Friday, 25 April 2014

A glass half full

Well, it's been quite a week. Finding but failing to identify a rare bird has always been one of my worst nightmares - reputations being so fragile and all that, and the birding community seeming a bit unforgiving at times. But now it's happened, it's turned out to be, well, a pretty positive experience. In fact, as I write there is still a warmish glow which can't just be put down to the half-empty bottle of Badger in front of me.

Slightly eclipsed by the Northern Harrier on Monday, this smart but shy Garden Warbler was singing from deep cover by Portland Obs
Even I got this one: shorter hindclaw, pink base to a stouter bill, bold streaks fading to fine on the flanks and contrast between buffy breast and white belly makes this a Tree Pipit, not a Meadow. And it was in a tree. A hint of the light spot/dark spot face pattern of an OBP. Oh God, please don't tell me it is an OBP....
Finding a Northern Harrier on Monday (but not clocking its true identity - take a bow, Martin Cade) might not have done much for my reputation as a crack birder but it seems to have brought my scribblings via this medium to the attention of a wider audience. Some really generous comments on my finder's account - so a big thank you to all who made them. If you enjoyed that, scroll back far enough and you'll hopefully find more of the same, though admittedly in my posts the rare bird is usually gone by the time I arrive, and generally not found by me. Unless it's dead.
Willow Warbler was the most common migrant on Portland on Monday. Pale legs help differentiate it from Chiffchaff. Hmmm, Pale-legged and a Warbler. On a Leaf. Nope, it's not ringing any bells.
This Sparrowhawk was taking advantage of the influx of migrants on Barleycrates Lane on Monday. Those shins look rather sharp though, don't they...
Just when the interest seemed to have peaked, Birdguides pronounced the Northern Harrier the 'Bird of the Week' on Wednesday, producing another spike in the blog stats, the graph for which currently looks like a screenshot from a heart monitor on Casualty. Being the glass half-empty sort I was initially disappointed at not identifying the Harrier myself, but the level of interest has made me realise I was lucky to have anything to do with it at all, and that a share in the credit is more than enough, especially given the good company I get to share it with. I also started to wonder aloud what sort of photos I might have got five minutes earlier when I would have been on the cliff edge as it passed close by. Jol Mitchell, a glass half-full man (Arsenal fan, he has to be) pointed out that five minutes later and I would have seen nothing, which is a much better way to look at it.
So how come Steve Smith gets to find nice easy ones to identify like this Hoopoe? Photographed at Greenlands Farm, 24th April.
Ooh, ooh, I know this one: Linnet, Barleycrates Lane
Two things brought me back down to earth with a bump though. First was going back to work on Tuesday, not least because nobody had any inkling of just what a big deal it was for me. Actually that's not quite true - my colleague the excellent Dr Phil Sterling - whose book on micros will almost certainly be on the shelves of any moth aficionados out there - sort of understood. Though being an expert he's usually the one tutting at the schoolboy error made by some chump misidentifying something, so I'm not sure he could really relate. Second was the heated debate which kicked off in our local internet birding forum about art on nature reserves, which generated infinitely more comment than my potential County first. To paraphrase the fuse-lighter on that one, what the flip?

Black-eared Northern Wheatear, Greenlands Farm. Well it has got a black ear.
Yellow Wagtail, Greenlands Farm. Which sub-species? I think we've established that's not really my forte, don't you?
Anyway, having strung stretched the whole business out over two posts now, I am conscious of the risk of gripping the assiduous locals who put in the hours and would have been far more deserving finders of a Northern Harrier than yours truly. So I'll try to make sure this post is the last time I mention it, at least until the 'Review of the Year' comes along anyway.
After the excitement of Monday morning on Portland, it was off to Studland with the family for the afternoon. Even they enjoy seeing the local Ring-necked Parakeets, though this one was well camouflaged.
No identification conundrums here.
For the last word on the subject though, of particular interest to me was the number of people who said they liked the candour in my last post. Honesty is definitely in my top 10 list of virtues (see Bubo for the full list), so that was much appreciated. I'm pretty sure there is more doubt out there than people are prepared to let on sometimes, so if my freely admitting to not knowing something makes it easier for others to do so, then my work here is done. Hang on though: I described myself variously as clueless/halfwitted/etc so perhaps 'honest' wasn't a such complement after all...There I go again, glass half-empty. Better go and top it up again. Cheers!

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