Thursday 24 January 2013

Challenging behaviour

As if life-listing, year-listing etc weren't enough, birders have been signing up to various web-based challenges for the New Year - the best known being Foot-it and the Patchwork Challenge. Where I work, 'challenge' is a well known euphemism for 'pain in the butt'. This may explain why the former requires you to forsake the comfort of covered transport to trudge around in the cold earning your birds, and the latter to resist the temptation of distant and exotic rarities in pursuit of patch trash. I jest, of course, it's all good stuff to keep folk out of their cars and birding locally, though a bit worrying that some of us have to be goaded into walking by the promise of sticking it to our mates in a competition.

Blackbird in my tiny garden could have been bird #1 on the Foot-it list. If only...
Being disorganised and lacking competitive spirit, I didn't get my scat together to sign up for either. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against them, they just involved more statistical analysis than I was capable of. Foot-it, for instance, requires you to estimate the number of species you would normally expect to see within a given radius of home; then set a target number of species you hope to see on foot in the month of January; divide one by the other and times the result by a hundred to give a percentage; add your mother's age to that; and subtract the number of species other people have seen on your patch while you've been inside doing the maths. Or something like that. The Patchwork Challenge is even more complex, awarding points for relative rarity based on the numberwang scoring system.

One of five Brambling in a finch flock in Wareham. Where were you on the birdrace?

Despite this daunting complexity, lots of birders have signed up for the Patchwork Challenge, only to find themselves outnumbered by senior citizens who mistook it for a needlework competition. Just as well I didn't put my name down really as I note from the website that my birdracing team-mate Marcus Lawson has done so for the Swineham patch, and he always sees more there than me. Also taking part is our birdrace vanquisher Shaun Robson for Lytchett Bay, which I cruelly dissed in a recent post. This has the potential to turn it into something of a Lytchett v Swineham grudge match, in which I'm far too mature to take sides (Go Marcus!).

Dunlin don't often come this close at Swineham
Anyway, having missed the chance to sign up for either, now I feel ever so slightly left out and obliged to bang on about all the good birds I've seen within walking distance from home, if only to prove I didn't need an organised competition to get me out and about on Shanks's pony. Not to mention the opportunity to share with you the poor quality photos I have taken of them in the process. (Official excuse: there was no light).

Avocet: black-and-white patch magic in a grey world
Over the course of last weekend, for instance, around Swineham I was treated to 3 or 4 Marsh Harriers, a Barn Owl, almost 200 Avocet, a small flock of Brambling, oodles of Fieldfare, a couple of dozen Snipe plus an Egyptian Goose with a slightly half-bred looking mate which had relocated from nearby Holmebridge. No hesitation in slapping these on the patch list though on account of an earlier decision to accept diabolically low barriers to entry for waterfowl for this particular list. So, I guess I should wish all Foot-it and Patchwork Challengers the best of luck, and, relying as they must on personal integrity to make it a fair fight, hope that they apply higher ethical standards to their patch listing than yours truly.

1 comment:

  1. I think when I have done the 92 league grounds I shall start again by only counting grounds when I go wearing yellow that the spirit? :-)