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 (@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 in the local nature reserve but I would’ve been hard-pressed to name any other than the common birds – blue tits, robins, blackbirds, starlings and their ilk. Nevertheless, when we bought our house here in Catalunya and I realised we were in an exceptional area for birding I thought it would be hobby I could really get into. Bought the Collins Field Guide and a cheap pair of binoculars and away I went! Well, not quite…. I sorted out the Swallows, Swifts and Martins that fly in huge numbers over the river in summer. I delighted in the Bee-eaters and Hoopoes. Was in awe of the huge Griffon Vultures in the mountains. I eagerly awaited the sound of the first Nightingale and Scops Owl – a sure sign that summer is here! 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? Sandpiper? And don’t even get me started on gulls! Juvenile 1st winter plumage, 2nd winter plumage, adult summer plumage? Nah – this was more frustration than enjoyment! So for the next couple of years I didn’t do any “birding” as such, I resolved simply to enjoy the birds I saw -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 some LBJ’s and other 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!
Hence a few weeks ago I decided that in 2011 I would start keeping a list and be a “proper” birder. Perhaps I’d be pleasantly surprised at the birds I knew and it would push me to ID the ones I didn’t. That’s when I made the post on Twitter and @birdblogger said that I should be able to make 200 birds 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!