Birders, and to a lesser extent wildlife enthusiasts in general, have a strong tendency to bias when it comes to the places we visit when looking for birds. The map on the home-page of Birdtrack showing submitted records reveals a clear bias towards the coast, wetland sites, nature reserves and population centers. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it is quite fair that birders should want to visit those locations that have the most, or the best, species as it is such places that make our hobby so enjoyable – it wouldn’t be too much fun if the only place you ever went birding was a prairie-like, chemical-drenched agricultural wasteland (also called a ‘farm’) devoid of all but pigeons and crows.
It also means that the well-known ‘best’ sites are very well recorded and understood, which means that very well informed conservation work can take place at such sites to ensure the birds future. If lots of people love going to a place because it’s great for birds then if that place is ever threatened by anything then there is guaranteed to be a passionate body of supporters to defend it. This is not just true for birders – it applies to botanists and butterfly-lovers and mammal-enthusiasts who all want to go to places they know they will have a good chance of seeing great stuff at.
However, this does mean that other places get neglected and under-recorded, creating a bias in recording data and gaps in knowledge that can affect decision-making in conservation. Some of these places may genuinely be very poor for wildlife, but others may actually be pretty good, they have simply been forgotten in the shadow of more well-known sites, perhaps due to accessibility or available amenities or because they are smaller or have fewer species present.
For me there came a point last year when I realised that I was actually bored of going to all the same birding sites over and over – fed up of it even. They may well be quality reserves, they may have a grand selection of species which visit or are resident to them, they may have comfy hides and be very well watched so you’re sure not to miss a thing. But I feel I’ve done some of them to death; I need something new, a change of scene, new locations to hunt for birds in to make it exciting, to add an element of the unknown and the unexpected to a day out. So this year I’ve told myself I’m going to try out all sorts of new and different birding locations, I’m going to go to all those places in Sussex I’ve never been to, maybe even some new ones in Kent or Hampshire or Surrey.
Just yesterday I went somewhere new; an area of woodland and wet meadow-land immediately next to Gatwick airport, I walked around it for 3 hours and loved it – not because I saw anything amazing but because it was FRESH. I reveled in each lovely common species I saw – Bullfinches calling in the scrub, parties of Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatches cracking open hazelnuts, Great-spotted woodpeckers, a soaring Sparrowhawk, flocks of Redwing scattering before me and tiny Goldcrests buzzing through the branches. It was interesting to explore every corner of the wood and go down every footpath that criss-crossed the place, it was all unknown to me.
Whatever you’re interested in, be it butterflies or dragonflies or wild-flowers or mammals or beetles or birds, I bet you have sites you go to all the time, sites that you know better than the back of your hand. Perhaps this year, either just for your own enjoyment, for your own interest, or to contribute valuable data from an under-recorded area, why not visit some new places? Maybe there are places right near where you live that you have never got around to visiting which may surprise you with the wildlife living there – give it a go, you never know – you may find your new favourite place!