History of the Blog

 



A short history of the 'Selsey Blog'

Owen Mitchell

 

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life birding the Selsey Bill and Pagham Harbour area. Much of it was during my working years, but after retiring from a career in 2001, then continuing with part-time jobs until the end of 2012, the time eventually came to fully retire and devote all my energy to my own projects. One of the things I’d always wanted to do was to fully document the birding scene on my regular patch at and around the Bill, so I thought about another publication, having done several previously. However, I realised that technology had moved on considerably, so an online documentation seemed to be the way forward, despite my own limitations. After a flick through the SOS website one day – which also gave links to other blogs – an idea was born and I decided to start up a Selsey Bill blog!

So it was that on 11th March 2013, barely knowing what a blog was, I tentatively opened a basic ‘Selsey Bill & area birding blog’ – that first attempt adding only a few back-dated Selsey Bill records. It didn’t stay that way for long! Having mentioned it to the locals, almost immediately one individual – Andy House – showed great enthusiasm and a willingness to assist me with what he considered a long-overdue development. The rest, as they say, is history – though it is worth documenting here how things developed fairly rapidly thereafter, to become what the blog is today.

 

Early May 2018 at the Bill, with the locals joined by a contingent of Hants birders. The day's sea-watching log and other sightings will be on the blog by evening.


It soon became very apparent that other birding areas on the Selsey Peninsula could usefully be included and over a fairly short time the blog name changed no less than four times, partly due to my reluctance in dropping the words ‘Selsey Bill’ from the title. This change was largely driven by Andy – he was right of course – and we eventually decided our blog would cover the whole of the Peninsula area, finally settling on the title ‘Birding the Selsey Peninsula’ to fully reflect the fact. Even so, many still prefer to just shorten it to its now familiar name - the Selsey blog! 

One of the things I’d decided at the outset was that, unlike many self-centred blogs I’d seen, it was not going to be just all about me and my own personal exploits, but rather it would be an up-to-date account to focus on the birds of the Peninsula. This would involve a regular group of observers providing information, so that anyone visiting the blog would have current news of what birdlife was around. And I do mean current..... unlike many other sites, where news is at least a day or two behind and often more, not always of much use to a birder when planning tomorrow's visit! 


A mini-twitch of locals viewing a Serin in Bill House garden  - the news was soon put out!


Andy fully embraced this concept, and over time and with a bit of trial and error, we soon developed a routine, or to be more accurate a system evolved that seemed to work for us. Andy is (allegedly) employed full time so fits his birding and blog duties around his work, but somehow it seems to all fall into place, though it is quite demanding, especially at busy times of year. A certain amount of dedication is needed in getting the news out, and we make several updates daily, as necessary. It must be admitted though that the Blogger system we use has a number of idiosyncrasies and to say the least it can be very frustrating at times! Despite all our efforts however, we realised that occasional commitments (e.g. holidays) would inevitably mean that sometimes neither of us could cover the blog, so the need for a third person on the editorial team was apparent. Fortunately, we soon filled the vacancy when Bart Ives (BI) agreed to become deputy editor. Bart is a working man with a family, but considerably younger than Andy and I, with a more current knowledge of the world of technology. He is now considered our ‘techy-kid’ after introducing innovations like links to YouTube, Twitter and video clips!

March 2018 saw the blog’s fifth birthday, when our page-hit counter passed the three-quarters of a million mark. Space restrictions prevent too much detail here, but some of the features that have evolved include the use of different coloured text for certain specific areas of the Peninsula and the inclusion of many photographs. The latter is sometimes the subject of comment, especially as range and light/conditions may sometimes not produce more than an indifferent or poor record shot, but although we always strive for good results, the photos tell it like it is. Whilst there are many excellent blogs that can and do show a gallery of fine photos, ours is really more of an illustrated diary of events, where we aim to show at least some photos every day – in all conditions, not just on those fine days that are good for photography! Perhaps though, our main strength is in the currency of the news we provide – all completely free, backed up with photos where possible and trusted by the professional bird-news companies. We don’t wish to stagnate, so have tried and will continue to try a number of different ideas and suggestions to keep things fresh, adopting improvements where possible and practical, but basically we follow the maxim ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

It was also around this time in 2018 that another innovation was set up – for which Andy and I can claim no credit at all – namely a WhatsApp group for the Peninsula which enabled instant news to be given (to those in the group) by the finders of interesting birds. It was Ian Pitts (of whom more later) who got things underway, soon to be joined in the administrative role by our ‘techy’ deputy editor Bart. This development enabled the blog to be even more prompt with the news output whilst also ensuring that the locals – and many others – were quickly aware of what was about. It has also of course been to the benefit of the professional bird news companies – a fact we are fully aware of and generally support – although there have been a few wrinkles to iron out along the way, usually when possibles/probables are first reported! 


