There was a time (c.1990s) when the prospect of a ‘Bird Race’ would fire at least 5 people up in the club, enough to want to actually go through the inevitable torture. The reason? Difficult to say but it’s a bit like Everest – because it’s there. Possibly more birds in Caithness?
Fast forward 20+ years and well what do you know – 4 or 5 people signed up to the very thing. It’s not REALLY a race (hoho) said Team Manson… that’ll be Manson then. But we (Team B) knew fine well this was a thinly veiled cover for some high octane birding.
So, The Challenge? up to 24 hours in (and out) of a car chasing down as many species within the county as possible. Simple.
28th May 2016 was a day like no other in Bird race history. It wasn’t freezing, wet or windy. Hot it wasn’t, but ‘pleasant’ is as good as Mediterranean.
Two teams of 2 and 3:
Team ‘M’ comprised 2 battle hardened birders, Maughan & Manson – ten times captain of the winning squad – undoubtedly a ruthless and efficient combo.
Team ‘B’ fortunately had a secret weapon… ‘B’ – code for ‘Brown’ – a skilled ‘hunter’ of all things avian. The rest of Team B (the Ballast) helped confirm ID and ‘tick’ as applicable. What a breeze!
The final scores on the doors were actually impressive considering the appalling spring.
Team ‘M’ – 107 / Team ‘B’ 119
However the underlying story as ever is what defined the race and indeed the breeding season in Caithness 2016. Some very surprising species missing or almost missing just shows the effect of bad weather badly timed. Here’s the combined high and low lights:
Cuckoos – everywhere – we stopped counting at about 18: the other lot were similarly swamped;
Osprey – 4 min. inc. breeding pair but at least 6 in the county on the day;
Wood warbler – 1 new breeding site;
All surpassed by the pod of 9 Orcas from the Pentland Firth, which team ‘B’ were able to enjoy at their leisure for a couple of hours at Dunbeath.
Grasshopper warbler – 0
Dipper – 0
Corncrake – 0
Merlin – 0
Barn owl 0 (just the wrong night – there are plenty of BOs around Caithness)
Coal tit – 1
Water rail – 1
Kestrel – 1
Quail – 1
Tree pipit – 1
Little grebe - 1
Wheatear – 2 or 3
Swallow – very few
Arctic tern – ditto
Most of these species are probably victims of the cold weather at the end of April which may actually have killed a large proportion of summer migrants.
The Post-match celebrations were a revelation and everyone agreed (even Manson) that it was a vintage Bird race… same again next year?!