Saturday 18 May 2013

Saving it up for the BIG ONE!

It could have been several birds. It may yet be several birds, but for now, and as far as I know now, today's Dusky Thrush is my 400th UK tick. And that, as I'm sure you'll agree, is a pretty big one to get there with. Before you all rush to congratulate me on this magnificent achievement, my only "skill" is being able to drive and read a map. Twitching is all about the thrill of the chase; some people take it a step further and turn it into a competition, but that's not for me, although obviously anyone who has only seen three hundred and something is a complete loser. If I look back at all the birds I've seen between 200 and 400, just two have been found by me at the point they were lifers for me (by found I mean actually found, a genuine surprise, rather than rocking up to Cairngorm and 'finding' a Ptarmigan). So, there are many many people out there, from selfless patch-workers to full-on rarity finders, who have contributed to this monumental total, and to each and every one of you, Thank You.

Of course this takes nothing away from my stellar performance. I now enter the lower-mid echelons of the birding elite, and I can tell you I am feeling pretty smug. The last three weekends have been very tough, poised at 399 but with no driving necessary at all. Today however it all changed. A chance late-evening look at Twitter and a twinge of excitement at noticing a mega message. Dusky Thrush? Hmm, not seen one of those. I wonder if Bradders has seen one? Nope, he hasn't. In fact, I later learned that nobody had, or at least not in recent memory. Plans were hatched that accomodated people that had been boozing all night, and the alarm was set for silly o'clock. Margate Cemetery for 5am, and we were the first people there!

Not really, several hundred were keener than we are - not a huge surprise for what is effectively a first for Britain as far as those funny people called twitchers are concerned. As usual the standing around held no interest for me, and so I started poking around elsewhere. And then, of course, you notice people running back past you. A quick look at my phone (on silent, don't want all those twitchers year-ticking Corncrake!) and two missed calls! Gah! Retracing my steps in a calm yet efficient manner, a mass of people are where the original line was. Some indecorous running around from a great many middle-aged men, and then the bird did the decent thing and perched right up in the top of a tree where everyone could see it. A collective and audible sigh went up, and I believe several people actually fainted.

From then on in it was plain sailing. I became the most relaxed person on the face of planet Earth. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could possibly have phased me. The rest of the day was spent wandering around north Kent in a semi-soporific state. A ringtail Monties and a male Red-backed Shrike at Reculver were excellent, with a nice supporting cast of summer visitors, but I could have seen anything and barely noticed. In a daze, pleased to be outside, totally knackered after a long week at work and no sleep, but running on a turdus-induced high. I managed to get it together for a Cuckoo, and the Shrike was of course magnificent, as they always are. 

As I type, I am still in a daze. It has been a long old road. On the 11th August 2007, with nothing better to do I drove to Oare Marshes and saw a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and several hundred people all going a bit nutty. Roll forward to 15th April 2009 and I was at Landguard with all three kids seeing my 300th bird, a Hoopoe. The next fifty took just over year, with number 350 being a Gull-billed Tern in Devon, a crazy day that also involved numbers 349 and 351 at opposite ends of the country. Since then progress has been slower, mainly due to my lack of appetite for dipping....

Then 2013 came around and the madness took over: Shetland, North Uist, my armchair, and finally Lincolnshire just under a month ago. 399, and the next one really counts! I mused over the top ten likeliest candidates, and got it spectacularly wrong. I'm pretty sure nobody would ever have tossed Dusky Thrush into the ring, but there you go. There have been plenty of surprises along the way, and no doubt there will be many more. Except that I might retire....


  1. Congratulations Jonathan what a bird to hit 400 with.

  2. I saw you wondering around Reculver yesterday with that smug look on your face.
    The same look I would of had on my face if I had just seen a Dusky Thrush for UK tick 400.


  3. It just shows you that anyone can reach 400 well done. I do like the Cuckoo shot!

  4. That Cuckoo is sublime mate, and congrats on the four-ton, ill-deserved as it is...

  5. I hope you've got another White Stork in reserve Jono, instead of that Aldeby one - on loan from Thrigby - on your Bubo...

    A dirty tick if ever there as one... ;-)

    Still, Dusky is a "graet" bird anywhere, anytime and for any number