A friend of mine, one of the two best birders I know and a chap who has devoted his life to getting out looking at birds has published his annual birding round-up on his blog. [It’s a good read – here]. He is guilty of sparking me to write the following thoughts on some comments he made on different approaches to birding. I am focussing on this paragraph:
“Non-birders and birder-lite’s don’t appreciate what twitching is all about. Yes it is irrational, but so are very many things that Humans do. Yes it is not very environmentally friendly, so very much in keeping with virtually all Human activity. Yes it is only a tick, on a tick sheet designed to add ticks to it. What is not considered, especially by those who claim to be purists (no such thing, sorry!), is the amount of data accumulated by those who chase when they complete their eBird checklists. Sure some just put the tick on it, they may always do that or they may eventually want to add more. Most, and that includes 99.9% of rarity finders, contribute the sort of data that could only have been dreamed of pre-eBird. Counts, distribution and dates for all the other species seen are part of the package along with the tick … You may not particularly like the notion of (responsible) twitching but you cannot denigrate the data it generates.”
I wouldn’t disagree with a word he wrote but I am going to take the opportunity to add a couple of personal comments to it.
“Non-birders and birder-lite’s don’t appreciate what twitching is all about” … Non-birders clearly don’t get it but birder-lites (which is perhaps where I am heading these days) probably do while realising it’s not for them. I’m getting on in years and have been through a period of enthusiastic twitching. I still love to see a lifer and rarities appeal greatly, though I have little enthusiasm nowadays for ticking vagrant rarities, preferring to see birds where they are “supposed” to be and ideally on breeding territory. At least once a year I travel afar to see birds and more often than not do so as part of a wildlife focussed tour with local guides so I get the most out of the opportunities I am paying for. But I don’t twitch. I don’t jump in the car and hare off to maybe see something I “need” on my life list unless it is reasonably close to home base. I don’t really care if I have a longer list than anyone else. But twitching? Yes, I understand the what and the why.
“Yes it is not very environmentally friendly, so very much in keeping with virtually all Human activity” … Here we get to “Greenbirding” and the like. Greenbirding is about using human motive power to get out to where the birds are – walking, cycling, canoeing, occasionally taking the bus. I was commissioned and paid once to write a book about this so I know the pros and cons quite well – you should read it [and you can if you follow this link.] I do care about the environment and I do care about keeping my fuel consumption low and cheap and my GHG emissions minimal – I have a two year old car with under 9000km on the clock for example – so I walk or use the bus for the most part but I drive rental cars on vacation considerable distances and often while looking for birds or butterflies or just to go somewhere for a good walk (with a pub at the end). I am not here to criticise anyone. I can justify Greenbirding with statistics and factoids until the (GHG emitting) cows come home if you want but in the real world I am a greenish birder because I enjoy seeing and knowing more about the birds that live near to me rather than far distant ones. I like to watch the changes in their habits and population with the seasons and over the years. That’s just me … as I said, I have twitched, I occasionally twitch but mostly my approach to birding has changed into one of visiting localish habitats that I know really well and just seeing what is about and recording it. If I can do some botanising at the same time (J is an avid botanist) then so much the better. Even more so if there are photos to be had. If I am travelling, then my first thought is not “what good birds are here” but rather “there’s an interesting field/marsh/woodland, let’s go and see who lives there”.
“Most, and that includes 99.9% of rarity finders, contribute the sort of data that could only have been dreamed of pre-eBird.” … Now we are getting to where the two approaches meet and where we totally agree. Birding should not be about personal lists, interesting as they are, but about shared data. Citizen Science. I have almost zero time for people – robin strokers as they have been named – who say they like watching birds (or butterflies, or plants or whatever) but don’t make a note of what they have seen so that science and other enthusiasts cannot benefit from the data they have gathered. In today’s world with smartphone apps, websites, eBird, iNaturalist and the like it takes very little time at all at the end of a day in the field or watching your garden to sit down with a cup of tea and upload your sightings to one of the huge databases sitting there eager for your contributions in the knowledge of a job well done.
So, today I am always exceptionally pleased if I self-find a rarity (and report it to eBird etc) or just some nice birds that I don’t often see but if someone else saw the rare/good bird somewhere distant to where I am I am probably not going off on a twitch to see it myself. I am content to know that it still exists out there and is happily doing its birdy thing in suitable habitat. The record is now in the database and the bird doesn’t need me peering at it. I am more concerned about, and work towards preserving, habitat that is endangered and which when lost is going to affect all the wildlife that calls it home. Of course, many twitchers do that also and more strength to their elbows say I. Some don’t but that’s between them and their consciences.
Perhaps even more important is making sure that the following generations come to know and appreciate wildlife and want to preserve it and the places it lives in. Sadly, that seems less and less to be the case unless we make efforts to show them what’s out there and how vulnerable it is. Quote: “In our technology-fuelled world, children are spending less time wandering around the great outdoors and much more time plugged in to a screen … it becomes increasingly important to bestow on our children the importance of interacting with nature and taking care of the environment.”
A good way to start the process of “bestowing on our children the importance of interacting with nature and taking care of the environment” is to make sure that the gardens they have to play in have been designed, planted and maintained to attract and hold as much of the native wildlife as possible. Put up feeders and nesting boxes, plant fruit trees and seed-rich flowers, minimise the lawn, install a pond with a waterfall, enroll the kids in projects like Feederwatch and enthuse them about the whole process. Show them birds and critters and make sure they do not become the sort of persons who think all blackbirds are of one species or that male and female Cardinals are separate species or that Goldfinches (aka “canaries” to many) migrate in winter. No need to lecture, if the kids are anything like I was back then they will find it fun. Then take them for walks in local parks and along riversides and continue the process of education. That way there might still be a habitable world for them to grow up in.
And if the kids want to go twitching – good for them. Far better than playing shoot-em-up games all day long.