The other day I did something that most birders might find unusual: I removed a species from my lifelist.
I’m not a twitcher – I don’t travel long distances in order to add a new tick to my list just for the sake of it (or for the sake of competition) – and the furthest I’ve travelled specifically to find a species I hadn’t seen before was when I recently went from my home in South-west London out to Hertfordshire to look for Hawfinches. But I do keep a list of all the species I’ve seen – a global lifelist – which currently stands at 347 species.
However, I do like to be as accurate as possible. A few years ago I first started thinking about all the species I’d seen in my lifetime, and as I hadn’t really been much of a birder until my mid-twenties it wasn’t an impressive list. I had a small book that I’d bought as a child which basically listed every British and Northern European species, along with a tiny colour drawing and a checkbox. As I still had the book I thought that would be a good enough place to do my listing. Almost all the species I ticked off were birds I’d seen in the back garden of the family home in East Surrey. All the standard garden birds were there: Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Nuthatch, and even some ‘rarities’, such as Great Spotted Woodpecker and Fieldfare (obviously, we thought they were rare at the time).
One bird I ticked off quite happily was the Brambling. I distinctly remember Mum mentioning seeing Bramblings in the garden before, and I’d always assumed that they were a fairly common garden bird. It’s only in more recent years as I’ve become more interested in birding that I’ve realised that Bramblings are not common at all, with perhaps only a thousand or so in the UK at the winter peak. I was still pretty sure I’d seen them before in the back garden though, so it didn’t matter.
But it did.
As time has gone by I’ve kept my eyes open specifically for this species, especially when observing flocks of Goldfinches or Chaffinches in the winter, and I haven’t seen a single one. It’s played on my mind and it’s made me feel as though my list might not be trustworthy. I’m still pretty sure that I have indeed seen at least one of the birds at some stage, but without the certainty that I need to feel happy with my list. And so it came to pass, that the other day I logged into my list on Bubo and finally removed Brambling from my lifelist.
Hopefully one day I’ll see one with 100% certainty.