Sunday 26 December 2021

Numbers don't always tell the story

Turns out 130 was not where it ended after all. A Red-crested Pochard, a cheeky one-day wonder that I snaffled between trips to America, has bumped it up to 131, further cementing 2021 as an extraordinary year that may never come again. Although note that when I wrote that post about 130 on 20th November I ended with a solemn caveat about new variants of this dratted virus.... A few days later Omicron became a thing, so I suppose this was more of a nailed-on certainty rather than a prediction or caveat. No doubt there will be another one and then another, we may never be rid of this thing. This is now two Christmas periods in a row that we've been living through this and I would not bet against a third. My office is closed again, and whilst I managed to squeeze some travel in just recently, the plans that I had been making for 2022 are already looking unlikely at best. I reckon I got away with my emergency trip to Nevada last weekend by the skin of my teeth.

Anyway, 131. Given 121 was my previous best, and which only a year ago I thought was amazing and I could never get close to again......I know I bang on about numbers a lot, I'm sorry. Numbers are of course just one facet of birding, the easiest quantifier by some margin, the simple and thought-free way to evaluate things and people. This is why birding latches on to numbers so frequently; the need to categorise and compare. I'm not against numbers and lists, far from it, I love a stupid list, the more niche the better, and I find them to be a critical motivator to get up off my proverbial and go out birding. And so I embrace them.

But the more meaningful elements of birding don't lend themselves to easy quantification or comparison. We try of course, but is there any point trying to attach superlatives to everything? The best find, the most enjoyable day, the stupidest moment? I have written about these kinds of things in the past, and in truth it is all these things which are memorable, no single one more than any other really. They all count, they all add up, and together they make up birding. 131 might be inked in for 2021 but we'll all soon forget about that. What I won't forget is raising my bins and seeing that Wryneck across the model airfield this autumn, a most wanted patch find that it seemed like everyone had managed but me. Or the rainbow at Hoswick which perfectly framed my birding companions and seemed to change the day completely. Or racing across to Alex on my bike to find the Black-necked Grebe still present, after a stormy night expected but nonetheless still heart-stopping. Or getting a message about some waders heading east across the Flats, realising this meant they were heading my way, and seconds later turning my head as three Whimbrel flew past. Or any one of countless other small moments like these, from this year and years past, all of which define what is meant by birding far better than a three digit number. Ranking these would be so hard and would achieve what exactly? Although I have probably attempted it previously I am coming to understand that birding moments don't need ranking. Each one has its own perfect little spot in my head, revolving around all the others harmoniously. And they are all looking forward to making room for another.


  1. Nice post Jono. I think you're right, the pleasure and fulfilment in birding is all about the 'moments'. Definitely true for me. They are what linger in the memory and make you smile inwardly, weeks, months, years later...

    1. Cheers Gav. I was mulling this over a glass of wine as I thought about whether I might do an end of year round-up kind of post, best bird etc. And then I thought that really the year, strange though it has been, has been about so much more than individual birds, and that this also held true for all prior years no matter how I tried to spin it. It is the summation of small moments, some very exciting and others less so, that together tell the story. And in that sense I've already done it.