Sunday 22 December 2013

Limbering up

Ten days to go till the 2014 Patchwork Challenge starts, so I thought I'd spend a few hours at Eyebrook this afternoon to get a bit of practice in. The drake Velvet Scoter was still off the dam, although I didn't bother walking down to see it as there were no less than nine cars parked by the gate. Hopefully it will stay till the start of the year to get on everyone's year list and then piss off, so I can have the place to myself again! Also, the female Ring-necked Duck put in a surprise re-appearance today, having been last seen on 10th November. It was in exactly the same place as before, just south-west of the island. Interestingly, the pale band on the bill looks more obvious now, lending weight to my theory that it was a juvenile/1st-winter when it first turned up in October.

Other bits and pieces included a Barn Owl flying across the reservoir towards Stoke Dry at 13:25 - I was initially puzzled as to why this was flying around at that time of day, until two cretins came into view, walking along the reservoir side of the hedge and flushing everything. I didn't shout at them, partly because the bloke looked a bit hard, but also because without them I wouldn't have seen the Barn Owl! Also of interest were an adult Caspian Gull (as far as I could tell - everything I could see on it looked good) and a female Mandarin off the island, and a Kingfisher and a Lesser Redpoll at the inflow.

I'm really looking forward to the challenge - I think Eyebrook will have a good year next year; there are certainly plenty of birds there at the moment, anyway.

The other notable sighting of the day was an out-of-range Wanstead birder and friends, on their way back from the Yorkshire Ivory Gull - hopefully they had decent views of the scoter, although it looked from a distance as if it might not have been quite as close to the dam today as it sometimes is.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Just Say No!

I think I was vaguely aware from a Facebook post a while back that there was a Washington Post article about British twitching in the offing, but had forgotten all about it until I was alerted to it on Twitter this morning. So I had a look.

The article gets off to a bad start, as far as I’m concerned, with the title: “In Britain, bird-watching gone wild”... obviously going for the sensationalist angle here. But let’s not judge an article by its title, eh?

OK, first paragraph – a classic piece of journalistic ornithological misunderstanding: “A shorelark... took a wrong turn somewhere over Norway...” Yes, here we go, it’s going to be one of those articles. Let’s see now, Garry Bagnell – check. Lee Evans – check. Adrian Webb – check. “Judge, jury and executioner” – check. Actually, do I need to read any more of the article? I’ve seen all of this tedious ‘churnalism’ about twitching many, many times before in the British media. It’s almost as if the big egos of British twitching have finally realised that they can’t get away with this sort of thing in the UK press any more, so have decided to foist all their nonsense on an unsuspecting American public instead.

And then there are the usual wild and self-aggrandising exaggerations from El Presidente: “Over the years, Evans has wracked up big legal bills defending himself against allegations of slander for allegedly undercounting the tallies of rivals and questioning whether they’ve actually seen all the birds they claim”. Really? Care to give some evidence for that? Because I’ll wager whatever you like that he’s never spent a single penny in any legal action, ever. And, while we’re about it, shouldn’t it be ‘racked’, rather than ‘wracked’?

Why does this wind me up so much? As I seem to say with monotonous regularity, I’m not a twitcher, so why should I care if twitchers are constantly portrayed in the media as egotistical nutjobs? The reason is very simple. Because ‘the general public’ (broad brush, but you know what I mean) does not differentiate between ‘twitchers’ and ‘birdwatchers’, and is easily led to believe that ALL birdwatchers are like this. You only have to look at the comments that always appear on this type of article to realise that (as previously satirised on this blog here).

And I worry that in turn this feeds back into general public apathy, or even antipathy towards birds, wildlife and conservation in general. So these sensationalist tabloid articles do us all (and ultimately the birds themselves) a huge disservice. I don’t really expect anyone to take any notice of anything I say, but to any twitchers – if a journalist asks you for an interview or comments for any article about twitching, please, for all our sakes, just say no!!

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Killed by the Internet?

