LOST DAY; END OF CHALLENGE
We’ve been back in Australia a week so its high time I put other chores aside to catch up on the blog, especially putting in at least a few concluding remarks about our sojourn to Scotland, Staffordshire and Singapore.
It is a totally absurd notion with absolutely no scientific merit to recommend it whatsoever, although perhaps a behavioural psychologist could use the data as part of a PhD dissertation into the metal make-up of birders – and even then it would be only a small subsection of the overall birding fraternity. The brainchild of Florida birder Trey Mitchell, the idea behind the BIRD-A-DAY challenge was to see which of the participants could record a different avian species on each consecutive day.
In 2013 only four birders, all Americans, achieved the ultimate tally of 365 species. Brennan Mulrooney of California had also completed the 366 needed for the 2012 leap year. The highest placed Australian 2013 contestant, Alan Gillanders of Queensland, had tallied 352 consecutive days. John Kooistra [another Queenslander] ended his 2013 challenge on 294 different birds while Stephen Murray [yet another top-ranking Queenslander] edged in with 254 species [a vast improvement on his solitary Torresian Crow Corvus orru of 2012]. On the other hand, Stephen was the only Australian entrant in 2012 which makes him the longest running Aussie BIRD-A-DAY competitor.
Having read a post advertising the 2014 BIRD-A-DAY challenge, Fay and I decided it might be something of a laugh to participate – a minor project in our first year of retirement.
We even managed to plot out a basic strategy to guide us through the challenge by creating four bird categories: Category 1, all those birds regularly seen in our own backyard; Category 2, all those species regularly seen in nearby locations [e.g. Tarong National Park]; Category 3 covered those birds uncommon [e.g. Glassy Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus lathami, added on 5 February] to rare [e.g. Franklin’s Gull Leucophaeus pipixcan on 29 January] in the immediate vicinity and birds in the rest of Australia while Category 4 was reserved for overseas species- we were, after all, about to embark on a jaunt to Scotland, Staffordshire and Singapore.
The crux of the plan was to avoid birds from Categories 1 and 2 for as long as possible – to be used only in dire emergencies. Whenever and wherever possible, only Category 3 species were to be used until the end of April whereupon, by then being in the United Kingdom and later Singapore, Category 4 would come into play. Post-holiday would be a time for reappraisals.
All went swimmingly through to 30 April. We opened our challenge account with the Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster and ended April with the totally unexpected Cockatiel Nymphicus hollandicus; .
The Category 4 [holiday] tally also started with a rather spectacular bang, the Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus at the RSPB’s Martin Mere reserve in Lancashire. It was not only a superb way to open our UK account, it was a personal Lifer for both of us!
On 5 May we finally caught up with our 2010 nemesis, the Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos – the raison d’étre for us being on the Isle of Mull. Lifer No. 2.
The following day it was the Corncrake Crex crex on Iona [of significant monastic history] and on 7 May, the White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla [which Fay and I had first seen back in 1997 during our sojourn to Poland]. We ended the Isle of Mull trip with crippling views of the Great Northern Diver Gavia immer which our American birding cousins insist on calling by the absolutely absurd name of Common Loon.
Staffordshire was as equally fruitful; all we had to do was to avoid using House Sparrow Passer domesticus and Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris – both readily available as Category 2 birds back in Australia.
As with all vacations and birding trips, the last day, 30 May, arrived. It was time to part from family and friends and head back to Manchester Airport for the next leg of our journey, Singapore.
Our last British BIRD-A-DAY was the
Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus. Back in the mid-1970s, when Fay and I left Staffordshire to take up residence in Queensland, Australia, this humble bird was not considered to be an urban dweller, more a creature of the woodlands; of Cannock Chase where Fay and I did much of our teenage courting. On our return in 2010 the Wood Pigeon appeared to have moved into the towns and during May 2014 it was as common, if indeed not more abundant, than the quintessential English garden bird, the European Robin Erithacus rubecula.
It had already been pointed out to us that BIRD-A-DAY could prove problematic for any participant crossing international time zones on any specific day. There had been no difficulties on the outward leg; we left Brisbane on 30 April and arrived at Manchester Airport mid-morning on 01 May, an entire day in which to pick up the threads of our challenge.
The return journey was somewhat different. On paper, scheduling clearly provided us with two, albeit small, windows of opportunity for our 31 May entry in BIRD-A-DAY.
We left Manchester on schedule at 2105 hours [9.05pm for the 24-hour clock challenged] with an Abu Dhabi ETA of 0720 hours on Saturday 31 May. Piece of cake! An entire day to pick up a Middle Eastern species.
As transit passengers we never left the precincts of Abu Dhabi airport; indeed there was quite a hike from the arrival gate to the next departure gate and the Arab designers here obviously pride themselves on the near subterranean nature of their airport – not a window in sight to spot even a humble Laughing Dove Spilopelia senegalensis, one of the more common birds of the United Arab Emirates.
There then followed the inevitable delay; a connecting flight was behind schedule or someone had lost/misplaced their passport. Time – and more importantly daylight- was passing away. That first window of opportunity was narrowing.
It was while we were being bussed from the departure gate to the awaiting aircraft that we had the briefest glimpse of a solitary bird on the ground; a Common Myna Acridotheres tristis, the “flying cane toad”? Alas, it was of no use as we’d already entered this species as a BIRD-A-DAY [7 February].
We departed the United Arab Emirates without an entry for Saturday 31 May.
While leaving matters a mite tight we knew that Singapore still offered the narrowest gap, a mere chink in the growing despair. We were scheduled to arrive at Changi Airport at 2235 hours [10.35pm]; late but perhaps still light enough to pick up the avian cockroach of the Far East, the Javan Myna [aka the White-vented Myna, occasionally, Buffalo Myna] Acridotheres javanicus.
Another, never explained, delay put us over an hour behind schedule. An arrival time of 2330, or thereabouts, would leave us with a mere 30 minutes in which to record an entry for Saturday 31 May. Things were not looking too bright.
Remaining glued to the flight details console it soon became apparent that the pilot was gaining a little on that lost time. Three minutes made up. Four minutes made up. Another minute lost. Four minute made up. And so on.
We eventually arrive at around 2320 hours and thankful our shuttle pick-up was already there, had been since 2230 hours. We raced across downtown Singapore arriving at the Grand Pacific Hotel at about 2350 hours. Ten minutes in which to spot tha we had registered the clock ticked over to midnight and beyond; it was Sunday 01 June. We had dipped; our BIRD-A-DAY challenge was over.
Yes, it had been a laugh trying to record a different species on each consecutive day and certainly, during the first few months of the year, it had forced us out and about in search of Category 3 birds. However, therein also lay its major downfall. Even with both of us now retired, spending so much time in the pursuit of birds was beginning to tell. The problem was that the best time for birding in Queensland coincides with the best time in Queensland for accomplishing outdoor work – and given almost 12 years of neglect there still remains an awful lot of repairs, renovations and unfulfilled projects on hand.
Will we participate in 2015? Probably not; there are other more pressing and more scientifically-based projects on the slate.