A few years ago I decided I would like to be able to identify the common birds in my neighbourhood. With the help of my sister Stephanie and a couple of good bird books I gradually achieved my aim. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Quite quickly the mass of similar little brown birds separated themselves out into sparrows, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits and a wide variety of other species. I could even identify male from female in many cases, and juvenile from adult.
It was well worth the investment of time and effort. Whenever I catch a glimpse of a familiar species I smile to myself. And the "hang on, what was that?" moments are a thrill, followed by the hunt to see the same bird again, gather enough information to try to identify it, followed by frantic riffling through the bird books to confirm the id.
I have no wish to see every bird species in the world, or Europe or even Britain. I wouldn't go chasing off somewhere because some rare species had been spotted, or stay in a cold bird hide with a flask of tea and soggy sandwiches. That's part of the fun of birdwatching for some people, but my own goal is clearly defined - I just want to know the birds in my local patch.
So why do I bring this up today? I spotted a seasonal visitor today, the redwing. It's a species of thrush, like the blackbird and songthrush and mistlethrush that stay year-round. But the Redwing is more colourful than these dowdy birds, with its dandy eyestripe and vivid red patch under its wings. It's quite shy and although I am sure it comes to the area every year I don't always manage to spot it.