Monday, 17 January 2011

A Matter of Opinion

Well, any lingering thoughts that I had about the reserve starting the Spring far too dry are now out of the window after today's rain. During the course of the morning I have watched the grazing marshes across the road from my bungalow change from just grass to areas of shallow water. I imagine that the reserve, if I could be arsed to go down there and wallow in mud, would look pretty much the same. It's a shame, because when I was down there late yesterday afternoon, taking part in the monthly Harrier roost count, it looked great, just the right amount of winter water but after a windy and sunny afternoon, drying out on the surface nicely for walking on.
The Harrier count, on the reserve at least, provided a really good count of roosting Hen Harriers on the saltings near to Shellness Hamlet - 2 males and 3 ring-tails - best for a few years.

As I've been writing this a small party of Long-tailed Tits have just passed through the garden. There were, I should add, none of the charming white-headed northern cousins that seem to be attracting the twitcher brigade down to the South Coast. At least they are clearly identifiable as "different", even by the more ordinary of us birdwatchers, not so the Slaty-backed Gull identified across the Thames late last week. Looking at the photos of this bird I have to say that I for one wouldn't have given it a second glance, it just didn't stand out as anything different and I bet that 98% of those that twitched it at the weekend, if first finding it alone themselves would of thought any different.
On this subject, I was amused on reading a posting on the KOS Forum the other night, to see that a new list had been published of ornithological "taxonomic splits," which apparently gave the author the opportunity for "30+ new ticks." Is that what it has come to in the twitching world, new birds are invented because of slight differences in feather or song so that they can be added to stagnating life lists - so sad. My friend breeds British Birds in his aviary and a common hybrid is Goldfinch x Greenfinch, imagine,should he release some of these and the orgasmic delight if a twitcher saw them first - another finch "taxonomic split" - whoopee do!

I was really chuffed to see the response to my recent blog about the Hunting fraternity, a serious point of view from me and some equally serious and sensible comments in reply. For me this is what these blogs are about, if you can be bothered to start one up, then at least be bothered to vary the subject matter and keep them interesting. There's a lot to discuss and be debated out there - so much more lively and interesting than just the same daily count of birds added to year lists.


  1. Hi Derek,
    I read the interesting comment made on your ''hunting Humbug'' post by G. Woollard, it seems most people are against the blood sports, but 'most people' isn't good enough, it's the people with power ( wealth!) that have to be convinced. Just like everything else that suits the rich and powerful we are all flogging a dead horse if we think we can make a change with reasoned debate - the anti hunt activist have the right idea. :-)

    Oh! and there's nothing wrong with recording the same old things in the same old places - over time it can reveal important changes in our countryside - so there!!

  2. Hi Derek
    I agree with what you said about the birders/twitchers who went to see the Slaty Backed Gull. Most of them probably wouldn't have loked twice at it if it wasn't for someone pointing it out, it was very difficult, and nothing special to look at, not like the Northern Long Tailed Tit, what a cute little bird that is.
    As for the Splitting of Species, well where is it going to end?
    Getting back to what Warren wrote at the end. Personally I think that what birders like Warren do by writing and recording on their blog daily as to what they see, and don't see is important.

  3. Warren,
    All debates/opposite arguments have to be reasoned and level headed otherwise they lose credability, running around in the manner of some anti's is not necessarily the answer.
    In respect of your last paragraph, and indeed Ken's - well, the title of my blog said it all.

  4. Derek,
    You are far to nicer person!! I'm sure you would have tried to talk Mr A. Hitler round to some sort of compromise :-)

    Sometimes you have to fight to get change, Look at tunisia, they got out on the streets and kicked some arse.

    The English common people once kicked out a king to get fairer treatment for themsleves, Mr Cromwell would have trouble raising a football team nowadays let alone an army !

  5. Warren, I'm not turning into some latter day Neville Chamberlain and I believe that I still retain the ability to wind people up, I just don't think that running around with pick-axe handles and smashing up shops is the best way to get your argument accepted.

  6. Hi Derek
    I agree with you, your title does say it all. No offence meant, your a great guy. Love reading your blog. I look forward to reading your next one.

  7. Hi Derek
    I don't think you should be quite so snooty about taxonomy. I can see that the modern tendency to split rather than lump plays into the hands of those (as Ed Reardon would say) twelve-year-old listers who irritate both of us, but there is a scientific basis to it all. Ever since Lineus we have been classifying animals and plants on the basis of their observable external (and later internal) characteristics and making the assumption that if an organism resembles another in several respects, then it is likely that the two are related. Well, it aint necessarily so! For instance, Old World Vultures and those from the New World share hooked beaks and carrion-eating habits, but the former are related to hawks and eagles, and the latter to storks. At another level the splitting of gulls and Phyloscopus warblers begins to give us an insight into how species are evolving right now and under our noses. The only problem is that it is all very, very difficult to understand unless you have a scientific training! I think the occasional papers in British Birds by Martin Collison are a good introduction, but even these can be pretty dense (just like us, Del Boy)

    Best wishes


  8. Well thanks for that Stevie baby, like you say, without scientific training it's all very hard to understand and I quite clearly haven't had that, presumably many twitchers have. I do have to say though, that some of the tiny differences that make a bird different, are they really that important, is it really that important that we have so many versions of Herring Gull.

  9. Hi Derek :) I'm still laughing at 'Del Boy' and 'Stevie baby' You certainly do know how to wind people up and get a lively debate going! ;)

    A very interesting read again, it sounds like you had a lot of rain yesterday (we didn't have any) and I can see that 'wallowing in mud' on the reserve isn't very appealing at this time of year.

    I read your 'Hunting Humbug' post and thoroughly agreed with your view and you had some very good responses. I was particularly struck by Geoffrey Woolard's comments which I thought were spot on!

    As for twitchers I think many of them are far more interested in ticking lists and competing against each other than in the actual birds they chase around after.

  10. Is it really that important that we have so many versions of Herring Gull? Well, not right now, but in a couple of million years time ornithologists (if they and the rest of H. sapiens survive that long, which I doubt)will be able to look back and say Mitchell's Gull (Larus mitchellii) evolved from Slaty-backed Gulls (L. slatybackii)which became isolated at a rubbish tip at Rainham, Essex, while the very distinctive and anomalous Faulkner's Short-arsed Gull (L.delboyensis) seems to be relict taxon endemic to the Isle of Sheppey (or Boris Island as it will then be known).

    Keep up the good work!

    Stevie Baby

  11. In my early days we had such difficulties with, as my good colleague Revd Johns lists in his avifauna of 1835, the Wood-wren (Sylvia sylvicola), Willow-wren (Sylvia trochilus) and Chiff-chaff (Sylvia Hippolais)- when my dear friend and colleague Revd Gilbert White had first said they were different, well, how we laughed at him. And this new theory for them to be placed in phylloscopus? Stuff and piffle. I still advocate Linnaeus's original position within Motacillidae.
    A seagull is a seagull, whatever the heretics may say.

  12. Well Mr. Fumblefinch, I couldn't agree more with your last line and if it could be kept so we could simply enjoy nature around us instead of stressing over what sub-species of a sub-species some birds are.