GOB 105 Quid Avium Venari
This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine July 2018
Why do you go birding?
I don’t mean the question you pose yourself when you are freezing your binoculars off at silly o’clock on your day off, while dipping out at some windswept post-industrial wasteland. All of us question our sanity at such times. I’m asking what motivates you? Some say their birding obsession lets them slip the spousal leash; others are conservation driven and some claim they expand ornithological knowledge. But explanations of why you started may not hold years later.
When I cared more about people than peregrines I took a course on ‘substance abuse’. One exercise we did was to create a chart of our ‘drinking career’. Most were similar… people started to be as cool as their mates, even when hating the taste. Then came their full-on quaffing as students or young single earners. Parenting slowed them down to occasional nights out and maturity made for moderate drinking at dinner parties and sunny lunches. A few people had to wonder whether their ten pints on weekends, or a nightly bottle of wine was a sign of addiction. Birding has a ‘career’ too.
You might be like me brought up by nature loving parents who shared their delight, which just made loving wild creatures natural. Some of us teenagers liked to see new birds. Parenting puts birding on the back burner but in middle years we bird whenever we can. Lucky for me I’ve a birding spouse. We had a year of full on twitching in the late 1980s and had some bad experiences. Jostling crowds, arrogant male birders ignoring anyone’s view but their own and once an invasion of private gardens put us off. We felt that twitching for some was over competitive collecting with little care for the welfare of birds. I can’t imagine an antique collector pushing his nose against a Ming vase until it topples off its pedestal!
We still both liked to find and watch new birds and even now love overseas trips with lots of ‘lifers’ on offer. Maggie loves the ‘hunt’, but is less into local birding seeing the ‘same old birds’. On the other hand she is a passionate carer for ‘our lads’ (House Sparrows), Blackbirds and other garden visitors spending a fortune stringing up apples to keep the Ring-necked Parakeets coming in.
I still love trying to see a hundred birds by the end of January but am far more likely these days to stay indoors avoiding howling winds or freezing mornings. I’ve never, ever gone birding and not enjoyed it, but some days the motivation to get out at all eludes me. I still want to see new birds but hardly leave my home county to see them just because they are not on my UK list. A ‘world lifer’ might get me driving for 90 minutes. However, birds I’ve seen loads of times abroad are not a pull just to add to the Brit list.
I am now far more excited by seeing behaviour I’ve not witnessed before than I am by an addition to the county list, although a new garden tick definitely pleases me greatly.
But what really motivates me most is the whole experience of being with the birds in their habitat without unwanted intrusion. I love bird-filled tranquillity.
What got me thinking was that the other day I chose to go to a quiet marshland that I knew would have few birders about because a very rare county tick was on offer elsewhere. It was a bird I ‘needed’ for my county but going for it would have meant being part of a crowd descending on a hapless vagrant. It turns out that I’m even grumpier than I thought. I drove in the opposite direction and didn’t get so much as a year tick but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. So, why do you go birding?