Musings on a Life Listing

Would you understand a Firewood Gatherer if it landed in entrance of your binoculars? Or, come to that, a Larger Thornbird or a Buff-bellied Flowerpecker? To be sincere, I wouldn’t be too assured of figuring out any of this trio, both, although all three characteristic on my world lifelist. In distinction, I effectively bear in mind all three of my encounters with Shoebills. (My Shoebill images, by the way, have been digiscoped from a small boat, so that they’re not as sharp as they may very well be, however they’re nice reminders of an encounter with a rare chook).

Tawny Owl, one of many first birds I bear in mind seeing (on the age of 5)

Like most of us who watch birds, I take pleasure in itemizing. It began a few years in the past, when for my ninth birthday I obtained my first copy of Peterson’s Discipline Information to the Birds of Britain and Europe (third revised version, 1958). Within the entrance was the primary guidelines I’d ever seen: it featured all of the birds of Europe, and inside days I used to be ticking away merrily. There weren’t too many ticks to start with (Tawny Owl was one in every of my first good birds, seen roosting in my neighbours’ backyard), however the checklist acquired its first main enhance that summer time once I spent three weeks touring Europe with my dad and mom. I can bear in mind puzzling laborious over the buzzard plate. Had I seen a Honey Buzzard, or was it only a Widespread Buzzard? The distribution map confirmed that each birds have been a risk, however Peterson’s illustration didn’t make it simple to inform them aside, as their form was proven to be just about equivalent (it’s not!), and their markings didn’t appear that totally different, both.

Honey Buzzards are fairly totally different in form and jizz than Widespread Buzzards, hovering on flat wings,however the early discipline guides didn’t notice this

By the point I used to be 17 I had worn out that replicate of the Discipline Information, so I gave it away to a younger pal, Gerry, as I had simply acquired a newer version. Earlier this yr I met up with Gerry once more after 50 years and he returned my outdated e-book – it introduced again many blissful reminiscences.

In September 1971 my birding profession got here to its first (and final) main crossroads. Ought to I’m going to the Scilly Isles (in autumn Britain’s rarity sizzling spot) or to Greece for my birdwatching vacation? Greece received, as I used to be a lot keener to construct my European checklist fairly than add a couple of rarities to my non-existent British checklist. Because of this I’ve by no means bothered with a British checklist and have by no means performed a lot in the way in which of twitching.

In the course of the 70s my checklist grew slowly however certainly due to European holidays, however in 1978 it obtained its first main enhance with a vacation in California. I can nonetheless recall the joys of that first morning exterior San Francisco, surrounded by new birds. I noticed 42 lifers that day, starting from Northern Mockingbird to Anna’s Hummingbird. A number of, just like the mocker and the hummer, have been members of households I hadn’t encountered earlier than, both. Improbable!

A correct guidelines was now wanted, so I acquired a replica of Clements’s guidelines Birds of the World, which was to be my base for the subsequent decade. It was a busy one, with birding journeys not solely to Europe, but additionally Central America, East, West and Southern Africa, South-East Asia and Australia. It was throughout this era that I took half in a chook race in Kenya, the place I noticed 290 species in in the future, 442 in two. Thus in 48 hours I’d seen extra species of birds than most individuals see in a lifetime in Britain.

By the 90s I hadn’t misplaced my urge for food for seeing new birds, however I did take pleasure in going again to locations the place I might establish the birds myself, with out being instructed what they have been. Although journeys to Borneo, Argentina and Sri Lanka gave loads of new ticks, I most loved birding in Africa. I’ve been there over 20 instances, and it stays my favorite vacation spot, although India is a detailed rival.

Within the early 80s I led a visit to South Africa once we noticed greater than 400 species. For 2 of my group – Michael Lambarth and Sandra Fisher – this was their first severe birding journey, and so they have been bitten by the bug. By the point Sandra died, she was (I consider) the world’s second highest feminine lister, whereas Michael was up there within the high ten. No, they weren’t expert birders, however they did have the time and the cash wanted to journey the world and rent the most effective guides. This, in fact, is what a world lifelist is all about. It has little to do with birding abilities, however is principally about alternative and cash. I’ve been fortunate, as I’ve led excursions all around the world so my checklist hasn’t value me a fortune, however for many severe listers their complete is solely a mirrored image of the depth of their pocket. 

old style Herring Gull
Appears to be like related, however this one’s a Yellow-legged gull
And that is an Armenian Gull, a latest cut up from the Herring Gull group

In the event you’re a eager lister, then it’s important to comply with all the newest taxonomic modifications. Once I began itemizing, the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) was an all-embracing species, together with the yellow-legged Mediterranean race michahellis. Right now the latter enjoys full particular standing, together with Armenian Gull (L.armenicus) and Caspian Gull (L.cachinnas), two birds we’d by no means even heard of fifty years in the past. The American Herring Gull has additionally been cut up from its European cousin and has grow to be L.smithsonianus. That’s 5 ticks as a substitute of only one – nice information for listers.

A Caspian Gull, one other cut up from Herring Gull

If there’s one chook that certainly deserves to be cut up it’s the Pink Grouse, which a few years in the past was lumped with the rather more widespread Willow Grouse. The Pink Grouse is endemic to the British Isles, and differs from the Willow Grouse in a lot of methods, corresponding to not having white wings and never turning white in winter. Right here I’ve made my very own taxonomic determination and cut up it, hopefully anticipating what the taxonomists are prone to do in the future. As I’ve seen Willow Grouse in addition to Pink Grouse it does give me an additional tick, however you would possibly regard that as dishonest. I don’t care, although, because it’s my checklist, and I make up the principles.

Pink Grouse in North Yorkshire, a very good tick?

Once I went to Kenya in 2001 it was my first go to for eight years and most of my new birds from that journey have been easy taxonomic splits from earlier journeys. Then when birds do get cut up, there’s the dilemma of figuring out whenever you first noticed one or different of the cut up. For instance, I noticed my first wild Bean Geese in 1974, however have been they rossicus or fabalis? I haven’t a clue. The taxonomic reference e-book I now use is All of the Birds of the World (Lynx), which splits the Bean Goose into two species: Taiga stays as Anser fabalis however the Tundra Bean Goose is now Anser serrirostris, (not rossicus). By the way, the Collins Fowl Information nonetheless lumps them, and continues to make use of rossicus fairly than serrirostris. All very complicated.

Taiga Bean Geese with Larger Whitefronts in Estonia. Most taxonomists now cut up the Bean Goose into two species, Taiga and Tundra

My lifelist is now round 4,000 species, however it’s a while since I final up to date it or bothered so as to add it up, a job for lengthy winter nights. If, as a substitute of seven journeys to Kenya, I’d performed only one, and gone as a substitute to Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Japan, China and New Guinea, it will virtually definitely have handed the 6,000 mark. However I’m not complaining, as I can bear in mind many of the birds on the checklist. OK, not all of them, however a minimum of 2,500 of them. As for the splendidly named Firewood Collect, effectively, I can’t recall something about it in any respect, however my lifelist tells me that I noticed it in Argentina in November 1994.

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