Wednesday 2 September 2009


Yesterday evening I sat down and worked out how far I have driven in the pursuit of birds this year. Yep, another slow evening in the Lethbridge household. Including the longer range dips I can remember, which include the Black-winged Pratincole twice (which I eventually saw) and a Squacco Heron twice (which I didn't), the answer is 10,626 miles. That is like driving to Fife and back eleven times. If I factor in lift-sharing, the number of miles paid for drops to 8,380. You can see where this is leading....Mrs L has oft asked how much I am spending on diesel. Well, the car does about 40mpg on a normal run, and I have taken an average cost per litre of 102.9p. So making some big assumptions, the total monetary cost of my birding so far this year has been about £970. This does not include the cost of double deckers, nor any of the other crap I consume on a day out. The emotional cost is of course far higher, as significant other people will tell you.

With my year list on 281, on a per bird basis this equates to £3.45 per bird. Year listing is very stupid, that much is clear. In fact you don't need to do any numerical analysis to discover this. Just think about it for a minute, and it becomes plain stupid. Seeing as I am never doing one again, this got me thinking. How far would I have travelled if I had just been for life ticks? Thanks to the magic of excel I can tell you that the answer would have been 5,998 miles, and with lift-sharing, 4,140 miles, for a total cost of £479. If we're splitting hairs, £479.31. Each new tick, and there have been 28 this year, has cost £17.11. And it appears that lift-sharing increases if year-listing is abandoned, which is a good thing. My incidental year list would be at 231, alternatively expressed as £2.07 per bird. This is a 50% decrease in cost, but only an 18% decrease in species diversity. Going only for new birds is clearly the way forward, and that is what I will do. Starting from next year. Anyone want a lift?

Actually, restricting myself to only birding in London would be the true path. This year that number is 164 species, for very little expediture whatsover, a couple of trips to Staines and Amwell, once to Beddington, 30-odd trips to Rainham, and the rest of the time on the patch. I wonder what Mrs L would say if I announced I was doing a London-only year list? She would probably explode. Obsessive listing is a bad thing, and it does not matter where it takes place. When she saw that my Wanstead patch list was at 97, and that this year it was 91, she said it worried her as both numbers were sufficiently close to 100 that I might start going a bit nutty trying to get there. As if. The cost of birding is not purely measured in GBP. What I have not measured is time not spent with the family, although my new life happily means I do now spend heaps of time with the children. NB, 4 days to go until the start of term! It also doesn't measure the number of hours other people have baby-sat, supported, put themselves out. This is not an Oscar-acceptance speech, but to all of you, Thank You, and I love you all; I could not have done it without you. See you in November!

The whole thing is lunacy. To make myself feel better I looked at someone much more obsessive than me. No, not Bradders. At the top of the listing site (that I use at least) this year is a guy called Chris. I have never met him. Nor have I met his wife and daughter, who take up slots #2 & #3. I might get upset about this being #4, but when you realise that only a fraction of UK birders use this particular site, and that if they all did, then in reality I would probably be at the lower end of any scale, it doesn't worry me. I'm using it to track my progress towards my personal - and stupid - target of 300 this year (after which I will stop) and that is it. Anyway, all of them are on about 300 for the year already. He/they goes/go for pretty much everything. I think (well, Google thinks...) he lives in a large city in the west country. Last week he drove to South Yorkshire for a Dotterel, via Portsmouth for a Blue-winged Teal. The previous day he had been to the far tip of Cornwall for a Citrine Wagtail. Who would do such a thing? Two days before that he went to Lancashire for a Wilson's Phalarope. By my calculations that is 1,300 miles for four birds in four days. Ridiculous. This pattern of absurd trips for minor rarities, and in some cases, dross, is repeated thoughout the year. I'm not going to do the full analysis, I have no idea what he drives, nor what he has dipped. Suffice it to say I feel much better and I hope Mrs L does too. He hasn't seen a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater or a Fea's Petrel either, what on earth has he been doing?

So, those are the numbers, or some of them at least. I could write about various other lists and numbers for a very long time, but that would be boring, unlike this post. Incidentally this is my 100th. One more target out of the way.

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