Wednesday 29 December 2010

Farmland Birding over Christmas – Brambling-tastic!

With only two posts in the last six weeks, it’s about time I got this blog going again! Suzanne and I had been planning to spend Christmas in the States, Texas to be precise, but thanks to BAA’s utter incompetence we ended up in north-east Wales instead. No disrespect to Suzanne’s side of the family – we had an absolutely fantastic time, getting some proper rest and relaxation – but it was something of a disappointment given our expectations.

Although overnight temperatures were dropping to around –18 Celsius, I did get out for a little bit of birding here and there. The highlight was a few hours spent at Venus Pool, near Shrewsbury, where I witnessed a huge flock of finches, sparrows and buntings on a couple of winter cover crops (maybe quinoa?). The number of Brambling was certainly the highest I’ve seen in one place – 500 is a very conservative count. This photo illustrates just a tiny portion of the flock:

brambling_flock With Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch mixed in, plus at least 100 Yellowhammer and a few Tree Sparrows thrown in for good measure, I reckoned there were getting on for 1500 passerines swirling around. Hardly a surprise that two Sparrowhawks were in close attendance, then. In the cold weather, some of the birds posed fairly well for photos, although a bit of winter sunshine would have made all the difference.

brambling_female tree_sparrowbrambling_male

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Year-listing, American Style

I’ve just been researching a forthcoming trip to the States, and got side-tracked onto a couple of American year-listers’ blogs while I was reading up on recent news. If you thought that year-listing in the UK was bonkers, well, you aint seen nothin’ yet! Here’s some facts to set the scene…

The British List is currently 588. Seeing 300 in a year in the UK is not difficult; 330 represents a concerted effort; 350 is excellent, and any more is really pushing it. The distance from Lands End to John o’ Groats is 874 miles by road, plus about 25 miles to Scilly, and about 100 to the top of Unst. Call it 1000 miles end to end.

By contrast, America is somewhat larger, and has rather a lot of birds. Miami (Florida) to Seattle (Washington) is getting on for 3500 miles. If you then travel from there to Gambell, in the far NW of Alaska, you can add on another couple of thousand miles. The all-time ABA list (which includes Canada as well) is 957 species.

So, you might imagine that year listing is a rather different ball game over the other side of the pond. You’d be right.

Meet Chris Hitt, owner of He’s sensible enough not to be including Alaska or Canada in his year list… but then when you look at the map of his travels at the top of the blog, that’s some pretty scary airmiles! He’s just passed 700 species in the Lower 48 – apparently the first time anyone’s done this.

And then there’s Robert Ake, with this blog: He has been up to Alaska, more than once this year, but that’s not enough, so he’s popped into Canada once or twice as well. He has amassed 730 birds, which is the second highest ABA total ever.

Browsing through the blog archives, some of the travelling and the associated stories are incredible – take a look!