Tuesday 30 December 2014

2014 Self-finding Annual Awards

‘’He’s so excited, he’s like a coked-up Meerkat on an electric fence.’’

Thus spoke James Nesbitt (below), in character as Police Commissioner Richard Miller, from Channel 4’s dark, dark, realistic but dark comedy, Babylon, when presenting the First Prize in the 2014 SFYL Challenge - a unique pot, kindly sponsored by Armitage Shanks - to this year’s winner, Mr Stephen Captain Blain.

The awards were held at Travelodge Marston Moretaine, in front of a boisterous audience of between eight and nine people - who had mistakenly attended - and Stephen Northwood, a vagrant, who wandered in because he couldn’t remember where he’d left his bike.

Accepting the award, Mr Blain commented ‘’Thank you James, I am truly honoured to have beaten my less than prestigious... or should that be prodigious?...opposition this year, and picking up this award.’’

He continued, ‘’some time during early-April next year, I am planning to pay a gang of Albanians to track down my fellow competitors, kidnap them all, then strip them naked, nail their bollocks to a wall, and spin them round continuously – sort of like human Catherine Wheels, if you like - until Spring passage finishes in June. ‘’ That’ll put paid to any thoughts they have of bagging a spawny southern overshoot. The bastards’’

Amongst the audience of A-list and 1st-division birders, was Leonard Godiva Rasputin Heavens, Chief Executive Listmaster of the UK Flying Objects Association.  He declared ‘’Steve has been chiefly responsible for me having recorded 183 species in the English County of Bedfordshire during 2014, including Eurasian Western Pink-legged Reed Warbler, which has now been admitted to the UK400 Official List as a full species, after thorough consultation with my elite committee of easily-swayed and impressionable young birders who are desperate for new UK ticks and half-pints of snakebite.’’ ''Personally, all I found this year was a rather damp copy of Penthouse in a layby at Brogborough and a shivering, hyperthermic Andy Grimsey at Pegsdon Hills.''

Also present was Martin Palmer - veteran local birder and self-findist - who lives in a hobbit hole on the edge of Stewartby Lake. Trimming his beard with the sharpened offshoot from a nearby willow, he said ‘’I have known Steve since we was six, and he fully deserves the recognition we won’t be giving him.’’ He continued, ‘’but we’ll see how big his balls are when a tricky 2cy Baltic Gull turns up at dusk on a damp February evening from my veg patch.’’

Also present was José Mourinho, Honorary President of the Bedfordshire Self-finding Committee. He belicosed ‘’for me, Steve has demonstrated the qualities I like in my players: big character, big ambition, big list, big cahunas. He reminds me a bit of John Terry, but unlike JT, he possesses high-end optics and and an i-Phone and lacks John’s blood-soaked head bandage and extra-marital affairs. If he wants to up his game another notch and be considered one of the all-time greats, he will have to acquire a serious head injury and start knocking off at least one of his competitors’ wives during 2015.’’

Richard Bashford, who came outside the top three for the first time since 1973, graciously observed to a transfixed crowd - ‘’I have enjoyed some truly memorable birding moments with Steve this year ‘’Lapwing at Broom, Dunlin at Broom, Chicken Sandwich at Sainsbury’s – the banter has been incredible. Ideally, I would like to relate to you some of the many anecdotes and bloke-moments that have passed between us, but unfortunately, half of it isn’t fit to repeat...and the other half isn’t fit to think.’’

John Lynch - a man of few words, but great deeds - from Grovebury Sand Castle, near Leighton Buzzard, rounded off the evening, and brought the house down with his closing comment - ‘’finding the Barred Warbler at Blows was definitely, definitely, my Ulrika moment. ‘’ he Freudian-slipped.

Sunday 28 December 2014

Best find, worse dip

As it's almost the end of the year I thought I'd post my best find of the year and my worst miss. I hope others will follow suit with theirs.

I might start with my worst dip as it seems easier! That would be Peregrine. I've seen plenty during the year but they are all the 'usual' resident birds. I just didn't manage to bump in to one unexpectedly while out birding. That said, this year I've done a lot more birding in the Ivel Valley which does poorly for Peregrines generally so perhaps not that surprising.

Now on to the good stuff! 'Best find' is a bit personal. If you're talking rarest then it has to go to the Great Skua which flew over Richard and I as we were off to Broggy to see Barry Nightingales bird. It being a county tick for both of us too made it quite special. However from my perspective it wasn't that memorable as I really only got views of it flying away from me as I was driving as it flew over the car and I was trying desperately not to drive in to the Ivel!

The two Lap Bunts should also get a mention in here, but I only really saw then as silhouettes as they went over calling. A bit unsatisfactory, and there weren't even a find tick, unlike the Skua!

Below the rarest there is a selection of birds which I really love seeing, and finding them locally is even better.  These included the juv Caspian Gull at Broom which stayed around for a couple of days and enabled a few other birders to catch up with it. A tricky plumage to id a Caspo in so that was very satisfying to pull of of the Broom roost towards the end of the summer.

Another 'species' I've had a little crush on this past year or so is Siberian Chiffchaffs. Wintering Chiffs in general are probably under recorded and these colder looking birds are probably further still under recorded amongst them. Since October 2013 I've found at least four of these birds locally but each of them have been interesting in their own right. It's clear there is much still to uncover about these birds and there is opportunity for everyone to contribute to our understanding. So if you see a chif in winter, just take a second look at it, just in case.

I have four other species on my list: Ring Ouzel, Firecrest, Tree Sarrow, and Hawfinch.  All these provided a good dose of enjoyment or surprise for different reasons.  Two of them were satisfying as I found them while actually looking for them: Firecrest at The Lodge and Tree Sparrow at Upper Caldecote.  The other two were complete surprises as they flew over. The Rozel went over chuckling with a load of Fieldfares while Darren and I were looking for the Lap Bunts at Warden Hill, and the Hawfinch went over as I was crossing the car park at The Lodge on my way for a pee! It pays to keep your ears open.

Thursday 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas

Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas and a healthy new year


Wednesday 3 December 2014

Nearly all over!

With just a short time to the end of the 2014 competition, things are looking fairly certain for another Steve Blain win.  Darren Oakley-Martin clearly deserves to win as most of his ticks he walked to.  Andy Grimsey really has got the hang of this birding thing and is a strong third place at this time.  John Lynch has achieved his total by virtually hammering one site - Grovebury.  Myself...well, hopeless.  Missing some easy birds in the spring really has put me out of the race, despite finding a few scarce species.  Martin too has found some significant birds and would surely add to his tally if he birded the brick pits as much as Andy has or as much as Steve covers Broom.  Roger and Matt, largely specializing in Broom birds only have fine totals for such a small area.

Martin saw a Sawbill

One more for MJP's SFLY.