Friday, 8 January 2010

The smaller the patch, the bigger the tick

Just an observation, but it seems that the smaller the patch, the more satisfaction there is to be gained from a tick. Obviously it is much harder to get new birds in a smaller area, and when you're talking about a garden, then anything above about 40 or so needs to be a flyover, and the chances of that happening, and you being there to see it, are drastically reduced as you can only see such a tiny area of sky. I have a friend who lives two and a half miles away to the west, roughly. He too is very keen on his house list, and the possibilities for growing it. He has worked out the precise direction I live in - I know, what an obsessive weirdo! - so that if something flies that way, he can give me a heads-up. Similarly, if something flies in a straight line from the centre of my terrace over the extreme left-hand corner of my neighbour two doors down's greenhouse, I'll give him a shout. To date, neither of us has succeeded in actually seeing the other's birds. They only have to deviate a fraction of a degree and they'll pass out of sight. But we'll keep trying!

Of the few lists I keep, I think the garden one is probably the one I like best. There are many reasons for this, not least the fact that it is quite handy for where I live. Thus tea is readily available, deckchairs are conveniently placed, and all you need is a spare five minutes and you're birding. Staring at a vacant sky. Part of the reason it fascinates me so is quite how hard it is, how tiny my chances are. It makes getting a new bird very special, despite its mediocrity in the grand scheme of things. Snipe, whatever.

Patch ticks are a close second. The best type, for me, is one I've thought about, planned. Immense enjoyment is gained from predicting what could turn up where, going out looking for it, and then (sometimes) actually finding it. Last year I found my intended target more than a few times, proving that although a healthy slice of luck is always needed, there is more to it than that. And when it does all work out, it results in a
warm glow of self-satisfaction that, despite my attempts, cannot be shared in a meaningful way with anyone else.

- "I did it! I found a Ring Ouzel!!! First place I looked, I can't believe it!"

- "That's nice dear, now where did I leave my pen?"

But as all birders know, all ticks are good, anywhere (apart from year ticks of course, which are rubbish). County ticks, London ticks, UK life ticks, WPal ticks, it doesn't matter, we thrive on all of them. There is always a thrill to seeing a new bird somewhere, even if it is boring, brown, and three hundred miles away. Usually you're with other people, so the euphoria can be shared. And these common experiences are the ones you can look back at in the years to come, reminisce about over beer. You can't really do that with garden ticks.

- "Remember that Snipe I had over the garden at the beginning of January 2010?! Wasn't it amazing?!"
- "Er no, you were the only one there, it's a really common bird, and what you've seen in your garden is of no interest to anyone but you."
- "Ah yes."

Oriental Practincoles and Snowy Owls are the ones that are going to get talked about down the line, re-lived communally. But neither of them can quite beat thirty seconds of utter improbability over the garden.


  1. Skylark banner is very nice... but it scrolls off the RHS losing half the Skylarks at a regular monitor resolution (i.e. 1280x1024)! Might be better to invert the image so they flow from the left, under the title?

  2. Hmm, I have the same problem. Surely you don't have to invert but can just resize/recrop? I like the way it looks as if they are walking off the edge of the screen, though!

    I have a special affinity for larks, as that (well, singular) is my daughter's name.

  3. Oh, lists. When I was birding (not that I was ever hardcore... too much trouble getting up early, for one thing) I really only kept a national list and a life list. My general impression is that the British are more dedicated tickers but I'm not sure if that is actually true. I don't recall hearing about others' town/county/mid-range lists, but I did hear about a lot of people keeping yard lists. I can see why, though--I am still pleased about seeing a pileated woodpecker *and* a black-and-white warbler in one day, purely by accident, in my little suburban yard.

    I really enjoy seeing uncommon/rare birds only if I have found them. If someone else has found them, it is interesting, but there's no sense of achievement.

  4. Sorry sorry sorry, I have a rather nice widescreen monitor, and so fail to realise that what looks perfect for me may be less perfect for other people. Resized, and looks crappy on my screen now :-(
    How many Skylarks can you see?

  5. I see six larks and the tail end of a seventh! I can send you a screenshot if you need one. It looks a lot better now, though.