I've always been quite good at recording what I see, but prior to adopting eBird I never had any easy way to query my data. Having now entered all my historical day lists from 2007 onwards, all of a sudden the extent of my domestic decline has been made clear to me. I've chased a UK year list only once, in 2009. That was the peak of what I fondly recall as the fun years, probably 2008 to around 2012, when I was pretty into twitching and had found a group of local like-minded people to hook up with. Bradders, Monkey, Shaunboy, Hawky, Crofty and various others. None of us were into the crazy off-island twitching, but places like North Yorkshire or Cornwall were "in range" and so for a period of several years if a rare bird coincided with a weekend off we went. We had a ball. Although twitching conjures up notions of travelling just to see a single bird that is actually quite rare. Throughout that time there was also a lot of incidental birding wherever we found ourselves, and so my year lists remained on the high side - averaging out at 275 for a number of years. Gradually however our collective interest in this form of birding declined, and by 2015 I was pretty much done with it. 2014 was the last year that I saw 200 birds in the UK, and it is no surprise that this also coincides almost exactly with the start of my travelling phase. My average UK list since 2015 has been just 161, and in 2018 I saw just 133 species, 111 of them in Wanstead and the rest at Rainham. I didn't record a single bird outside London that year.
2019 wasn't much better and so this year I resolved that I would do more in the UK whilst scaling back my travel abroad. Little did I know what 2020 would bring of course, but at that stage I still had reasonably big plans, this was a reset rather than a complete halt, and with a birding trip to Colombia and a few other birdy places I was still expecting to see a lot. I got the year off to a good start with my first serious birding in Suffolk and Norfolk for what seemed like ages, and with a trip to California in mid January and an excellent weekend break in Spain in late February my birding year seemed to be progressing very nicely and just as I had intended. And then as we all know too well the world fell apart and gradually all my remaining plans fell by the wayside. It took me a while to get going again, not helped by the first lockdown followed by a slightly irrational fear of other people which took a long time to subside, but when it became clear that my only birding options in 2020 were going to be in the UK I picked up where I had left off in January and started heading further afield than Wanstead Flats. I started visiting some of the places that I remembered from those early years, exploring my UK birding past; Oare Marshes, Rainham, Dungeness and so on. Family holidays abroad were replaced with trips to Fife to see my parents and I made sure to do a lot of birding whilst up there although I never made it to the Highlands. Colombia was replaced with Shetland, which in turn was replaced with Yorkshire, and before I knew it I was really getting into UK birding once again. And surprise surprise, my year list, ably totted up for me by eBird, had once again passed 200.
I am not going to rue the period from 2015 as "the lost years" or anything like that, I had an amazing time elsewhere and have memories to last a lifetime. My BOU life list didn't advance much but who cares, I have no desire to be a top lister and never have. Neither though am I ready to say that I'm "back" and that from now on this is all I am going to do. But I have been reminded that good birding, whilst not on my doorstep, is not too far away and that I still really enjoy it. My final 2020 stats are going to be at best middling but they don't really matter. I find that lists at their best are a conduit, a spur to getting off my backside and getting out there. If the perceived thrill of a year or county tick sees me out in the fresh air and scanning big flocks of waders on the Essex mudflats, or walking in solitude through Kentish broadleaf woodlands, then that's a good thing and they are serving a purpose. A shame then that we are now in lockdown again. Unfortunately I had no decent reason to be anywhere other than Wanstead this weekend and consequently it has been rather dull, but in my head I am planning and looking forward.