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How to Start a Yearlist

Updated: Jan 17

As the old years bows out and a New Year dawns a birders thoughts turn to listing, the slate has been wiped clean, we all start on zero and a new list must begin! The keenest listers don’t wait up until midnight on December 31st, they are tucked up in their beds by then and rise at dawn (or earlier) to get out and start to add every new species to their list.

So it was this year, as always, I woke early on January 1st and was up and ready at first light to get out birding. Since my days of being an uber-twitcher are behind me, I now prefer to start my year at a leisurely pace and headed off a couple of miles away to my ‘Local Patch’ Newchurch Common near Northwich, Cheshire. One by one species were added to my list, predictably the common stuff first, Woodpigeon, Jackdaw, Blackbird, Carrion Crow, and the like. All of which are worth one tick on the list at this stage, just the same as their rather brethren. Walking to the biggest water body on my patch, the imaginatively named ‘Big Pool’, the first noteworthy species was added in the shape of Goosander, with 3 stunning white drakes being seen. Thereafter more duck species were added including Gadwall, Wigeon and Tufted Duck. The next notable tick was a drake Goldeneye on Big Pool, out in the centre and diving constantly but distinctive in its dapper plumage. The fields nearby held several Stock Doves, an easily overlooked cousin of the Woodpigeon whilst a Buzzard mewed overhead. A return to the pools produced three beautiful rich red Bullfinch in the bushes and in overhanging vegetation a stunningly azure-blue Kingfisher, two colourful additions to my list.


A walk to one of the private pools on my patch added Teal to the list, this skulking dabbler being happier on the quieter pool rather than the main fishing pools. In the woodland here some speciality passerines were added, ones that I was glad to add on day one as they can be tricky, namely Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit. My next location to check out was my Mossland area, a lowland bog/heath, very special habitat indeed. The star sighting here was a male Stonechat, the first that I’ve ever seen here in winter, so a brilliant find. Also recorded were Woodcock, Snipe and Redwing with a Curlew flying over. This latter bird, like the Stonechat, is a patch rarity so a big bonus to add it on day one. From there I decided to walk a farmland route which I don’t walk as often and was rewarded with another patch rarity, a Meadow Pipit, feeding on a dung heap with Pied Wagtails. Nearby a Raven flew over ‘cronking’ and 6 Fieldfares were in horse paddocks on the return route. The final few species included two woodland birds, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker and a farmland species, Common Pheasant. The day ended with a tally of 53 species, a really good start to my list and a great day on my Patch.

After Day 1 on patch I usually venture further afield on the next few days to visit habitats that my area doesn’t include and so have the chance to add a few different species. On Day 2 I headed up The Wirral, still local but with a coastline and with that a new bunch of birds. Right up on the northernmost tip I soon found a long-staying scarcity at Wallasey, a Snow Bunting showing very well on the beach. Also here Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstone were all added to my list. A fly-by Little Egret was unexpected but duly added one more species for my tally. Heading south, because north would be a little too wet, being sea(!!), I stopped at Hoylake where Grey Plover was added to my wader list and Common Scoter and Shelduck to my duck list. More wildfowl were seen a little further south with Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser being three good additions to my fledgling yearlist. Further down The Wirral at Neston a local speciality was added, a Water Pipit with a Merlin being a nice bonus too. In the same general area Great White Egret, Egyptian Goose and Ruddy Shelduck were seen on Burton Marsh, three scarcities that I was pleased to add. My final stop was Denhall Quay where a lengthy scan of the saltmarsh was rewarded with a male Hen Harrier and several Marsh Harriers amongst a few other commoner species. Tallying up at the end of the day I had added 34 species and my list had grown to 87 species.

After a brief break due to a badly sprained ankle – don’t ask!! I resumed my listing a couple of days later with a planned trip into North Wales with some pretty nice birds as targets. That’s the thing with early year birding and list building, have targets and then the list will grow! The day started with a pre-dawn set off and arrival on site just before sunrise, totally necessary for a special species. That species was Black Grouse and pre-dawn is essential to get in place and watch them arrive at their lek. At first 3 fuzzy black shapes were visible in the half-light but by sunrise a total of 15 make Back Grouse (Blackcocks!) had arrived and were squaring up and wheezing and hissing at each other in their early season lek. A slow drive along the moorland road post-lek saw me add Red Grouse, and Dipper to my list, a good full house of the expected birds at this site. On the drive to the next location a Red Kite over the road was a good Welsh tick. But sometimes plans must change and with a rainstorm approaching from the west I headed east to the coast. A brief seawatch at Pensarn added just Pintail to the tally before the rain arrived. The day in Wales was aborted and home I headed, back into better weather. This did have a good ending as news of Smew at a local lake came through and off I headed to Lapwing Hall Pool near Chelford. Joining other birders we were soon watching a stunning drake and 2 redhead Smew on the pool with Tree Sparrows in the nearby hedge. The route home took me past another site which had had a good bird seen recently. So I pulled up at Billinge Pools and after a brief search found the Bittern that was wintering there. After showing other birders the bird through my scope I headed off home with a reasonable day under my belt, eight species added, but quality rather than quantity took my yearlist up to 95.

Drake Smew

With 100 species now in my sights I headed out two days later for my furthest trip so far, but still relatively local in the NW region where I live and do most of my birding. The destination this time was The Fylde, up on the north section to be precise. My first port of call was Knott End where after a short search my main target was achieved in the shape of a Black Redstart. This bird proved quite elusive but decent views were had and time to move on. Next I headed up to an area of open fields near Cockersands Abbey due to it hosting herds of swans and geese. After a short search Whooper Swan and the rarer Bewick’s Swan were added to my list, these wild swans sharing the fields with Mute Swans and Greylag Geese.

Whooper Swan

Bewick's Swan

On the way back to Knott End I dropped in at the feeding station at Bradshaw Lane, always a place worth a look. A leisurely lunch here gave time for a lone Corn Bunting to join the throngs of Tree Sparrows and a Grey Partridge to be picked up distantly across the fields. After lunch I did return to Knott End and soon the next target was achieved when a flock of Twite flew over my head and landed on the slipway near the café. These showed well and fed on the exposed beach for a while before heading off again high towards the east. A scan of the beach revealed a female Peregrine sitting on the sand surveying her domain and in doing so she allowed me to add another bird to my yearlist. With seven species added I had done it and passed the magic 100 species, ending on 101, all done by the sixth day of the year. That’ll do, as they say in Yorkshire!!



So that, in effect, is how to start a yearlist. A bit of local patch work to add species from an area known well and then a few targeted sites to add some more specialised species. Since then I have returned to my local patch and added more good birds, including Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Grey Wagtail, Green Woodpecker and Brambling. I’ve had a small local twitch to catch up with a Long-billed Dowitcher at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB where Ruff and Spotted Redshank were also added. I have also popped down to a very local site to see a Barn Owl and nipped a bit further afield to add Russian White-fronted Goose to my list on the Cheshire/Wales border by the River Dee.

Russian White-fronted Geese

These additions mean that as it currently stands I have 112 species on my list as of 13th January 2023. If anyone wants more info on yearlisting or more details on the sites and birds mentioned then feel free to pop into Focalpoint at Antrobus for a chat. Just give a ring first as I’m not in every day of the week!

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