A reckoning

Today we were both preparing to head up to Scotland tomorrow, and so neither of us got out for any wildlife excursions, and there were no new moths in the trap.

I was wondering what to write for this blog entry and got to thinking about my bird list for 2023. As I’ve mentioned before I am somewhat surprised to have got to nearly 200 bird species in less than 6 months. I started wondering about whether I was completely happy with all the identifications so far, and this got me musing on what – in my view – constitutes a fair “tick” on my year list.

It doesn’t – I think – matter if I went somewhere specifically to see a certain species, or if a bird is pointed out to me by another birder. It doesn’t even really matter whether I see the bird close up and extremely well, or at a distance and only briefly! The key thing is whether or not I managed to see any key feature that clearly identified that particular species.

And so I went through my entire list so far for 2023 and identified five species that I’m unhappy about: They are rock dove, stock dove, Slavonian grebe, Taiga bean goose and honey-buzzard. Let me take you through my concerns.

rock dove (photo taken 2015) and showing several key features including the two wing bars, dark bill and light grey back

The two dove species (really pigeons as they’re bigger than turtle doves or collared doves) are difficult because in the UK we have a large population of feral pigeons: They’re everywhere in our towns and cities and they interbreed with true rock and stock doves, so there are lots of varieties! The probable stock dove was a very brief glimpse at Lynford Arboretum, based on a comment from another birder. I didn’t see the bird at all well and can’t clearly say it was a pure stock dove. Similarly the rock dove I saw at Cullen, which was on rocks on the coast with other obviously feral pigeons. I can’t be 100% sure it really was a rock dove. Hopefully I can see both of these species clearly later in the year.

The Slavonian grebe and a small flock of Taiga bean geese were both identifications based on the views of other birders there at the time. Although they were most likely correct I personally didn’t see specific identifying features on these particular birds, due (with the grebe) to distance or (with the geese) brevity. There are several other species this year that I have seen courtesy of other birders, but in these instances I was able to clearly see identifying marks and was completely happy that the birds were what I was recording them as!

So finally we come to yesterdays honey-buzzard. The fact of the matter is that the bird was very, very distant, and I could not tell the difference between it and a common buzzard on this occasion. Again it’s very likely that the presumably more experienced birders who identified it were correct in their identification, but I was unable to see anything that said specifically “honey-buzzard”.

And so I’ve decided to remove these five species from my 2023 list. Hopefully I should be able to see all of them at some other point in the year, but it means that I’m now down to 189 species and Brenda now has a (very slim!) chance of catching me up with flowers before I get to 200! Roll on Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve, which we’ll be visiting on our way up to Scotland: I am guaranteed at least four new species for the year there….

No new species for May 27th: