The first ten days of the year have served as a great reminder many things are relative in birding not least the perception of rarity value. Having a purpose to my birding, even one as trivial as the Foot-It competition has brought that back into sharp focus.
Birding at the 'micro-level' relatively common species can become a sought-after prize bringing on reactions usually reserved for the cripplingly rare. Three on foot finds in the space of a few minutes earlier in the week of Stock Dove, Tree Sparrow and then Fieldfare may on another day have prompted an entry in the notebook but would not have given me the spirit-lifting boost that put a bounce back into my stride after five muddy miles out with little to show.
Yesterday's first visit of the year to Newbiggin provided more evidence that the mundane can be (almost) mega if you have the right mindset. After a couple of hours picking off many of the expected species I had headed to the south end of town and was checking through some gulls at the end of the sewage outfall about 1.5km offshore when I heard a Grey Wagtail call. Pretty much all my records of this species at Newbiggin have been fly-overs so I began to search the sky hoping to pick it up as it moved through. I resumed the distant gull vigil after not picking it up, a minute or so later I caught some movement on the rocks below me and the GW far from being up in the air was foraging around the rocks at the outfall area. A good 'patch tick' on the first visit of the year of a species whilst resident county-wide is a scarce patch visitor.
Earlier in the week a discussion with a colleague surrounding the treatment of Ross's Geese provided me yet more food for thought on birding relativity. Two Ross's Geese reported c.150 miles apart, one in London with Greylags and the other at Cley with Dark-bellied Brents. I found it interesting that on one news outlet the London individual was labelled as a 'presumed escape' and an hour later the Norfolk individual was offered up without qualification. Norfolk-centrism gone mad?
Putting aside the apparent inconsistency of this treatment, during the subsequent discussion it struck me that a Ross's Goose in bird-starved London may well be a bigger attraction and relatively more important to local birders, at least those who care about more than just the tick, whatever its origins, (and lets face it probably hasn't been sipping Maple syrup anytime recently) than the same species in rarity-rich Norfolk. Does this relative importance make such individuals 'newsworthy', when most if not all will come and go with their origins remaining unknown and despite its absence from The British List (BOU)?