How's your year list going? You know, the list of birds you've seen in a calendar year?

What do you mean you don't make one? I thought all birders did. A year list, a life list, perhaps a separate list of little brown jobbies that have only been seen around their particular home patch on alternate Thursdays? No?


I've just read on the internet (so it must be true) about an eminent birder who clams that 2021 was a “very poor” year for him as he recorded “just” 317 species in Great Britain. That's a serious level of fanaticism and dedication. I'm not known as having either of those traits, which explains why I didn't see even half of the “very poor” number of species that he claimed.


I'm just a geek who likes to watch birds. And I like to make lists. You should see me going shopping. It's a multi-paged effort, full of categories and subcategories, all colour-coded and arranged by aisle. Woe betide me if I come back with something that wasn't on the original list. I've even been known to return said items in a fit of guilty panic.


I try to justify my bird listing by noting each species that I see on the British Trust for Ornithology's wonderful BirdTrack app. I pretend that I'm not just a bird spotter, I'm a participant in a massive citizen science campaign, contributing to a worldwide study in bird breeding numbers and migration patterns. I'm not a geek, I'm a social scientist.


That's what I tell myself and it's partly true but it's mainly just my inner collector rising to the surface. If it wasn't birds then it would probably be trains or stamps or guitars and books or something else. (At least one of these may be another collection addiction of mine. Don't mention it to my wife, it's a touchy subject.)


I make no apologies for listing. Yes, it's contributing to the science (a teensy weensy bit), yes, it meets my collection addiction and stops me fulfilling it in some other less healthy way but mostly it's an excuse to get me out of the house and looking at the pretty birdies. What's wrong with that?


We had an early start here at Old Moor on New Year's Day as me and a few other hardy souls opened the site at around dawn. A couple of our volunteer guides led them on a guided walk around the reserve in hopes of getting their 2022 lists off to a good start. The idea was to get as many everyday British birds out of the way in one day and maybe they'd see something more unusual along the way too. As a birdwatching strategy goes, it's as good as any.


Bird one – Robin. Bird two – Blackbird. Bird three – Magpie, the 97% bird. I call it that because, according to my own records, I've seen them on 97% of my UK birding trips. That's how geeky this listing malarkey can get. So off they went, spotting, counting and listing. To be honest, on the morning after such a momentous night before, some were listing more than others. One or two looked like they were positively leaning. But everyone had a good time. Coffee and bacon were consumed and many birds were spotted. Just short of fifty different kinds of them. Not bad for the Dearne Valley at this particularly quiet time of year.


Go on, challenge yourself. Start simple, set a day target. If you know what you're looking at then you should easily see up to 40 birds in a day at Old Moor, maybe more depending on the time of year. I once had a guy come to the Shed just as I was closing up for the day. He'd been on the reserve since opening and claimed to have seen 73 different species that day alone. I'm not sure if that's a record but I was certainly impressed. Standing outside my shed, I'm not certain that I saw 73 different birds in total all day.


If you're new to birding then a year list is a great excuse for learning how to identify more species. You already know more than you think, trust me, so use that as your base point. Look at the birds you recognise and maybe one will stand out as looking a little different to the others. If you see, for example, a Thrush that looks a bit different from the species you're accustomed to seeing, note the differences. Literally, make notes of them so you can check them out with someone more experienced or even reference material when you get home. In this hypothetical Thrush's example, maybe its head was unusually grey or its flanks had an orange tinge to them. Do a little research and you'll find that it was actually a FIELDFARE or a REDWING, two kinds of thrush that visit Britain in the wintertime and then disappear before the warmer weather arrives. Perhaps that's a new bird to you. A 'lifer' – the first time you've ever identified one. So you add it to a list, maybe tick it off in a book, enter it into a spreadsheet or (as I do) log it on the BTO app.


Congratulations. You're now a lister. Welcome to the club. Now get out and increase your list. All of the birds named in the following photo have been seen at Old Moor this week. Some are more easily spotted and/or identified than others but you've got more chance of seeing them if you come to visit than if you have sitting at home watching Bargain Hunt. Come and see what you can see.