I was recently visiting the Sant Vincenç dels Horts cement plant of Cementos Molins S.A., on the field trip of the Global CemFuels Conference in nearby Barcelona, when I noticed a small dark bird perching on a stump, just between the preheater tower and the main petcoke storage building. The bird bobbed up and down a few times and then flew into the nearest tree. It reminded me of a wagtail, only it was much darker. I didn’t get a great look at it. Then, at the end of the tour, we congregated at the striking concrete-built headquarters building, and I noticed a tiny bird singing for all it was worth in the coniferous tree just outside the entrance. It was hard enough to even spot it, let alone identify it and it soon flew off. However, seeing these two birds in such an industrial location made me think.
I have taken to bird-watching in the last ten years or so. My previous house had a tiny garden and no view of the garden from the house. Over ten years, I might have seen a handful of birds - mostly the apparently gregarious but actually very aggressive robin (as shown at right, in a picture taken by Global Cement’s commercial director Paul Brown). However, when I moved to a house with a view of the garden, my birdwatching took off. I started to notice all sorts of birds, many of which I had never seen before. I bought a bird identification guide and started to write down all the different birds that I saw. I have now seen 35 different species in my own back garden.
Along with the everyday birds - like dunnocks, robins, jays, blackbirds, wood pigeons, blue tits, great tits and carrion crows - I also see some slightly more unusual birds. These would include the great-spotted woodpecker, the sleek nuthatch (the only bird in the UK that can climb down a tree), the lovely gentle collared dove, the raucous and cheeky starlings, the pirates of the bird world - the magpies, the occasional shy song thrush, a few chaffinches and sometimes a glimpse of a goldfinch.
However, these are not the rarest birds in my garden. After nine years of looking, I am still finding new species that visit. Only this year a coal tit perched at the very top of a tree at the end of the garden and only a powerful pair of binoculars allowed me to identify this single bird. On the other hand, sitting by my window working one day, a goldcrest - Europe’s smallest bird, weighing around 6g but still capable of flying across the North Sea - started to look for seeds in my plant pots. I moved my head to get a better look and he or she flew off - but this is a bird that is nearly impossible to mis-identify. Once seen, never forgotten. When, once or twice a year, I spot the diminutive wren (as the bird book describes it, ‘tiny, dumpy and irascible’), I count it as a good day.
I’ve had some real oddities in my garden, including a moorhen (I am 1km away from the nearest open water), a pheasant (I’m 1.5km away from the nearest farmland) and a juvenile peregrine falcon (which was the fastest-moving bird I’ve ever seen). This winter I’ve had a single fieldfare that has been visiting the garden for a month, progressively eating the apples I have been saving for the birds, and I was amazed to see a flock of six redwings hopping about at the end of January. Fieldfares and redwings are visitors from Scandinavia - when it gets too cold for them up there, they come to damp but mild England for some respite before ‘going home’ for the spring and summer.
I know that there are other birds out there, nearby, but unless they actually land in my garden, I can’t count them. Black-headed gulls, Canada geese and swans fly over, but unless they land, they are not on my list. A pair of lapwings (which emit noises like an old 80s-era space invader machine) nest on nearby farmland, but alas, they’ve never visited my garden. I can’t count them on my list. I’ve had a few species that I have not been able to absolutely identify, and these remain off my list as well.
Anyway, at that Spanish cement plant, I thought to myself, I wonder how many different bird species there are at this cement plant? And then I wondered, which cement plant in the world has the most different bird species?
Finally, we need a good name for this grand global endeavour and here it is: The Global Cement Bird Watch. Good luck and happy birding!