Speed Birding

Monday December 16th

There exists in American birding lingo a condition known as ‘binocular neck’, which is the result of  spending too long in the car with – as the name suggests – binoculars weighing heavily around one’s neck. This being a vast country criss-crossed by often near abandoned highways, American birders are masters at birding from a moving car and it seems they’re prepared to risk even their spinal health to get that drive-by tick.

On Britain’s twisty roads packed with traffic, I wouldn’t dare attempt to drive with binoculars so close at hand, and prefer to keep them on the passenger seat (or perhaps tucked under the driver’s seat if I’m not alone) ready to grab once the car is safely stationary. Though I still must confess to having been called out on occasion for watching the birds, not the road. But what if one day it actually is a honey buzzard, identified even as I veer all over the carriageway? All that risk-taking might just pay off.*

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Birder At Sea

The relative calm after the storm. Still slightly wonky.

The relative calm after the storm. Still slightly wonky.

Saturday morning found me somewhere that, as a birder, I really like to be: Poole harbour. One of the country’s best birding areas at any time of year, Poole harbour is especially good from mid-autumn into spring, when myriad migrant waterfowl and waders pass through or stop off for the winter, including an impressive 1,000 avocets and usually a dozen or so spoonbills.

But, alas, I was not in Poole harbour expressly and solely to bird. Instead, I was perched nervously on the deck of the ‘Condor Vitesse’, a high speed catamaran ferry of surprisingly (and alarmingly) small size that was due to carry us across the Channel to the island of Jersey. Though Monday’s storm was still at least a day and a half away, the weather had been fairly wild the previous night, wild enough to send a storm petrel fluttering into the harbour. It veered between our anchor and Brownsea Island before the ship had even departed. A pleasing sighting which I should instead have viewed as rather ominous.

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The Bees and the Birds

I first became aware of the existence of the ivy bee (Colletes hederae) last autumn, and have wanted to see one ever since. I can’t exactly say why, except that the idea of them is nice, being a bee that is both easy to recognise – a gingery-stripy flying humbug – and biologically interesting, since it was only discovered in Britain in 2001 (and indeed was new to science as recently as 1993, when it was split from a close relative).

As their name suggests, ivy bees time their emergence such that they are active around the time that ivy is in flower, in other words from late summer through until late autumn. The last time those months came around I didn’t try particularly hard to find any buzzing humbugs, besides taking a cursory look at a few good patches of ivy. This year, perhaps in part because I fancied restoring a bit of bee enthusiasm to my wildlife year – it usually wanes by mid-summer – I  hit September more determined, to the extent that I seriously considered ‘twitching’ a colony up in Oxfordshire.

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