Wednesday, 1 January 2014


After the bang… the whimper of wind and dull percussion of rain. I peak behind the curtains and see grey and roll over. An hour later I’m at the local park being cold spin-washed by the weather, with added hail. The path is a quagmire. Beside me a steady stream of neon-clothed cross-country runners splash past. I am sober and with not even the slightest hint of a hangover. I look up as the eleventh species of the day – a parakeet – flies overhead, all dark against the sky.

I slip my welly off to shake out the dried old mud digging into my sock. 11 pence falls into a puddle instead. In the bush to my left a Blackbird cocks its head at me, quizzically (or so it seemed) before flitting into cover.

New year, new list.

I haven’t listed since I was a teenager, when it was a useful method of working out which of the three or four other teenage birders I talked to were ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than me. I realised the absurdity of this soon enough. I didn’t like the idea of being able to distil the richness of my birding experiences into a spreadsheet of seen and unseen. I didn’t like the way it compelled me to have a hit list of species I shamefully hadn’t seen; or gave me a number with which to judge myself with - and find myself wanting. Giving up the list was one of the best things I have ever done as a birder. Among the other best things: Lepidoptera, Odonata, Orthoptera, etc. Entomology filled in the gaps and gave me new horizons.

And this is where listing reappears. Last year the birders of Wormwood Scrubs cumulatively reached 98 species of birds for the year, a phenomenal achievement for a London park with no standing water and a skyline including the Shard and the London Eye. In the process they turned up such birds as a Common Rosefinch and a Short-eared Owl. I dipped the Rosefinch in the pissing rain on my first visit. It’s still a species I haven’t seen. The Scrubs is in the odd position then of having a proven track record of turning up good birds, but also great potential for turning up more in the most unexpected of ways. I was amazed by the snipe I saw here, I can’t imagine what I’d do if I saw that Short-eared Owl here, let alone that Rosefinch.

But that’s not quite good enough to sustain through the long summer months, of getting up at 6am and traversing it before work. So I plan to do a pan-species yearlist. At the moment it seems to be the perfect motivator, to get out and around the Scrubs and to carry on broadening my entomological knowledge, and those of other taxas. I might not be saying that come September, but we’ll see. My list at the moment is fourteen and I see no rush. At the start of January a year seems a very long time indeed.

1: Starling
2: Feral Pigeon
3: Black-headed Gull
4: Homo sapiens*
5: Canis lupus familiaris**
6: Common Gull
7: Carrion Crow
8: Magpie
9: Blue Tit
10: Long-tailed Tit
11: Ring-necked Parakeet
12: Blackbird
13 Grey Squirrel

*Mark Telfer, aka Mr Panlist, says I can.
** And the rules allow you alien species whose existence is entirely reliant on humans.

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