Not trying to sound like a know-it-all or anything, but generally when I’m out and about I can identify all the birds I see without any real problems. It may take me a few minutes, but I can say without any trace of pride that, within five minutes or so, I can get a bird narrowed down to within one or two species.
So I was a bit put out on Sunday to find that I don’t actually know it all at all. Iain and I were casually enjoying the last of the wintry sun down at Rattray. You know, frolicking, casually, photographing lighthouses and Turnstones and clouds and such. Just as we were calling it a day Iain flushed a bird up the beach. I casually put my binoculars to my face, expecting the sense of casual disappointment that one gets when looking at a Meadow Pipit. Instead, I drew a blank.
I don’t mean a little blank like when you forget someone’s name who you’ve just been introduced to. This was a big blank. A blankety blank, if you will.
We had a small, hopping, brown, boring bird with a small bill, which definitely wasn’t one of the small, hopping brown birds you would expect to see on a beach in December. Neither of us could venture any more than that.
After five minutes or so of the two of us saying silly things like ‘pretty much no discernible features’, ‘bland primaries’, and finally, ‘ooh, dark on the tail’, we decided the best thing to do was get some photos and let someone else work it out. Which led, inevitably, to a slightly slapstick moment as I chased a small, occasionally indiscernible bird along a very cold and windy beach, while Iain provided helpful directions. All the while the mischievous little critter was obligingly hopping just out of camera range.
Well we got some photos just before the light gave out, but in the car on the way back the usually excellent Collins Bird Guide was no help. I asked Diana what she thought. Between us we got it down to ‘some sort of Wheatear, and decided that it was definitely worth putting the word out.
Ah, the joys of the internet. What would have taken many hours of painstaking research but a few years ago now took about five minutes, as ID experts from around the country (that’s right, we’re connected) took one look and said, pretty much instantly, female Desert Wheatear.
My pride was a little knocked by just how quickly they identified it, but then up here every day is a school day. And one of the joys of wildlife is that there’s always something new to find out about it. Cue several celebratory beers.
This morning we combed the beach in atrocious weather, leaving no stone unturned, and as you can see getting exceptionally cold and wet in the process. Diana got a sneaky peek of it at about 10 this morning, but we lost it in the dunes to the right of the lighthouse. So if you want to go and find it then the good news is that it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, at least until the weather clears. The bad news is that the weather is making it very tricky to track down. But I suppose one can’t expect to find birds if one isn’t prepared to go looking for them. Or to be able to identify every single one.