Monday 20 June 2016

A Rest so An Assessment of Monthly Bird Targets

Biking Birder Monthly targets

My Green BOU (British Ornithological Union) Year List is currently 256, which includes a heard only quail. Now to beat Ponc Feliu, who holds the European Green Year List record at the moment with 304, I need 49.,BOU,1,2016,0    

Now to non-birders this may seem a small number, especially when one considers that there is six months left. This is not the case. Other than a few British breeding birds and some birds only found in Scotland, that I will detail in a minute, the available birds in the coming months will be those incredible ones that are vagrants. These are rare birds in British terms that have got lost either by a process caused reverse migration or through the action of weather conditions that have forced them away from their normal migration route. 

Some of these birds, such as yellow-browed warblers, are virtually guaranteed if one is at a certain famous island during September and October. Despite originating from their summer breeding grounds in Siberia and migrating in the direction of in good years hundreds of these beautiful, small lost waifs end up in Britain.
Then there are the super rarities, the birds that are so rare that planes would be chartered by the fanatical few, the mega twitchers after a mega. An American magnolia warbler on a cliff face on Fair Isle was such a bird. A Cape May warbler on Unst, Shetland and the legendary golden-winged warbler in Maidstone, Kent are two others. 

The latter caused the biggest twitch ever to be seen in Britain when thousands of twitchers descended on a modern housing estate on the outskirts of the town trying to see the bird. It was chaos! The locals couldn't drive for the crush of birders. Buses couldn't get through.
I was there with birding friends a couple of days later after the initial rush. A freezing cold day, it took seven hours of searching with by now a much reduced crowd, yet still around a hundred or so. At one point we had retreated into the warmth of a large Tesco store's cafe only to have a birder rush in shouting “it's here!” Leaving our food we rushed out to find that it was a waxwing. Nice but not the mega bird.
We eventually saw this incredible small warbler on a cotoneaster bush that surrounded the door of a small town house. UTB. Under the belt and one that will probably remain a mega blocker to anyone who didn't see it. That is the chances of another one are extremely slim.
Actually, unknown to all birders there who had the golden-winged, there was nearby another American warbler, a common yellowthroat but the information on that was suppressed until it had gone.
Back to now, what follows are the details of the bird species that either are available or statistically will or may be available for me to cycle to and add to the year list.
This time last year I knew I wasn't going to beat 300 let alone beat Ponc. This year I am confident that the 300 figure will be beaten. All I have to do is keep pedalling.

I return to the road on Friday after having collected the bike from the cycle shop where major repairs are, hopefully, being carried out. If the bike is beyond repair then a new one will have to be bought. Whatever the outcome I will be heading for a woodland near Scarborough to try for honey buzzards.
There follows a long cycle to an area in Northumberland. I need to get here as fast as possible as there is a very rare Bonaparte's gull that has been seen for the last few weeks. I missed the Boney's available in Devon earlier in the year and obviously this boird would be a major addition to the list. Just up the coast from this bird there is a colony of roseate terns, a vary rare British breeder. My problem here is that they are on a small island offshore, Coquet Island, a RSPB reserve. I will need to see them from the opposite shore as I am not allowed to take a boat out to see them. No carbon in this case.
So for June, who's original target number of year ticks was five, I may end up seeing ten!

July Targets – Scotland (Mull and Cairngorms/Abernethy)

Ten birds

Black guillemot
Hooded crow
Rock dove
White-tailed eagle
Golden eagle
Crested tit
King eider

In 2010 I had the good fortune of seeing a Pacific golden plover during this month. Last year the unexpected bird was a spotted crake so maybe another surprise may occur . . or two.

August – Orkney (North Ronaldsay)

ten birds

Now we enter the world of the rare lost migrant excepting a few regular seabirds.

Storm petrel
Sooty shearwater
Icterine warbler

September – Fair Isle

ten birds

The return to Paradise. I adore Fair Isle. The people, the landscape and of course the birds. The perfect combination of magical elements that come together every Autumn with rarities in every wet ditch, amongst dry stone walls, clinging to vertiginous cliffs or in the hands of the supreme Bird Observatory staff after having been caught in a mist net or Heligoland trap.
Using old Fair Isle bird reports I have created a spreadsheet to not only see what birds have turned up in the last eleven years but also work out the chances of them being there this year. The statistics also give an average for the number of possible year ticks for this month. That figure stands at nineteen! The maximum number of year ticks for me would occur with a repeat of the birds of September 2006. That would have netted me twenty five year ticks, including yellow-breasted bunting and aquatic warbler.
September 2009 would only have given me twelve year ticks. This would still be more than my target number of ten though. Confidence is high.
Almost certainly the year ticks I will see include:

yellow-browed warbler
common rosefinch
barred warbler
little bunting
barnacle goose

There is also mealy redpoll and associated races. I will not be counting any I see.

