200 Birds in 2011 – A Learner Birder Challenge!

It all started with a tweet! A tweet on twitter that is – not a bird call!  Last week I posted a comment on twitter something like this: “Decided that from Jan I’ll be a “proper” birder and start listing. Saw Great Bittern xmas day so methinks list has to commence Dec 25th!”

That comment kicked off a conversation with another birder, Craig Nash (@birdblogger on twitter) which led to me taking up the challenge to reach a tally of 200 birds species during the next 12 months.

Before we came to Spain I used to enjoy seeing birds in our garden and was a regular visitor to our local nature reserve.  Seeing birds and other wildlife has always given me pleasure and yet I would’ve been hard-pressed to name more than the common birds – blue tits, robins, blackbirds, starlings and their ilk. When we moved to Catalonia, I realised that we were in an exceptional area for birding. Some of the early guests in our holiday apartments were keen birders and I was both slightly amused at their excitement of seeing new birds and deeply impressed at their knowledge!  I want to be able to do that, I thought!  And so, the interest and desire to identify the birds  around me grew.  I bought a Collins Field Guide and a cheap pair of binoculars and away I went!  Well, not quite…. I sorted out the Swallows, from the Swifts and Martins that fly in huge numbers over the river in summer. I delighted in the colourful Bee-eaters and Hoopoes. Was in awe of the huge Griffon Vultures in the mountains.  I was thrilled to hear the night calls of the Nightingale and Scops Owl.  And then… well, that was about it really!

To be honest it quickly dawned on me just how much there was to learn. I was totally bewildered by LBJ’s! Half the time I didn’t even know which section of Collins to look in! Was I looking at a warbler, a finch, a tit, a thrush? How were you supposed to ID these birds -they never sat still long enough! So I gave up on the Little Brown Jobs.

Perhaps I’ll do better with waders, shore-birds and wildfowl I thought, I’ll start going down to the Ebro Delta.  Well ok – I could tell a grey from a purple heron and a little egret from a great egret. As for the rest – Redshank? Greenshank? Lesser Yellowlegs? Sandpipers? Plovers? And don’t even get me started on gulls! Juvenile 1st winter plumage, 2nd winter plumage, adult summer plumage?  The ratio of frustration to enjoyment was about 60 /40 and I became disheartened.    So for the next couple of years I didn’t do much active birding at all.  I resolved simply to enjoy the birds I happened to see -whether I could name them or not.

Then a strange thing happened. I started using Twitter. I started to follow and be followed by lots of folk interested in birds and nature. I read their blogs and looked at their amazing photos. I subscribed to a couple of birding newsletters. After a while I started to realise that I was indeed starting to recognise lots of birds.  I’ve also realised that I do in fact birdwatch all the time. From my balcony, walking the dog, from the passenger seat of the car. Birds have got under my skin! I surrender!

Late in 2010 I started going to a local bird-hide again. Then along came that Great Bittern! I was genuinely excited and pleased with myself and that was the turning point!  I was truly bitten by the birding bug by the Great Bittern! I wanted more exciting moments like that!  That’s when I made the post on Twitter  about becoming a “proper” birder in 2011.  By recording each bird species perhaps I’d be pleasantly surprised at the birds I knew and it would push me to ID the ones I didn’t.  I didn’t expect that someone would give me a target but  @birdblogger said that living in such a fabulous area I should aim to see 200 bird species in a year. Game on! What a great challenge to encourage me!

And now if you’ll excuse me – it is 3.00pm on Jan 1st and I haven’t yet been outdoors.  I’m off out for an hour to get those first birds of 2011 on my list!

Addendum
How did I do in my first proper year? See the posts:

Birding Challenge February Update
2011 Birding Challenge – Final Total”

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