Tuesday 31 January 2012

The Moral Maze

I have a massive dilemma, what you might call a proper first world problem. It concerns my garden list, and a potential first for it. As everyone knows, the rules, such as they are, are that either you or the bird must be within the property boundary. As such this means that provided you’re at home, birds that never came anywhere near your garden, and never will, can easily be ticked. Owners of perfectly ordinary suburban gardens, a bit of grass and a few shrubs, can therefore safely claim all Gulls, a variety of waders and wildfowl, and any raptor that happens to drift by. I’ve got Tufted Duck on my garden list, and have no intention of taking it off. The fact that it flew over Wanstead Flats from one pond to another is completely irrelevant.

I left the house quite early this morning, and was wandering through the SSSI towards the bus stop when I caught sight of three largish birds heading towards me. At this point they were roughly over the Jubilee pond  - clearly wildfowl, but bigger than Mallards. For a moment I wondered about Shelduck, but then they banked and became Egyptian Geese. Oh shit, they had banked left. And left takes them over where I live. Can you guess whether Egyptian Goose is on my garden list or not? I turned for home and started running, but I knew I wouldn’t make it. I just made it to the end of my road to see the three birds disappear over the rooftop, and judging how far down the road they had crossed over is near on impossible. What to do? I would have had a glorious view of them from my upstairs back window, I could have tracked them all the way in.

Naturally I’ve pored over maps. The birds were almost certainly headed for the Basin, which is where I always see them on the way back from the school run. If you draw a line from the point I think they turned left to the Basin, it bisects my chimney pots. You’ll have to trust me on this – I was going to make a nice map, but I’ve decided that even with the Lions, the Crocodile pits and so on, I can’t publish where I live online. Anyone who watches the news will know how difficult it is to remove a protest camp once it’s set up....

An Egyptian Goose prepares to fly 'over' my house

I’ve long been saying that Egyptian Goose was a likely candidate for my next garden tick, and it goes and happens when I’m not at home. Had I left home one minute later I would have made it back to plonk a foot on the front drive and claim them for all eternity. Woe is me, what to do? Happily, help is at hand. When it comes to avian listing dilemmas, there is only one man to whom you should turn. Professor Whiteman of Walthamstow - I feverishly composed a text message there and then, describing what happened. I felt sure I’d get the answer I was looking for.

The answer quickly came back, but was not what I was looking for. Far from it in fact. Almost unbelievably, the Professor has been placed on gardening leave, something about some dodgy research involving Red Kites. While this is being investigated by the scientific community, he is unable to comment on individual cases of bird vectorisation. However he promised to forward the query to the resident Agony Uncle at Dudeing World magazine. He was a good as his word, and earlier this morning I received the following email from Uncle Paul.

Dear Jono,

A dilemma indeed, and one we have all struggled with. I think it all boils down to your listing ethics, which, as is now well established, get looser in direct proportion to the size of ones patch. British Life List = lots of competition and therefore scrutiny = very strict rules. House list = you're on your own, nobody much cares = looser rules.

I think the basic: seen in, from or over rule is a given but a little known ruling from the International House Listing Governing Body (IHLGB) states in Ch2 Sec8 SubSec 1 Par3.2 "if one is approaching the property but not actually on site, yet the Bird is clearly seen over the patch it is countable." Remember too that House list air space is the shape of an upturned pyramid so a bird even some distance away can be 'over' the house.

There was a local attempt to stretch this rule but it was (probably fortunately) thwarted by the Wheatears, on a nearby field, refusing to line up with the Birders scope and wife, who was hanging out of the bedroom window. I suspect even the IHLGB may have struggled with a ruling on that one, though of course a bung never hurts.

On the other hand Egyptian Geese are not getting any scarcer, perhaps something to do with the Arab Spring, so you might not have to wait to long for a kosher (maybe halal?) tick.

On the other matter you wrote about, it happens to all boys and you will probably grow out of it.

Uncle Paul

Personally I find the concept of house airspace being an inverted pyramid extremely comforting, and had no idea that this was official. Of course, it makes a huge amount of sense. If I were watching from my house, the countable airspace would indeed resemble such a pyramid, so it follows very naturally that even a short distance from the house, that pyramid would still apply. And it’s not as if Mrs L called me up and said she saw an Egyptian Goose fly over the house while I was at work – I actually saw it – them – fly over, if not directly over the top, well within the standard Louvre-like pyramidal shape that is centred on my house. It might not have quite the cachet of a garden tick from the actual property, but there’s no doubt whatsoever that the birds were present. Egyptian Goose represents the 77th IHLGB-approved tick for my garden, and although long-anticipated, is very welcome nonetheless. I’m sure that there are many listers out there who have faced this same dilemma over the years, not least those partaking in the patch-list challenge. Although the rules from the IHLGB are clear, I’d be interested to hear where you stand, and look forward to your comments.


  1. Tuesday, eh? It's a bit late, but are you tempted to add it to your RSPB Great Inverted Pyramid Birdwatch form?

  2. I guess you'd have to have it eh? well, it looks like you have had it in fact! I dunno - its all a question of how it sits with you! I take the view thats its a "seen from the garden" list, which means that I have to be in the garden in order to see it from there, if you see what I mean? (Its not rocket science!) If you took this approach, then the gypos would be out, as you didn't see them "from the garden" you saw them gasping and wheezing on your knees on the pavement some distance away from the garden. However, this is all semantics (whatever that means). As I should know, rules are made to be broken but its easier if hard cash is involved! I have seen ring ouzel from up the road from my garden, and had I been in the garden at the time then it would be on the garden list but its not.

    Actually, just realised that egyptian goose IS actually on my garden list! Well, it isn't, but I have seen one from the garden. But because it isn't even on the Irish List its not on my garden list - how mad is that? Really should get off me arse and submit it! Imagine! A first for Ireland! From my garden! Happy days!

  3. You can't have that! What constitutes "approaching the property"? From how far - half mile? More? And (from any distance), you'll never know what's definitely over the garden. (Though, actually, maybe a Leica rangefinder pinpointed on the bird might do it...)

    Besides, where do you draw the line? Birds you are pretty sure must've been over the garden? Birds that might have been over the garden? Birds that were almost certainly not over the garden, but are so damn rare there might never be another one?!

    And had they actually gone over your house, and you'd been at home, who's to say you would've seen them?


  4. Yeah. I'd have it. I put waxwing on my old house list the same way. And lesser redpoll. And mipit. Perfectly acceptable.