My first reaction to the news yesterday that the next issue of Birding World would be the last was to feel slightly guilty that I stopped subscribing to it years ago. But since that was because I could no longer financially justify subscribing to any bird magazines, that didn’t last long. It was mainly a twitchers’ magazine, after all, and I’m not a twitcher, so there’s no real reason why I should buy it. If I could afford to, I would no doubt still subscribe – the rarity finders’ accounts were always interesting (although I’ve never found anything rare enough to write one, sadly!), as were the identification articles.

The announcement seemed to take everyone by surprise, but when you think about it, it’s perhaps not that surprising really. We’re constantly being told that the days of print media are numbered, and more and more publications are bringing out digital editions alongside their print versions. The obvious conclusion is that the availability of instant news and photos of rarities on the Internet, coupled with the recent long recession, has meant that not enough people are willing to pay for it, which in turn leads to a drop in advertising revenue. The costs involved in printing and distributing a monthly magazine must be huge, and presumably it’s just not viable any more.

In which case, why not switch to a digital version? That would do away with all the costs of printing and distribution, and most current subscribers would probably be prepared to pay almost as much for a digital edition. Surely they must have considered this though, so there might be other factors involved which we don’t know about. Someone suggested that perhaps they’d made enough money over the years from the various activities of the Bird Information Service to retire, but somehow I doubt it! However, they can’t really complain – they had a pretty good run, and with no real competition (as providers of bird news) for several years at the start.

Were there just too many bird magazines in the marketplace? Maybe. I’ve always thought that the ‘bird news’ element of the monthly bird magazines is greatly overplayed. With the exception of British Birds, who stopped trying to compete a long time ago, they all do it, it’s all the same, and these days most people have seen most of it already on the Internet anyway! The reason they do it is because it fills a few pages without too much effort, which is fair enough, but when you have several magazines doing exactly the same thing every month, eventually something has to give. And it has to be said that sometimes there didn’t seem to be much to some issues of Birding World apart from news and photos.

One final thought, which particularly saddens me – Birding World was the last UK bird magazine to feature the work of bird artists on its covers. Right from the start when it was called Twitching, it was art all the way. Yes, I’m totally biased, but I never understood why BB and the RSPB’s Birds magazine stopped using artwork on their covers – bird photos are everywhere, and more so than ever these days when every Tom, Dick and Harry has a digital camera. It would be great if one of the remaining bird magazines could give us a break from the constant diet of photos and use artwork on the cover instead. Please?

Thursday 5 December 2013

Patchwork Challenge 2014 – Eyebrook Res

This is my patch area for the 2014 Patchwork Challenge:

The 3km2 limit allows me to include all of the reservoir, plus about 100 yards into the fields beyond the perimeter road. Note the extension at the north-west corner to take in the ‘Little Owl tree’! A few photos of the reservoir:

Often thought of these days as the poor relation to nearby Rutland Water, Eyebrook was of course Leicestershire & Rutland’s premier birding site until the late 70s, and still has the potential to turn up good birds. This October I found a Gannet and a Ring-necked Duck there on consecutive days, and the same weekend there was a Yellow-browed Warbler in the plantation as well. Given a bit of luck I think somewhere around 150 species should be possible in a year.

A quick run through of some of the site’s past glories gives an idea of the potential: Blue-winged Teal, Squacco Heron, Black-winged Pratincole, Killdeer, Kentish Plover, American Golden Plover, Baird’s Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Pomarine Skua, Whiskered Tern, Caspian Tern, Puffin (!), Shore Lark and Citrine Wagtail, as well as many ‘lesser’ county rarities.

It’s also relatively underwatched compared to its larger neighbour – there are often no other birders there when I go, so the chances of finding the good birds are high. It takes a bit of effort to cover Eyebrook properly, and I must admit I’m frequently guilty of giving it just a cursory look on the way to or from Rutland Water. On the plus side, though, you can watch the inflow end from the car if the weather’s really horrible!

Finally (for now), here’s a selection of particularly poor record shots of a few Eyebrook birds I’ve seen over the years: