Monday 19 December 2016

Best Twitch 2016

Once again it is the time of the year for “best ofs”. Fillers, as they are known. This comes as welcome relief for those like me who occasionally struggle for something to say and instead say silent…. In the past I’ve sometimes done the whole lot in one hit – the year in review if you like, but in 2014 I gave up on that approach. I think even then I was struggling, and so when my carefully constructed post at the end of 2013 sank without trace I couldn’t be bothered to do it again. For the last two years I’ve instead broken it out into several posts, best bird and so on. These mostly sank without trace too but just recently I’ve begun to detect a minor improvement in blogging conditions, a bit more community spirit rising to the surface perhaps, so I’m going to give it one more go.

Let’s start with the best twitch, seeing as 2016 has been a mega year for rare birds and I’ve seen absolutely loads. Oh wait…. Talk about a pointless exercise! I’ve been on precisely two twitches all year, well three if you count the Lanceolated Warbler on Shetland but I didn't have much choice on that one. An exercise in futility in many ways but here goes. So one was a day trip in fabulous fall conditions up to Spurn. The other saw me drive out to the Essex coast mid-morning and be back for lunch.

Both have their positives and negatives. If you view twitching as stupid, fundamentally lacking in skill and having little to do with birding, then the Essex Forster’s Tern was in many ways the perfect twitch. A leisurely start waiting on news, not very far away, easy parking, bird on view more or less immediately and showing quite well, smash and grab. And dull as ditch water. Completely and utterly boring, a tick in a box. The only way it could have been less fulfilling would have been if it had been a distant blob. I mean I like seeing new birds as much as the next guy, but really? Twitching is a mug’s game if this is what it is reduced to. I drove, I saw. Hmmm. And many of the birds that I have twitched I have often seen far far better abroad. As the years go by this is probably the reason why I am twitching less and less. And I just gave up my bird news subscription if that is any indication of what 2017 holds.

Forster's Tern, Mistley Quay, Essex. Oh no, my mistake, Florida.

The Siberian Accentor at Spurn was in many ways the exact opposite, leaving at midnight and driving miles through the night on no news. Generally this is not my preferred approach – for starters I need more sleep than in the past, and then there is always the risk of a massive dip. And whilst I generally react to big dips with nothing more with a shrug of the shoulders, I’d prefer not to be in that situation. I know you have to be in it to win it, but with no interest in winning I’d rather not be in it really. Anyway, all that is irrelevant because I went. I do not know why, but I went. The bird was there of course, but the day is memorable for entirely different reasons. In fact the twitch element of it was bloody awful if I am honest. It was still dark when we walked through the village, and it just does not feel right parking up in front of peoples’ houses in the still of the night, getting out to stretch legs, have a cup of coffee and so on. If I looked out of my window in the middle of the night I would not want to see throngs of people walking down the street, or waiting outside what passes for my front garden. The closing of car doors, the hum of chatter, imagine if – as must be inevitable – you woke somebody up? None of that matters though, seeing the bird is all that counts, no?

Anyway, rounding a corner at 5am and in the dark to find the Dull Men of Great Britain Convention in full swing was a bit of a shock, if not entirely surprising. The behaviour was less of a shock, and whilst it didn’t reach the lows of the Dusky Thrush grave-trampling, there is something about large crowds of desperate birders that sits very uncomfortably with me. I want to see the bird, but I don’t want to be part of the crowd. Part of it is self-preservation - I don’t want to be crushed, especially as I appear to be so fragile these days (MRI scan last week, two X-ray scans already this week and it is only Monday. Don’t ask….). I don’t want to be tarred by any accusations of being involved in habitat destruction, trampling, lack of decorum etc. And I also don’t want to be part of a group of people embarrassing themselves, even though simply being there is embarrassing enough. So as usual I hung back, unwilling to be part of the surging mass. One day this will cost me a bird I am sure, as the poor creature does a bunk immediately, freaked out by the wall of humanity* rushing towards it, but I just can’t deal with it. That first 90 minutes of waiting slightly removed from the ever-swelling crowd ranks as a 2016 low, and the hysteria triggered by the first sighting, or what people understood was a sighting but probably wasn’t – well you had to be there to believe it.

Thankfully the rest of the day was a lot better. We birded Spurn in fabulous conditions, with birds falling out of the sky all around us. We saw nothing overly noteworthy, more decent quantities of good, but it was bloody brilliant and was topped off when Sam finally saw a Little Bunting. To be there for that moment was very special, and the day is memorable for good company and superb birding. None of this really had much to do with the twitch, albeit that without the presence of a rare bird I wouldn’t have been there. It therefore feels silly to award this the much coveted title of Best Twitch of 2016, but in the absence of contenders… Tell you what, let’s call it a draw. Or more realistically, no winner and so no award. Deferred until 2017. Or never.  

*I am being generous….


  1. Great post Jono. Your penultimate paragraph sums up twitching for me in it's entirety.
    Sure, I like to see a bird, but would rather not be identified as some sort of nut job by the public in general on account of it.

  2. 'Dull Men Convention'...made me laugh out loud!