Sunday, 7 October 2012

For old times' sake

I'm not by nature a twitcher. I love to watch birds but these days I spend little time chasing rare ones. I'm not even a lister. I have no idea how many birds or mammals I have seen in the world, though it's certainly one or two. This may sound strange as the ostensible subject of my blog is a list of vertebrates. I chose the list as a ruse, an Elizabeth poet might call it a conceit, to make me write regularly. In this sense it has worked; for two-hundred and seventy-eight times I have written here since my blog was whelped from the womb of a dark cold winter.

If you are still reading in the middle of October, two-hundred and seventy-eight posts later, you have only yourselves to blame.

Lists, though, need feeding and this occasionally requires some twitching. This morning for the fifth day a pectoral sandpiper was seen on the water meadow at Kelling. If you grew up in Norfolk a pectoral sandpiper is lovely to see but it's hardly a highlight of the year. We see a few of them around here. So many over the years, in fact, that we've become blasé about them. This autumn I've neglected to see five other pecs in Norfolk, though I did make some desultory attempts to see the bird which stayed for many days at Cley.

It was time I saw one. You see, pectoral sandpipers and I have history. For ten years I lived in Bolivia and slept under a migrant shorebird flyway. Too often I didn't sleep and in the course of years I heard thousands of upland sandpipers fly over my bed, in the South American night sky. With them occasionally I heard solitary sandpipers and pecs. I saw pecs countless times too, especially around Andean foothill lakes, though also in my own favourite wetlands near Santa Cruz.

So pecs and I have history and, realising I had not seen one in the five years since I moved back to Norfolk, this morning it was indeed time. I saw the sandpiper with remarkable ease. There was one wader on the water meadow. It was close to the shore in the cow-churned mud that pecs love. A few teal dibbled happily in the far corner and a swirl of linnets gossipped along a hedge of hawthorn. In the midday sun a male Roesel's bush-cricket sang, unheard and unwatched by the many birders passing, but closely watched by his female on the next bramble leaf.

I strolled up the muddy lane with 980 vertebrates on this Elizabethan conceit of a yearlist, and I stopped at my parents' for lunch.

Don’t let the bewildering variety put you off. Instead, let it inspire you. Bewildering variety is not an unfortunate occurrence. Bewildering variety is what life is all about. When you try to tell the difference between a willow warbler and a chiffchaff, you are not just posing yourself a puzzle to test your own observational skills. You are also entering into life’s deepest mystery. The name of that mystery is biodiversity.

Simon Barnes
How to be a Bad Birdwatcher

For old times’ sake


pectoral sandpiper
Calidris melanotos

2012 Totals
Mammals: 85
Birds: 856
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 8
Fish: 11

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