New beginnings

All those worthy new year’s resolutions fell at the very first hurdle this morning with me not being arsed to get out of bed until nearly midday. So a very half-hearted mooch around the isle to see what was there to be seen. As follows, in roughly chronological order:

Hooded Crow; Starling; Rock Dove; Gannet; Redshank; Curlew; Herring Gull; House Sparrow; Blackbird; Redwing; Mallard; Cormorant; Shag; Kittiwake; Common Gull; Great Black-backed Gull; Twite; Goldeneye; Greylag Goose; Lapwing; Dunlin; Ringed Plover; Song Thrush; Turnstone; Golden Plover; Teal; Eider; Oystercatcher; Snipe.

A feeble total then of 29 species, almost certainly an all-time record low for the 1st of January, even by here’s low standards at this time of year. My apathy cost me the dead certs of Rock Pipit, Purple Sandpiper, Wren, Robin, Jackdaw and Raven, and the outside chance of Red Grouse. The big freeze (despite an overnight thaw) did for any hope of a Whooper Swan, and the complete lack of divers or Long-tailed Duck were down to the pretty choppy sea on the side of the isle I could do from the car. All in all, I am lazy and deserve what I got…

The house yearlist ended up on 105 species in 2009 – not a bad score on the whole I suppose, and a few new species added to the houselist as a whole – Dotterel, Long-eared Owl, Woodlark, and Pechora Pipit. (There may have been others, but am damned if I can remember them offhand without going to look in my notebook… and guess what? I can’t be arsed to do that for the blog either). The houselist as a whole stands on 149 species, so 2010 will surely be the year I get a landmark 150th species on the only list I keep with any sort of enthusiasm these days. I wonder what it’ll be?

There’s been a little discussion on other birding blogs of late about what direction various folks’ birding takes, and how one strikes a balance between patchworking and twitching. I’ve gone to an extreme I suppose – I’ve only twitched outside of Shetland twice in the past 6 years, for the Aberdeenshire Belted Kingfisher and the Orkney Sandhill Crane. I was asked by two keen local birders a year or two ago what my UK life list was, and they seemed a little surprised when I didn’t know a figure offhand – and I still couldn’t say now, though I know what I haven’t seen…

I did the house yearlist last year in a half-hearted comparison with what other Shetland birders were doing in the South Mainland, but it soon came to be precisely everything I now dislike about keeping a list – a certain pressure to try and achieve self-imposed targets, and a subtle shift away from what I enjoy most about birding – which is being outside, birding, for no reason other than wanting to be doing nothing else but. So… there won’t be a 2010 house yearlist – I’ve no desire whatsoever to see if 105 can be beaten or was exceptional. Am just not interested. All of which leads in a sort of logical way to the issue of blogging as well – after a surprising and rather disappointing exchange in recent months with one of Shetland’s local birders who’s been here a lot longer than I have on the subject of keeping a blog, I’ve been giving it a bit of thought. Why keep a birding blog? What does it actually achieve in the grand scheme of things? Answers on a postcard… This blog has hardly proved to be a showcase for excellent photos, drawings or prose, so… don’t be too surprised if Bitter Bonxie updates become a lot less frequent from here on.

It was fun at the time, and I hope you enjoyed it. I’m going to carry on birding and quietly doing my own thing – and hope you have a bird-filled and enjoyable year ahead too.

All the best.


13 Responses

  1. Happy new year mate. Hope the updates don’t become too irregular. See you soon. T

  2. 105 is a pretty amazing list Jon considering that you work 5 days a week and for the winter at least, you probabaly leave in the dark and arrive back home in the dark. Maybe a drive to work list for 2010?

    Cheers and all the best for 2010,


  3. Happy New Year, Jon.
    I for one would miss your blog as I have enjoyed it this year – when I first knew I was coming to Shetland – whilst on Shetland and since returning to West London!

    So infrequent blogging will be like me! Keep posting the photo’s please!


  4. I have been a birdwatcher / birder / ornithologist in various forms and intensities since I was a kid, but the British species of bird person continually amazes and intrigues me.
    I have come across no other place in the world where the general standard and density of top birders is as high as in Britain – it really is exceptional. and wonderful.
    But as an outsider, the mere existence of a debate of whether it is morally better founded / generally better to be EITHER a twitcher OR a patch birder just would not have occurred to me.
    As Gavin put it, I look at birds because I enjoy it. And I wouldn’t consider myself either a patch birder or a twitcher. sure I have a patch and I would travel a bit for a cool tick, but I generally just see the world as my patch. But then again, if that is the case then I am a pretty incompetent patch birder, having seen less than one fifth of the possible species here.

    Great post, Jon
    Happy birding,
    Dale Forbes

  5. Jon – I for one will miss your blog posts if they do (as you suggest) become a lot rarer. You give the impression that your exchange (of views on blogging?) with another local birder has discouraged you a bit. If so, that is sad. If you enjoy sharing your pics and thoughts, be assured that others (me included, obviously) enjoy them too, and if that is motivation enough to keep you at it, good! If not, well, I’m sorry, but enjoy your birding anyway!

