Wednesday 30 January 2008

Why I am happy about NOT being a UK birder

The UK and birding are quite a unique couple. The two of them are actually so dear and near to each other that single observers have apparently managed to see more than 500 species there, quite amazing considering the complete German list "only" stands at 514 species, some of which haven't been seen since the 19th or early 20th century.
Because of this and the fact that many of these species are exciting and excessively rare vagrants from Siberia or - mostly - North America, many other European birdwatching nations look up to the UK in envy.

Not me though.

I mean, I sort of used to, but the White-crowned Sparrow that was recently (is still being?) seen in Norfolk changed that for good.
I regularly check the Britain & Ireland rarities gallery on Surfbirds and the last few days were severely dominated by nice pictures of said White-crowned Sparrow.
First I also thought that this was a neat record and how much I wanted to also find such a rare bird on my home patch. But then I thought of the nice pictures I took of the ever so common White-crowned Sparrows at Rondeau and Point Pelee in southern Canada and of the great days I had while taking them.
Here they are, a few of them, and they are quite similar to the ones of the bird that made a Norfolk driveway its home...

And then I suddenly couldn't help but think how sad it would have been to see the beautiful White-crowned Sparrows at Point Pelee and to not have that fantastic lifer feeling because of a bird I saw at some soggy driveway on the Eastern side of the Atlantic.

It would really have spoiled the whole party!

The Evil that Sparrow do

Let me show you more graphically - and in colour - what I mean:

The following list is my trip list from May 2005 and can be regarded as an assembly of species any birder from overseas is likely to encounter during an ordinary birding trip to the Great Lakes in May.
Blue are the species that also occur in Europe and are thus more or less easily seen in the UK. Red are North American species that have already been encountered in the UK and for the sake of this post, I presume (of course knowing this is completely unrealistic, but it makes for better reading) a keen UK birder may have seen them all in his home country.
So what is left for such a birder on a trip to the Great Lakes, what lifers can they expect?
The black ones.

Common Loon

Red-throated Loon

Pied-billed Grebe

American White Pelican

Double-crested Cormorant

American Bittern

Least Bittern

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Snowy Egret

Green Heron

Black-crowned Night-heron

Mute Swan

Trumpeter Swan

Canada Goose

Pale-bellied Brent

Wood Duck


American Black Duck

Northern Shoveler

Blue-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal


Ring-necked Duck

Long-tailed Duck

White-winged Scoter

Surf Scoter

Hooded Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Common Merganser

Ruddy Duck

Turkey Vulture


Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Northern Harrier

Broad-winged Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

Golden Eagle

Bald Eagle

American Kestrel


Peregrine Falcon

Wild Turkey

Ring-necked Pheasant

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

Spruce Grouse

King Rail

Virginia Rail


Common Moorhen

American Coot

Sandhill Crane

Black-bellied Plover

American Golden Plover


Semipalmated Plover

Piping Plover

Greater Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Solitary Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Hudsonian Whimbrel

Upland Sandpiper

Ruddy Turnstone



Pectoral Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper

Baird's Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Short-billed Dowitcher

Wilson's Snipe

American Woodcock

Wilson's Phalarope

Little Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

Laughing Gull

Ring-billed Gull

American Herring Gull

Glaucous Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Black Tern

Caspian Tern

Common Tern

Forster's Tern

Rock Dove

Mourning Dove

Black-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Common Nighthawk



Chimney Swift

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Belted Kingfisher

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Pileated Woodpecker

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Eastern Wood-pewee

Willow Flycatcher

Alder Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Acadian Flycatcher

Eastern Phoebe

Great Crested Flycatcher

Eastern Kingbird

Warbling Vireo

Philadelphia Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

Yellow-throated Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue Jay

American Crow

Common Raven

Horned Lark

Barn Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Bank Swallow

Tree Swallow

Purple Martin

Buff-bellied Pipit

Black-capped Chickadee

Tufted Titmouse

White-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Marsh Wren

Sedge Wren

Carolina Wren

House Wren

Winter Wren

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Eastern Bluebird

Swainson's Thrush


Gray-cheeked Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Wood Thrush

American Robin

Gray Catbird

Brown Thrasher

Cedar Waxwing

European Starling

Tennessee Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Blue-winged Warbler

