There’s a stark and simple beauty in a good list but alas, I’m not very good at keeping them. Perhaps I like the idea better than the practice, though as the great Bill Oddie said: “All birdwatchers keep lists, even if it’s only a list of how many times they’ve claimed they don’t keep a list.”
I moved into this place in Norfolk, on the edge of the Broads, ten years ago last summer, and the one list I’ve managed to keep up is the number of bird species seen and heard here. They’ve been slower to come in recent years, though the list includes crane, spoonbill, European white stork and great white egret, to name just a few of the taller ones.
And there I was, sitting out during the recent freeze, well wrapped-up and surveying the few acres of marsh that lie opposite, when I saw a hint of movement in a bramble clump, focused the bins – and lo and behold, the list leapt up to 109.
Here was a pair of stonechats, checking out the place with obvious intent. Male stonechats seem to have a deep love of birders: they always perch on the very top of a bush to make quite certain you see their black cap and orange breast. They’re birds I associate with the gorse-clad cliffs of Cornwall, where walks are punctuated by the sound – like two stones knocked together – of their contact calls. The hard times of this long, hard frost — just lifted yesterday after 10 days — had them seeking out new places. I haven’t seen them since, so they’ve probably moved on.
It’s been a while since we last had a new bird here. What’s next? Raven? Grasshopper warbler? Goshawk? All very decent possibilities. There’s a pallid harrier knocking about in North Norfolk: if you see him, tell him he’s welcome to drop by anytime.