Friday 24 February 2012

The list

Many birders keep lists. Some birders could even be called "listers". They watch birds to see their lists grow.

Some birders twitch. That is, they visit rare birds which are in the wrong place. Many of them do it for their lists.

At the other extreme some birders are behaviouralists. They love to study bird behaviour and they gain a list by chance. It's not a goal. They don't twitch because a bird under stress (or worse) in the wrong place doesn't tell you much about natural behaviour and to them it isn't fun. 

Other birders take photographs. For some, the photograph collection becomes the thing or even a photograph list becomes all important! For a few, watching birds no longer happens but photographing them continues. 

Most birders have a balance which may include elements of all four traits (listing, twitching, behaviour watching and photography) in their hobby. Or they may have do less common things such as ringing or they specialise in certain birds.

I have described myself as behaviouralist with a photographic hobby. But recently I have become a lister by accident. By the way, I don't twitch at all but you might have guessed that by my writing!

Menetries warbler at Al Hayer yesterday

When I started putting information into the ebird database, it started producing me a list or more precisely lists. And I have started taking notice of them. If used wisely I confess lists can be helpful.  My Saudi list stood at 137 before yesterday. That was without any conscious attempt to tailor my birding to inflate the list. However it has helped me have a truer understanding of my expertise or lack of it.

The largest list for Saudi Arabia I have seen is 336 by Per Anders Bertilsson who left the Kingdom about 10 years ago.  There are an estimated 525 birds possible to see apparently.

I have only been here since late September and  I have only seen just over a quarter of the possibilities. 

For what its worth, my Libyan position is much healthier. My list scores are higher!

Anyway, yesterday I added 4 new ones to the Saudi list. I want to write about two of them in particular. These were Menetries warbler and common starling. You'll have to wait for the other two in later blogs. 

I first and last saw Menetries warbler in Azerbaijan in summertimes when I used to teach there. Both Collin's European guide and Helm's Middle East guide suggest it winters in Arabia in a few select places (in small numbers).  Though Pers Bertilsson only saw it during the passage months.  Of course, I cant tell whether the one yesterday was a late wintering bird or an early passage one.

common starling at Al Hayer

For all the fuss over Menetries warbler, the better find yesterday was almost certainly a flock of 12 common starling.  Of the two historical birders in the area with the best records, Tom Tarraat never saw it in central Arabia and Pers Bertilsson saw 3 at Kharj once (on 2 March).  My friend Abullah Amrou photographed a single near Al Hayer once too.

I had expected to see passage birds yesterday (and the other two additions to my list probably are) and yet I also saw a bird which seems to have come in the opposite direction following the very cold weather further north.

Thanks for this one are due to Lou Regenmorter. Lou is an American birder who is here on business for a while. He accompanied me yesterday and saw the birds first! 

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