Wednesday 24 April 2013

The Big One

To be on 399 BOU just as peak migration starts is pretty good planning on my part. On 395 at the start of the year, two daring twitches to remote Scottish islands for itinerant ducks, an armchair Hooded Merg, and the weekend dash to Lincolnshire for my long-awaited Subalp have put me in a perfect position .The key question, of course, and one that Mrs L asks me almost once a day, is what will it be? I'm so excited about it I can hardly tell you. Actually I can.

Through the magic of Bubo I can sample a massive population of 1000 diehard listers to see what they have seen that I have not. Theoretically, though you have to of course disount anomolies from the old days that everyone saw (all other birders are typically very old and doddery) but that have not reoccured since. Here's that list, or the very top bit of it anyway:

1) Laughing Gull - 36%
2) Broad-billed Sandpiper - 35%
3) Pied Wheatear - 34%
4) Roller - 33%
5) White-billed Diver - 32%
6) Rustic Bunting - 31%
7) Ross's Gull - 31%
8) Sora - 30%
9) Black Duck - 29%
10) Least Sandpiper - 29%

So, Laughing Gull, with 365 people having seen one, is top of the tree. A bloody Gull, it had to be didn't it? Well that's going to knock the shine off 400 isn't it? The happy news is that this is one of these birds that has "gone rare"; I can't really think of one that I could have gone for since I started this whole sorry tale. So what about BB Sand? Another one that has declined of late - I've missed one in Essex somewhere by being in Dorset. Again, would be I be massively excited? Is it worthy enough? No. Will I care? Probably not.

Number three is an obvious choice, being a Wheatear. Perfect in fact. Trouble is they're probably all dull juvs in autumn. A spanking Spring male though, and I would be off like a shot. Ditto for number four.....this should be on my list already, but isn't due to various complications involving a flat tyre and dipping. And so to number five, White-billed Diver. Were I so inclined, I could jump in the car this coming Saturday, and drive several hundred miles and see not one, but perhaps up to double figures, for the East coast of Scotland seems awash with them. Fatpaulscholes saw eight in one morning off Portsoy about a week ago, and there's no denying it's a great bird. But a thousand miles for one? Not a chance. It's just a number.

You see, there's a good chance that I'm already past the hurdle, for I have several birds waiting in the wings, so to speak. The first dates from almost three years ago, and is the Empidonax flycatcher from Blakeney Point. A hard-earned bird indeed, it's a shame the great and the good have yet to decide what it was, and may never do so! The balance of probablility, as I understand it, is that Alder Flycatcher is by far and away the likeliest vagrant, but that might not be good enough for the boffins. If they eventually go for it, then of course that Subalp last weekend becomes number 400. And a damp squib. But what about Dom's Slaty-backed Gull? That's a 2011 bird, and another that I caught up with. Questions remain about whether it's kosher or not. I didn't think birds were even religious. Anyhow, if it goes through as well, then the Harlequin becomes number 400. I could live with that I think, though something new to celebrate as it happens would be preferable.

Then there's all the splits and so on. American Black Tern, Northern Harrier, Desert Lesser Whitethroat. Who knows? If all three of those go on, then some crappy views of Pechora Pipit on Shetland get the nod, which is not ideal. In other words, I have no idea what I'm actually on at all. Being good about it, it's definitely 399, but it could be as high as 405 if they elevate Lesser Canada Goose. Then again, maybe they'll lump Redpolls.....

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