  6. Hear, hear Gavin. C’mon Jon mate – you’ve already got an audience building and waiting for the next post. Don’t let the cynic put you off,

  7. Jon,

    I enjoy your blog too. As well as the (veery) excellent photos the info about what you are seeing is especially interesting to compare with here. I sometimes feel a tad disappointed with my blog, in that I would rather write about more and varied things as well as what birds and beasts I’ve seen but my notebook entries usually end up as a list and I reckon the blog gives me a place to highlight the best of the day with some, usually not very good, pix. Time is the regulator. I still remember your (if I remember correctly) somewhat outraged posts re Songbird Survival, an organisation I hadn’t come across previously and let alone the birds the Orca pix this year were much appreciated.

    I was kind of hoping that you would be writing more about what you’re planting and when and how this year – we could use the advice … our new garden is a blank canvass and whilst our environment is not as harsh as Whalsay it’s not so different. Not sure our Yorkshire and Kentish horticultural experiences are going to be entirely helpful.

    Anyway, what I’m saying in my usual long-winded manner is that I’d miss your blog so i hope the posts don’t become too irregular.

    All the best,


  8. Watcha Jon

    how’s things?

    I empathise with your decision. Like many aspects of culture, ‘blogging’ was exciting in its early days when it was fresh and interesting. As more people become involved, the quality of whole diminishes and there’s a long tail of so-so or downright dull stuff out there from folks who arrived late but think it’s cutting edge (just think of how U2 have parasitised every type of music scence but always a couple of years too late), with just a few folks’ sites that interest me. But if people enjoy it that’s all that matters I guess. I enjoy yours, as you know, and enjoyed/enjoy a few others such as Tom’s, Gavin Haig’s and Peter Alfrey’s. The great thing about Tom’s was that he stopped when it was still excellent. And the quality of it shows up more now that there’s some distance from it. The Punks, too, has pretty much dwindled to rare sightings posts and little else. Even Stephen Fry has given up twattering.

    Go with your gut feeling mate. I see blogging as something to do to get it out of your system rather than a long-term thing. There’s a lot to be said for getting on with the birding and enjoying the outdoors. I spend most of my non-birding time these days on my own personal notes and sketches etc (and the family of course!) and it’s hugely more rewarding.

    btw, I should think that 95% of those ‘I’m a regular patcher but I twitch occasionally’ types are talking bollocks and everyone knows it.

    2009 was a dire year for new music too, I thought. I’ll send you my compiliation of the decade’s finest in a couple of weeks!

  9. I don’t care whether the prose is considered good or ordinary. I just look forward to hearing how your cabbages and spuds attract fantastic birds. I remember when you first started to plant things. It really gives me a lift.

  10. Jon,
    blogging in the grand scheme of things to me means staying in contact with poeple I find interesting and learning about the birds and birding in other parts of the world.
    I read blogs out of curiosity and blog myself to provide the same opportunity to others. I also find blogging quite creative and if you have a rather rational job like I have, that’s just great.
    I’ll be a bit sad if my curiosity about your place, ignited by your posts, will be nurtured and satisfied less regularly, but as the man said: “It’s your blog”. No obligations.
    And I in particular have had so many hiatuses that I am in no position to demand anything, really.

    And just like you, I don’t really keep a list. I have a rough idea where I am with e.g. my life list (+/- 50 species) and know what I have seen and haven’t seen but the figures are not all that important as long as I know I will have seen all the birds in the world eventually 😉
    This has often lead to very strange and demotivating conversations with other birders as competitive listing and twitching seems to be such a big issue for many, and if you don’t know your numbers and totals and frankly aren’t too concerned you haven’t seen a particular rarity your conversation partner has, you’re not talking to them but past them, so to speak (we use that expression in German).
    I find that rather silly as I feel the fun in birding should always be about the birds and not the numbers or the competition, sorry if that sounds arrogant.

    Oh well, what I meant to say all along is that I hope you’ll keep on blogging. Tom McK. leaving was bad enough – he’s now even deleted the link to his former blog from his site [if you are reading this, Tom, shame on you, traitor, shame, bitter shame!!].
    Just stick around.

  11. noooooo! You must stay blogging! will miss your site – learn so much. Pop over to my pinky site – bask in the rose glow and get writing!xx

  12. There is still hope. It is not deleted, merely sleeping…

  13. Jon, so glad you’ve kept your blog online, and I hope you may return to it sometime. You (and a number of others) stand out as having a huge amount of integrity. Your blog completes the expanse to the far north corner of the UK – or even starts from the far north, and finishes at the south west! Enjoy, and hopefully you’ll be back live at some stage! In any event, thanks for taking the time.

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