Wednesday 4 January 2017

The numbers game

It is the time of year when people interested in making lists of things start making new lists of things in order to occupy themselves. So whilst I have a Wanstead list, I am looking to supplement that with a couple more. Nothing as fanciful as a UK year list, no that would be folly, but maybe just a little light punishment by attempting a Canary Wharf list again. I did this once before as part of a friendly competition with James A, he birded Tower Bridge and I did CDub. It was called the Crap Patch Challenge, and I think ended up as a draw on about 40. The prize was a packet of peanuts and we met at a pub to eat them after it was all over. Turned out he didn’t really like peanuts, which was a bit of a surprise after 12 months of competing to win them, but luckily I do like peanuts and so scoffed the lot. Now James has disappeared entirely from the blogging scene and almost entirely from birding, so this might be me versus myself (unless any readers are by some miracle based in E14 too?), but I can do that – I will just try and beat whatever it was I got last time – and given the stakes I remember trying pretty hard.

I started today during a quick half hour stroll over lunch, part of an effort to become less consumed by work and actually see the light of day during these long winter months. I saw eight species: Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Coot, Moorhen, Crow, Pigeon, Blue Tit and Blackbird. I consider myself fortunate to have seen the Blackbird.... Part of the trouble is that lunchtime is not a great time to be looking for birds. Ideally I would be here at dawn before 100,000 office workers turn up, but then that would mean I couldn’t bird Wanstead. Choices, choices… The main problem of course is that Canary Wharf has almost no habitat. If there were birds that fed on concrete there would be loads here.

A Canary Wharf rarity
I might also start a list of birds seen at airports. This might be pretty eclectic, and given I’ve already got plans to be at numerous airports this year in some quite exciting places, perhaps something to consider. Better than looking at planes, which is unfortunately a constant temptation which I have so far mostly resisted. What is it about the urge to count things that some men have? If I get a window seat, as I frequently do, then from the moment the ground is in sight I’m scanning for birds. All the time spent in transit, if I can possibly get out of the glass cages they put you in and have a wander that’s what I’ll do. I’ve seen House Sparrow and Starling nearly everywhere….

Talking of counting things and lists of birds, although I have not chased a UK list for several years by virtue of the way I record what I have seen it is quite easy to tot up a full year. I was quite surprised when I did this for 2016, as for the first time in ages the total went up. 205 species! This is a far cry from the two consecutive years where I cleared 300, but a marked improvement on the miserable 183 seen in 2015. I’m not a scientist, but this appears to be directly correlated to the amount of time I spend birding. The more I go out, the more I see - astonishing I am sure you will agree. I remember being hugely pleased the first year I saw 200 birds in the UK, and feeling a real sense of achievement. It had required considerable effort and I just about managed to make it over the line. Last year I made almost no effort whatsoever – three rarities chased and a few days on Shetland. Maybe I need to re-evaluate the scale of my triumph in 2007? I have no idea what par is for an active birder. I mean I get 100 in Wanstead every year without too much trouble, and Wanstead gets practically no waders and even fewer seabirds. Maybe 200 is actually still pitiful if Wanstead plus a single visit to Frampton or Titchwell gets you to 160. Maybe 230-240 is a more realistic number? Whatever, it’s all irrelevant anyway as I will see whatever I see, and I refuse to go chasing stuff for the sake of it. Fundamentally numbers games are just silly, their only saving grace is that when connected with birds they do force you to spend time outdoors, which in my particular circumstances is sorely necessary.



  1. For what it's worth, my London list might contain Naumann's Thrush, Pine Bunting and self found Golden Oriole, Raven and Bewick's Swan. However, the total only adds up to 195.

    1. Of those I have just the two last ones. I did however once see 200 in a year and now have about 250 or so. I've mostly stopped all that as it is just silly.