Do you keep a bird list? If you do, what does it really mean to you? Is it an integral, important part of your birding? I think most of us who are observers of natural history keep lists in one form or another, from the rabid down-tools-and-go-for everything twitcher to the garden moth trapper we all like a new list addition. For those who say, 'I don't', 'Lists are a trivial waste of time, you should be doing something more important and stern like survey work, ringing, constant effort monitoring, local patching' etc what do you do?
I keep several lists. For birds, I have UK, County, Local Patch. For Moths I have UK and Garden, same for Butterflies. I have a dragonfly list, a wild flower list and a fish list. I do like them and enjoy adding to them but if there was a Top 10 of my lists, the long staying number one, the equivalent to a Bryan Adams single would be my Northumberland Bird list. The County List.
Periodically though my UK list becomes an itch that needs to be scratched. I am fickle in this regard. For example, a Moltoni's Warbler would not get me out of the county. It doesn't even have a piece in my 1972 Heinzel, Fitter and Parslow. The same goes for a lot of these new 'splits'. They just don't have the background of birding history and lore that say, the Anglesey Black Lark, the Aberdeen Belted Kingfisher or even the StAbbs Marmora's Warbler had. I like my travelled for birds to come with some provenance, like a fine antique.
In the 80's a Black browed Albatross lived every summer on the northern most tip of the northern most island in the UK, Unst. This is way beyond my travelling distance even if I had known about it in the dark ages before WhatsApp, but tales of travelers intrepid enough to go to extremes to see this bird were gripping.
In recent years, there have been tantalising temptations of Albatrosses in the UK, even in my own county, but none really getable for the likes of me. That is not until two weeks ago when the Bempton Cliffs bird of last years brief stay returned. In previous summers it has stayed across the North sea, but now it seems to enjoy the company of Gannets on the great white cape of Yorkshires East Riding, having spent a fitful two weeks on site giving views down to knock- your-cap-off range.
Tied at home due to work and builders in my loft, we were late to the party. On top of that, we also have a guilt trip where the Twittersphere is quick to vilify anyone who travels anywhere other than by bike. Its ok for Richard Branson to go to the moon or for 30,000 fans to drive to a football match every weekend but if you dare twitch a bird, on your head be it. You alone have destroyed this planet with your petty trivialities.
How would I react to that? I have no kids, so I am not instantly doubling up or more on resource use , I have not eaten any meat for 30+ years, I have only flown on a handful of occasions in my life, my partner Jane has never flown, so I think, if I want to drive all day occasionally in my diesel motor I will!
I transgress. On Monday John and myself made plans to go for the Albatross on Friday, our earliest possible free day. As it happened, no sooner were plans made, the Mollymawk buggered off, we thought for good, so that was that. Friday came, I was finishing up on chores after the builders and didnt see my phone until later. The Albatross had only returned to the cliffs hadn't it, but I was too late to go on the day so, Saturday was selected for the trip.
We left Alnwick at 5.30am arriving at Bempton 3 hours later to news that the bird was last seen heading towards the horizon at 7am. Looked like we would have to wait. And wait. And wait.
11 hours later, the site and sounds and smells of a magnificent seabird colony were beginning to wane. At 7pm with no sign of the bird, we called it a day. Albatross 1 Northern Albatross Twitchers 0. I can almost hear the laughs from the enlightened few saying 'You get what you deserve you destroyer of worlds'. At one time a full day dip would have left me gutted, but now, not so much. Disappointed yes, but no more than that. There are more important things after all. I would like to see it tracked up the coast from Whitburn one day, now that would be special.
24 hours later, this afternoon, I was looking at some photos I took of the Gannets when word comes out, the Black browed Albatross was back on its favoured cliff ledge at Bempton. You know, I think it knew we had been watching and waited for us to leave...here's to 2022...
|Bempton Big Cliffs|
|The number of birds on show is dizzying.|
|Click here to see layers of albatross dippers.|