The Elegant tern twitch, Church Norton in June 2017; the blog received record page-hit numbers at this time (as indeed also with the subsequent Royal Tern!)  (photo: Chris Janman) 

We at the blog do rely on news updates from the Selsey regulars and an increasing number of other visitors and contributors, plus of course our own efforts in the field. Andy, Bart and I sometimes (ok, infrequently…) have informal meetings to discuss ideas, problems and occasional feedback, which is important. It would be fair to say that by and large the feedback we do get is very positive indeed and without blowing our own trumpet some of the comments received are very flattering. It all makes the effort very rewarding and worthwhile, but we are not complacent and are willing to consider any sensible suggestion – bearing in mind this is an amateur set-up and dependant on the amount of available time, expense and opportunity each of us may have. It’s not quite true to say it has grown into a monster, but it does mean a daily commitment; I think I can speak for all three of us when I say that we can be rightly accused of sometimes ignoring certain domestic duties whilst sat in front of our computers….and in my own case at least the words “you’re not listening are you?” or “you can’t still be on that blog” have a familiar ring.

In early 2019 we were pleased that Ian agreed to become our official statistician, keeping a detailed record of the Peninsula’s birds since the inception of the blog. His profession makes him ideally suited to the job and our very own ‘statto’ has ensured a detailed archive is now kept, with such things as monthly, yearly and all-time statistics and average dates available for future researchers.

The 2nd June 2019 was a milestone day as our pageview hit counter quietly reached the million mark and by now it was obvious the fame of the blog had well and truly spread, with the counter showing an average of around 500+ page views daily and often around 1,000 if there is a good bird about. 


Our page view hit counter reaches one million on 2nd June 2019

There is one other person to mention who, although not directly part of the editorial team, still has a considerable part to play in the smooth running of operations. Readers will note that our daily blog entries always start with a fully detailed sea-watch log for the Bill, which nowadays receives daily coverage. Our Log-keeper Justin Atkinson maintains the sea-watching logs at the Bill throughout the year - and thus compiles the official record which is forwarded to the Sussex Ornithological Society. He was compiling the Log well before the blog ever appeared and is still doing so to this day. This is no mean task and requires a good deal of effort, especially when trying to run a business and keep a family, but his accuracy and attention to detail is well known, for which we are all most grateful. 

(above) A rare photo of our Log-keeper and the editorial team together; clockwise from bottom left are Justin (JA), Andy (AH), Bart (BI) and Owen (OM).
(below) Our official statto Ian Pitts (IP) centre, with JA left and OM right.



So, things were going well towards the end of 2019 and the blog was set fair with its two dinosaur editors, a techy, a statto and a log-keeper, whilst the number of people visiting the blog site was steady and increasing. And then the totally unforeseen happened…..the March 2020 arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, a national lockdown and a complete change. Much has been said – and is still being said – about the pandemic, so I’ll not repeat it here, but on a personal basis it caused me to seriously review things for the future, with repercussions affecting my birding outlook.

My 70th birthday fell just a few weeks into the first lockdown and the prevailing regulations meant that realistically I was unable to visit the Peninsula for quite some while. Added to that there was a push for birders to review tactics and become ‘greener’ by choosing to reduce their carbon footprint and bird more locally. Fortunately, one of the lucky locals was my co-editor Andy and so the blog output continued, albeit in a slightly limited manner. However, my only sensible course at this time was to bird locally (during a permitted ‘exercise’ period) which led to me discovering a range of hitherto micro-habitats and the discovery of some interesting species. A drive of some 16 miles or so each way to the Bill was out of the question for me, but for those local birders resident on or near the various Peninsula sites they could still happily justify their visits there. As the spring passed into summer it inevitably showed that the Peninsula attracts many more birds and more species than at other local sites such as mine….but although my home area cannot compare I must confess that I didn’t miss the drive either and what’s more I could be sea-watching locally at a reasonable spot just three minutes cycle ride from home - a considerable compensation!

