Wednesday, 31 January 2018

1989 and all that

Twitter has recently been in full song over that Golden-winged Warbler 29 years ago. (Why so much at 29? How much will be posted on the 30th anniversary?) The largest crowds for a twitch in UK history. Ah, nostalgia. I think that back then, in my twitchy days, I went four or five times to see it. And you know what, I have great difficulty recollecting it now. I close my eyes and I just can't 'see' it any more. I really can't.

The one visit to Larkfield I do remember is the February trip I cut short to race back to Rainham in time to carry out a Low Tide Count. I really can close my eyes and still see the Spotted Redshank I had that morning.


Sent me scuttling off to the shelves for the count write-up in the 1989 Kent Bird Report. The more that things change, the more they stay the same.

As well as the February count, a second was made
" September 1989.. all counts took place on weekdays.. when disturbance was slight, and problems with birds moving from area to area minimal."

"It is hoped that the numbered sections here, or combinations of them, will become standard counting units.. for the benefits of those involved in conservation planning, where data may be required for small parts of the estuary under threat.."

Of course, the areas weren't promoted well enough to birders to ever become established. Still aren't. The sector results gained in official estuary-wide surveys aren't actively publicised; data is data after all. Thirty years ago an employee of a second charity gathered the WeBS results. One counter asked to be put in touch with the chap next door so they could see how things compared. Was told in no uncertain terms that wouldn't be happening because of data protection, and in fact much of the data gathered belonged to that second charity. Not even told who was counting next door. Needless to say, they lost that particular counter.

Back then, as in recent years, co-ordinated counts were not a norm. At least the weekend vs. weekday differences had been identified and highlighted.

In '89 a need had also been identified to try to get some autumn counts as well as 'winter' (October to February). Looking at the monthly totals in county Bird Reports up to my return in 2013, autumn totals were minimal.

I get told from time to time that 'I have all the answers.' I really don't. I'm just well-read.


Of course, there's an elephant in that 1989 memory storage room, which needs highlighting for next, next, next generation birders to learn from in the future. Twitter might have been filled with the Golden-winged Warbler this past week, birders on the sea wall have been talking to me about that Common Yellowthroat.

"The first county record of this American landbird involved a first winter male present at Murston from January 6th to April 23rd.."

To say it came to polarise locals is an understatement. The fallout between 'camps' led to the eventual demise of the informal 'North Kent Birders' group. No more social meet-ups down the Hastings Arms, no more attempts by the NKB to build coverage, through efforts such at co-ordinated searches over eastern Sheppey, 30-odd birders ensuring full coastline coverage, out looking for autumn migrants- great stuff, never to be repeated. And some birders slowly switching off, withdrawing from the 'scene'. With a turn-over/reduction of WeBS counters in the years that followed that have haunted the estuary since.

That (plus subsequent downers here in the following years involving birds I'd never even seen or invited to) helped me reach a decision more than a dozen or so years ago; that I would never 'see' a county scarce or rare, ever again.

By that I meant I would never even 'self-find' anything. Turn around, walk away. They really are just not worth it. The false value put on them devalues other species, ones that need a greater worth recognised.

Before you ask, nope, I never saw the Yellowthroat. I suspect if I had done, it might well now be just like that Golden-winged; wiped clean from my memory banks. Many of the birds I twitched back then are gone. Nope, I didn't even hear about it for ages. Was told about it in a phone conversation with one of the observers, several months later. We had been talking about something completely different. They felt I should know, but they were clearly worried about reactions they had been getting. So they were amazed that someone took it well as I did; I just congratulated them, and said I had no problem over it- they'd acted within the Birdwatchers' Code of Conduct. It was just a bird.

One conversation this past week went on about how the Yellowthroat 'killed' North Kent Birding. The other comment was the tired old 'I really should have been allowed to see that bird' rant. The former statement I could understand. The latter? I explained that since that Yellowthroat the Hubble telescope had been launched and helped confirm the universe doesn't actually revolve around their own bird list.

Which is why you shouldn't ever read this blog, or my tweets, hoping for rarity news. There won't be any. I'm not doing it to wind you up, dear reader, I'm doing it to protect my own sanity. Because I know how decades-old suppressed birds just keep haters hating. Haters from both aisles of the Broad Church of Birding.

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