James Lowen and Yoav Perlman snapping a Firecrest in James' garden

James Lowen and Yoav Perlman snapping a Firecrest in James’ garden

If there are two things we know about birders it’s that (a) they love a challenge, and (b) they certainly love a list, so when I suggested to the regular Thursday pub crowd something that combined the two, the ‘Norwich Garden Birds Year-list Challenge’, I was greeted with a modicum of enthusiasm (a relative thumbs-up from such a weathered group)!
The challenge was simple, to record as many bird species as possible whilst standing in the confines of your Norwich property in 2016.

Competitor locations

Competitor locations


The competition was friendly and we would be quick to share sightings, especially of flyovers if we thought they might be heading towards another competitors house. This was achieved through a Facebook page and our whatsapp group. This worked on a number of occasions, most memorably when Keith Langdon messaged from the Rose Tavern one evening in March to let us know that flocks of Wigeon were on the move over the city. Dave Farrow and I benefitted within seconds of this text and while Keith missed out on Wigeon for his house list he did score Teal on his return home that same night. On other occasion I went out to follow up Mikee Hoit’s report of a Peregrine flying my way. No joy with the falcon but my first ever Reed Bunting flying over as I opened the front door more than made up for it!

Pink-footed Geese. Most competitors managed to get this species over their house

Pink-footed Geese. Most competitors recorded this species over their house

Top dog

From an early stage the battle always seemed like it was for second place as Will Soar’s abode overlooks Earlham Marsh on the west side of Norwich, and when he notched up Knot on 3rd January, the rest of us knew we’d be struggling to keep up. And so it transpired. Will racked up a very impressive 93 species during 2016 with highlights including Great White Egret, Goosander, Nightingale, Med Gull, Reed Warbler, Water Rail, Cuckoo and regular Red Kites (up to five individuals).

Great White Egret with winner Will's house in the background

Great White Egret with winner Will’s house in the background

Second place goes to James Lowen with 68 species. James’ garden pulled in Spotted Flycatcher, Bullfinch and Firecrest (and several Firecrest twitchers).

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher

Terrace tickers

Of course, not all gardens are equal, the majority of participants have very little in the way actual garden (or a decent view), so an important side-battle was for the best list inside the Norwich outer ring road. It’s all very well having a marsh on your doorstep or a decent-sized suburban garden but when you’re relying on flyovers for more than 90% of your list, as most who live within the packed terraces inside the outer ring road were, then it’s a slightly different ball game. The winner of this battle was Craig Robson, who despite not even being in the UK for much of the year still recorded 67 species from his ‘observatory’ on Stafford Street. Craig enjoys excellent views over the city and his tendency to get up ridiculously early on Sunday mornings when traffic is very light and passing bird calls easier to hear certainly helped. Craig’s highlights included two Marsh Harriers, Golden Plover, Hobby, Waxwings, two Curlews, and a brace of Snipe amongst the flighting gulls towards dusk in November.

Marsh Harriers over James Lowen's house

Marsh Harriers over James Lowen’s. Several managed to connect with this species during the year

We struggled for waders as a whole, with very few seemingly passing over Norwich at night this autumn, indeed, not one person managed a Green Sandpiper! However, these nocturnal ‘listening’s’ did provide some compensation with Moorhen and Coot being recorded flying over! Other highlights mentioned by competitors included Yellow Wagtail, multiple Little Egrets and Hobbies, Woodcock, Arctic Tern, Whimbrel, Mealy Redpolls and Crossbill.



With a combined total of over 100 species we did ok, considering the effort put in (limited, in most cases). It was also relaxing, without the stress of other year lists, it was extremely ‘green’ and many sightings were uploaded to eBird/Birdtrack. Why not give it a go with your friends where you live?

Final Rankings

Will Soar 93 species
James Lowen 68
Craig Robson 67
Dave Farrow 61
Yoav Perlman 57
Richard Moores 56
Dave Andrews 55
Dougal McNeil 55
Graham Clarke 54
Robin Chittenden 50
Mikee Hoit 49
Keith Langdon 48
Stuart White (from 23/08) 46
Nick Watmough 43
Rob Martin (in house for 1 month only) 35
James Emerson 27

What will 2017 bring…..?