Golden-winged Warbler

Northern Parula

Yellow Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Cerulean Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Palm Warbler

Pine Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler

Kirtland's Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

American Redstart

Prothonotary Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

Mourning Warbler

Connecticut Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

Northern Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush


Canada Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Wilson's Warbler

Yellow-breasted Chat

Scarlet Tanager

Summer Tanager


Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting

Northern Cardinal

Eastern Towhee

Chipping Sparrow

Clay-coloured Sparrow

Field Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

Henslow's Sparrow

Le Conte's Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Baltimore Oriole

Orchard Oriole

Eastern Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark


Red-winged Blackbird

Brewer’s Blackbird

Common Grackle

Brown-headed Cowbird

House Sparrow

Evening Grosbeak

American Goldfinch

Pine Siskin

House Finch

Purple Finch

And frankly, having only the black birds left as new bird impressions and visual adventures makes a trip to one of the most wonderful areas of the world (bird-wise and in my honest but personal opinion) rather pointless.
Just imagine: You're landing at Toronto or Detroit, get your common stuff (like the grackles) within your first day en route and then you're left with hardly any lifers at Point Pelee despite being in North America for the very first time!

What a terrifyingly horrible and despicably depressing thought!!

And this, my inclined reader, is the reason why I am happy about NOT being a UK birder:

The fact that Germany barely ever gets any North American vagrants has effectively kept me from pursuing them on the "wrong" side of the Atlantic and had left a whole bag full of new-species-fun for my trip to North America in May 2005 (my high school exchange year in Canada being so long ago - almost 20 years - that the birds seen then felt like lifers again in 2005).

Any North American bird species seen back home would have effectively reduced the greatness of the trip.

But then of course - knowing myself - I wouldn't be able to restrain myself from watching North American vagrants - if I was a UK birder - and could not deliberately stay at home while everyone else around me was watching stray tanagers.
So I think it works best for me to just not have a chance at seeing/finding North American birds here along the Baltic Coast of Germany.

I am perfectly fine with it, thank you very much.

And last but nor least, another reason for being happy about residing and birding in Germany:
The German name for White-crowned Sparrow is "Dachsammer" which translates to Badger Bunting.

And after looking at the bird and comparing it to a European Badger, that's one of the best bird names I ever came across, regardless of language!

So maybe, and now that I have seen the species in North America anyway, just a wee little tiny bit of White-crowned Sparrow around Stralsund would be acceptable?

Don't you agree?

Mind sending the Norfolk bird over?

Thank you very much.


Anonymous said...

"bird locally, think globally"


Jochen said...

Well, Laurent, how about:

Bird locally, and globally

Patrick B. said...

That IS an awesome name. Who knew so many NA Warblers were seen in the UK? Wow.

Monday Birder said...

Hi Jochen/Patrick

I think it is fair to say that very few UK birders have seen 500 species.Although quite a few American
warblers have been seen here they are very few and far between. Blackpoll Warblers and Red-eyed vireos are the most 'common' but they are still very rare.Most UK birders would still get a good few life ticks at Point Pelee.

Anonymous said...

I so wonder how they get so many of our birds! Amazing white-crowned sparrow photos!

Larry said...

Nice White-crowned Sparrow photos!

Anonymous said...

Or, you could just not count them until you see them in the appropriate context. :)

Allen Chartier said...


Greetings from the Great Lakes! We're having a "normal" winter here, which means bad. I love the name "Badger Bunting" for White-crowned Sparrow. I must confess that sometimes I have called them "Skunkhead Sparrow". Had a White-throated Sparrow in the yard today...

Anonymous said...

Come on, admit it, you're secretly jealous. ;-)

Seriously, though, not all UK birders are twitchers, Jochen. In fact, most aren't. I think you have the wrong impression of us. I'm on 200 UK species because why would I want to spend (waste) my time burning fuel (which is hideously expensive here, thanks to our rip-off government taking most of the price in taxes) in the hope of seeing a bird that might be gone when I arrive? No, I'd rather spend that money on foreign travel.