Then there are the more than 50:50 birds:

pectoral sandpiper
citrine wagtail
red-breasted flycatcher
olive-backed pipit
barnacle goose and.....

lanceolated warbler.

Yes this amazing mega has occurred in six years out of eleven years.
As well as these there have actually been forty eight other bird species seen over these years. By the way, add twite to the list. There are good numbers of these on Fair Isle.

October – First week Shetland
  • rest of month, back to Fair Isle

ten birds

The Birding Clams are coming to Shetland for their annual birding fix. If the weather allows the Good Shepherd to sail back to South Shetland, I will go and see my best birding friends, Jason, Steve, Tony, Rob and Martin. Adam will be sorely missed but how wonderful that he will be concentrating on a wedding to the beautiful Nadia. All the very best to you both. My plan is really to stay around South Shetland but that might change if a mega turns up elsewhere. A lifer on Unst might tempt me to undertake the two to three day trek north; especially if The Fife Birding crew are there at that time.

Once The Birding Clams leave then it is back to Fair isle for the rest of the month.
Once again I have done a spreadsheet of possible birds and probabilities for the month. Without omitting the most likely September year ticks, there is an average of eighteen year ticks over the years. The same most likely birds as the previous month dominate the table, adding little auk and waxwing later in the month which both have a more than 50:50 chance of occurring. As well as the top thirteen there are another eighteen bird species that have turned up. These include good chances for Siberian rubythroat, short-toed lark, white's thrush and arctic redpoll. Now wouldn't a tame 'snowball, Hornemann's arctic redpoll be great?

November – Scotland

five birds

Target bird, bean goose, should be a gimme with flocks around the Falkirk area, especially the RSPB reserve at Fannyside. With by now hopefully less than ten birds required to reach 300, the task will be to get to any birds available. Snow goose? Blue-winged teal or ring-necked duck somewhere; I do hope so.

December – Who knows? Back in England and back towards The Midlands, eventually.

five birds

I have already had some of the major Winter birds; shore lark and rough-legged buzzard for instance. If the pallid harrier returns to Norfolk I might head that way. So whatever I need I will go for.

Finally, just to wet my appetite for the rest of the year, here is a list of the best rarities from last year that I haven't seen yet this year. Some probably will be listed before the end. Some it would be miraculous if I saw them again. Chestnut bunting!

arctic warbler
Red-flanked bluetail
Blyth's reed warbler
Chestnut bunting
citril finch
Radde's warbler
Citrine wagtail
subalpine warbler moltoni
Eastern subalpine warbler
King eider
Lanceolated warbler
laughing gull
Siberian rubythroat
Little bunting
night heron
Ortolan bunting
Pallas' grasshopper warbler
Pallid Harrier


  1. Very interesting to read what you hope to see and where. Good luck.
    Had 2 year ticks myself today, but nowhere near your so far total.

  2. What is the difference between the boat at the roseate terns and the boat to fair isle when it comes to carbon? No accusation, just want to hear your thoughts. Good luck with the rest of the yesr.

  3. To me it is a question of whether the boat is timetabled or not. Pretty lame but I see a ferry as a way to get to the islands that would give me a chance of reaching the magic 300. To catch a pleasure boat, like out to Coquest or the Farnes would be like catching a train or driving to a bird. Recently Paul French said that I may be able to reach 300 by going around the Scottish mainland for the birds I need there and then returning to Spurn for the Autumn migration. More carbon-friendly I admit and to be totally Green a better alternative. So the difference between timetabled ferry and a pleasure boat is subtle but important. On the excellent Green Birding records website I am listed with a big 'F' after my name. Ponc Feliu, the current European record holder has a large 'G' ... gas free. I wish my letter was the latter but I use a few ferries. Last year my excuse was that I couldn't get to all of the RSPB reserves without the use of ferries. This year I have no excuse. A perfect carbon-free GREEN route would not include those fabulous islands. This gives the chance to someone to do a perfect year after I have retired. Thanks for asking Kristoff.


BB 2010 Oops, crash and a motorway Abominable Snowman in Hemel Hempstead January 5th

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