Musings on a Life Checklist


Would you realize a Firewood Gatherer if it landed in entrance of your binoculars? Or, come to that, a Better Thornbird or a Buff-bellied Flowerpecker? To be trustworthy, 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 properly keep in mind all three of my encounters with Shoebills. (My Shoebill images, by the way, had 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 chicken).

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

Like most of us who watch birds, I get pleasure from itemizing. It began a few years in the past, when for my ninth birthday I acquired my first copy of Peterson’s Subject 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 certainly one of my first good birds, seen roosting in my neighbours’ backyard), however the checklist bought its first main enhance that summer time once I spent three weeks touring Europe with my dad and mom. I can keep in mind puzzling arduous over the buzzard plate. Had I seen a Honey Buzzard, or was it only a Widespread Buzzard? The distribution map confirmed that each birds had been a chance, however Peterson’s illustration didn’t make it simple to inform them aside, as their form was proven to be nearly similar (it’s not!), and their markings didn’t appear that completely different, both.

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

By the point I used to be 17 I had worn out that duplicate of the Subject Information, so I gave it away to a younger buddy, Gerry, as I had simply acquired a more moderen version. Earlier this 12 months I met up with Gerry once more after 50 years and he returned my previous e book – it introduced again many comfortable 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 scorching spot) or to Greece for my birdwatching vacation? Greece received, as I used to be a lot keener to construct my European checklist quite than add just a few rarities to my non-existent British checklist. Consequently I’ve by no means bothered with a British checklist and have by no means accomplished a lot in the way in which of twitching.

Throughout the 70s my checklist grew slowly however certainly due to European holidays, however in 1978 it acquired its first main enhance with a vacation in California. I can nonetheless recall the joys of that first morning outdoors 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, had been members of households I hadn’t encountered earlier than, both. Unbelievable!

A correct guidelines was now wanted, so I acquired a duplicate 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 chicken race in Kenya, the place I noticed 290 species in someday, 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 get pleasure from going again to locations the place I may determine the birds myself, with out being informed what they had 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 occasions, 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 critical birding journey, and so they had been bitten by the bug. By the point Sandra died, she was (I imagine) 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, after all, is what a world lifelist is all about. It has little to do with birding expertise, 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 price me a fortune, however for many critical listers their whole is just a mirrored image of the depth of their pocket. 

A great old school Herring Gull
Seems comparable, however this one’s a Yellow-legged gull
And that is an Armenian Gull, a latest break up from the Herring Gull group

In case you’re a eager lister, then it’s important to observe all the newest taxonomic adjustments. Once I began itemizing, the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) was an all-embracing species, together with the yellow-legged Mediterranean race michahellis. At present 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 break up from its European cousin and has turn into L.smithsonianus. That’s 5 ticks as a substitute of only one – nice information for listers.

A Caspian Gull, one other break up from Herring Gull

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

Pink Grouse in North Yorkshire, an excellent 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 had been easy taxonomic splits from earlier journeys. Then when birds do get break up, there’s the dilemma of understanding if you first noticed one or different of the break up. For instance, I noticed my first wild Bean Geese in 1974, however had 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 quite than serrirostris. All very complicated.

Taiga Bean Geese with Better Whitefronts in Estonia. Most taxonomists now break 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 accomplished only one, and gone as a substitute to Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Japan, China and New Guinea, it could virtually definitely have handed the 6,000 mark. However I’m not complaining, as I can keep in mind a lot of the birds on the checklist. OK, not all of them, however at the very least 2,500 of them. As for the splendidly named Firewood Collect, properly, 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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