; usually for all of 5 seconds before returning to ‘head on back’ position. A few digiscoped shots were rattled off and, in the one shown, unbeknown to me at the time, a Little Ringed Plover has kindly put itself in the picture for scale purposes; talk about little and large! Later on it wandered off into the water and started to feed but inconsiderately walked off down a cut in the reeds to an area that was not visible from any vantage points. That was my cue to leave and then a couple of days later it was gone, flown to possibly join other Spoonbills in the UK population which, by being in groups, have a chance to breed and make this a regularly seen bird on our lakes and estuaries, hopefully a success story to follow that of Little Egret.
The next bird to turn up locally that I had previously seen further away was a Rose-coloured Starling. A bird had been found on Anglesey and on a day trip there to meet a birding pal and spend a day on the island we had caught up with it, a scruffy specimen in moult but still a ‘tick’ on the list! An influx of this species into western Europe had given birders hope that the UK would get a few, and it had happened. Rose-coloured Starlings were turning up all over the UK and everyone with Starling flocks locally was hopefully checking them for this dapper cousin from Europe. News broke late one day that an adult ‘Pink Stink’, as the twitchers call them, had been found in Cheshire only 10 miles from home at Frodsham Marsh. The next day I joined about 12 other birders at the favoured location and waited. News on my arrival was that the bird had been missing for the last hour, with no sign of the Starling flock that it had joined in the area. Then the shout went up that the Starlings were back. Getting my scope onto the flock flying around just over the Manchester Ship Canal I luckily was the first person to call out the bird. The gorgeous pink and black adult Rose-coloured Starling was at the head of the flock and easily picked out, even at distance and in flight. As the gathered birders watched, the flock landed and the Rose-coloured Starling showed out in the open, even perching atop a fence, showing off its beautiful plumage and shaggy crest. The restless flock didn’t linger long though, all taking flight and moving off further away. By watching in our scopes the Rose-coloured Starling was repeatedly picked out as the flock wheeled around over the water only to drop out of view, time and again, into nettles and brambles to feed on invertebrates. The flock got further away and views were very distant so again it was time to leave, satisfied with excellent views of a species well worth seeing for a second time this year.
Taking time to watch birds, appreciate them and take in everything about them makes birding a pleasurable hobby and as thrilling as it is to chase a quarry and tick it off a list, the only real way to learn is to watch..... and watch again. So cash in that repeat prescription and go back to see species as many times as you like, it’s a great hobby and every day and every bird is different!