Sunday, 1 March 2009


That's what my birding this morning got me thinking about, Sp. There wasn't much else happening at any of my chosen destinations today. Two adult Lesser Black-Backed Gull one at Castle Island and it or another at Linton Roundabout an hour later provided the only addition to the county year list. I had tried some more dodgyscopingtm but the light was poor so I managed one decent shot of a GBB gull and another of two upturned umbrellas tangled in an old tree part submerged in the Wansbeck basking in the glow of the dawn. Two Goldeneye copulating provided some heat on an otherwise chilly morning.

Umbrellas at Dawn.
Any way back to Sp. I'd drifted over to Newbiggin just to have a few minutes gaze out to sea and check the seawatching 'hide'was still standing. Anyone who has been to Church Point will be pissing themselves at this point at my description of the low brick door-less cupboard that used to hold the water stopcock for the local caravan site as a hide.

So, gazing at the grey bird less sea I suddenly see movement out in the murk probably one and a half miles out. There's a huge flock of big birds coming north. Refocusing, I'm up to 60x, they ain't Gannets which is what I expected but Geese or to be accurate Geese (Sp.) That's it you see, the Geese Sp. never came any closer, the light got no better and the dark shapes of the two hundred or so offered no further clue as to their true identity, other than they weren't Snow Geese.

At this point your screaming PINKFEET at the screen aren't you. Yes I know that they were probably Pinkfeet but I could discern absolutely nothing at all other than two hundred dark miniature goose silhouettes on the grey, did I mention it was grey, horizon.

Now this happens fairly regularly when seawatching, enough to get a Sp. but not enough to be certain. When I was a regular seawatcher it would probably happen at least every visit with geese or terns particularly but you don't see countless hundreds of Sp. records in the county reports at least not the ones I read. Oh there's a few, on average about one per observer per year. So why aren't there more records submitted of Sp?

I would venture two, perhaps obvious propositions, the first is that some believe that records of Sp. have little value. The second is that it is human not to want to leave something unidentified or unknown, we have a need to put a name to things. Perhaps birders struggle even more with this tendency than the rest of the human race? Most people seeing a big distant skein of geese would think 'flock of birds', not us we have to screw up the zoom strain the eye, watch for any hint of a feature that would allow us to give a name to our skein until they disappear off the radar.

Those that fail to submit Sp. because of the first reason may be right but then again they may not be. Those Sp. could be part of an unrecorded regular movement of an irregular species, without the Sp. records it may continue to be unrecorded and not attract any investigation. It may have less value than a full ID but then again if it causes people to look closer at something it may eventually lead to something with greater value. Just because we haven't put a name to something doesn't mean we've failed, let's have more honesty and more Sp.

For those that never have a Sp. that can separate Common from Arctic at 2 miles in a heat haze, well the rest of us mortals are just in awe.

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