As 2020 rumbled on with Covid related ups and downs and various restrictions, the blog continued through it all; indeed to some, it was almost a lifeline, a way of keeping in touch, judging by some of the comments received. Our proud claim of not missing a single day’s output since the blog’s inception continued, as indeed did daily coverage at the Bill – amazing really in the circumstances and a tribute to all involved, including all the locals and regulars who kept the news coming.


A socially-distanced, rule of six, outside gathering keeping things going at the Bill in 2020

And so on to 2021. Any hopes that Covid would be done and gone were soon quashed and it was all about getting vaccinations and the need for boosters when various mutations of the virus appeared. We easily passed the one and a half million marker for page hits, the output continues and it’s fair to say that more people than ever are visiting our little blog site. Everything seems to be going strong both editorially and with the admin team. The various back-up pages and statistics are up to date, whilst the WhatsApp group is still active and effective without too many hiccups. The Selsey faithful have become a team, continually supplying bird news and even searching some less visited areas on the Peninsula that might otherwise be overlooked.

So no need for change then?  Well, not quite, although we have no plans to make drastic changes to the blog in the foreseeable future. It will remain and will hopefully flourish whilst it serves its purpose. Andy has always been keen to include as many photos as is reasonable, using various contributors and has become our ‘photo editor’ (well you wouldn’t want me to do it!) and techy and statto have further developed the WhatsApp pages and controls, whilst the archive material is now a useful reference for researchers. But good as things are, change is inevitable and to some degree this has already started….with me!

I am writing this at the very start of 2022, which is actually the tenth calendar year of the blog’s existence. Earlier I mentioned I had reviewed my personal situation during the lockdown and this has now led to some adjustments for me. The Selsey Peninsula, especially the Bill, will always be my favoured patch and it is steeped in memories, but being realistic I am now in my seventies, the journey there has become more arduous and I am unlikely ever to live there for family reasons. I also feel the need to be a bit greener nowadays, to reduce my carbon footprint. I find myself taking an interest and enjoying my local patch at Elmer more frequently and there is now some occasional conflict involved between that and meeting the daily commitment for the blog output. As a result I've stepped back a bit from full-on blog duties and in truth, Andy has been doing the lion’s share of posting the daily reports for a while, with me adding back-up cover and a number of other less obvious but important functions. 

This has led to me discussing my blog future with him. I do have to adapt, but we are both happy with the current arrangement….and anyway, apparently I have to give five years notice and find a suitable replacement (any volunteers?) before leaving.

Although we make light of it, a bit of succession planning is never a bad idea, so if anyone is interested, I/we really would be keen to discuss the options for the future. The pay is bad (zero) and conditions are ok, but time is an important factor, as is the ability to string a few words together (and decipher the odd jumbled observer report or two).....any takers please do get in touch.

Don’t get the idea though that I have abandoned the Bill or indeed the blog, far from it. The former will always figure in my birding world (Peninsula list currently 309 and still very keen to add to it) whilst the latter is very much a labour of love. I said at the start I didn’t want the blog to be just about me and my personal exploits, so I hope in due course someone (younger) will come forward to carry the baton; fresh eyes may bring a new approach and improvements.

Meanwhile, I pay tribute to my co-editor Andy for his unstinting efforts and to all those who help in so many ways to make it all worthwhile. Let’s hope it continues for many years to come and if so I wonder if we will manage to do it without missing a day……. (OM)

 


Squacco Heron at Halsey's farm, Pagham Harbour in 2019 (photo: Ads Bowley). A combination of  WhatsApp messages and/or blog output - promptly picked up by the professional bird news companies - ensures that such rarity news is soon widely disseminated.


 

 (end. Updated 1/1/2022)

 

1 comment:

  1. What can I say? I must be getting old and sentmental, but readng that account near brought a tear to my eye, I frequent this blog almost daily and visit the Penisular several times a year ( but not as often as we'd like ) with my long standing birding buddy of 30 + years Paul.

    I know that he like myself would like to thank you and the team for all the efforts over the years, we've bumped into each other on the peninsular many times in an anonymous way but always exchanged cheery birding news in a way that unites all birders.

    So once again thank you for your efforts I hope your local patch produces for you and to bump into you again on the Peninsula.

    Regards,

    Andrew Pearce

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