Coming of Age
This article first appeared in Birds Illustrated
Dear readers, until today I have, I confess, been misleading you all! Today I can reveal that I have become what I always purported to be! I’ve always been grumpy, but today I officially became old, as I write I am ‘celebrating’ my 60th birthday. Here in the UK I can now get a free bus-pass, eye-test and medicines.
Just when I should get into my stride this article also marks the demise of Birds Illustrated and my column goes with it… this combination of aging and loss scores high on my grouseometer!
I shall not be able to vent my ire on many topics I’ve had lined up in my mind’s eye, each waiting to escape into print like steam from a boiling kettle of emotion.
I cannot tell you how much my neighbour gets my goat – I hang ten feeders out with every offering from nyjer to meal worms, fat balls and sunflower seeds, while his breakfast leavings and supermarket peanuts bring in twice as many birds!
I cannot tell you how much I am irked by jerks telling me a twitchable bird is 50 meters down the track when my aching bones measure out 300 meters to the described spot… or how a fellow seawatcher tells me the Sabine’s Gull is ‘just by the breaking waves’ when I am staring at a storm-tossed sea, or another denizen of the bird-hide tells me the most interesting bird of the day is ‘in that tree’ when the scrape is surrounded by mixed woodland!
I can, however, relate one of the most shocking things about birders; something that may even explain why a magazine, which is such a triumph of stunning imagery and crafted words is biting the dust. I confine my invective to British birders without sufficient knowledge to proclaim a universal rule… but British Birders are mean! I do not mean that they are as ill-humoured as yours truly, nor that they are not generous. Indeed, one of the striking things about our pastime is that 90% of our birding buddies are quick to share their knowledge and bird sightings, their passion and even, on one occasion, their sandwiches with a complete stranger. What I mean is that they are stingy when it comes to paying to see birds.
It staggers me that those willing to pay a fortune for optics cannot find a coin to toss into the collection bucket at a twitch. Recently on a twitch on private land the owner farmer was delighted to have collected £300 for the Church Tower Restoration Fund, from the estimated 1000 twitchers present – an average donation of 30p! I live in a county where there are several thousand active birders… yet only 600 are prepared to stump up £20 for membership of its Ornithological Society and, as birder numbers rises so memberships fall!
The biggest selling bird magazine here has a circulation of less than 30,000, but there are at least 300,000 active birders here and many others interested in Birds – 20 million people feed garden birds! It seems we are too mean to even buy a quarterly magazine!
Our most popular participation ‘sport’ is angling, 2.5 to 3 million people participate; it’s a multi-million pound industry with hundreds of tackle dealers and thousands of fishing ponds, lakes and rivers, charter boats and the like. Our biggest selling monthly magazine is an angling one! A compulsory annual license helps maintain our waterways and one can spend as much on top quality rods and reels, tackle boxes and ‘bivvies’ as birders pay out on optics, but here the similarity ends. Fisherman expect to pay to fish, they assume there are charges whether it be a few pounds for a day spent on the local pond or an annual fortune for a private syndicate water containing potential record breakers.
What is the birding equivalent? We expect free entry at nature reserves, keep our hands in our pockets at twitches, and borrow our mate’s magazines. There is no compulsory license and the majority of us are too tight-fisted to pay subs to local societies or national conservation bodies.
The exceptions are probably reading this magazine and will be as sad as I to see its demise, its not alone as this year also saw the last edition of Alula, the longstanding Finnish ornithology magazine that sold Europe-wide.
An old radio pro used to sign off every week saying… ‘if you have been, thanks for listening’ – so, if you have been, thanks for reading the ramblings of a grumpy old birder, the thorn amongst the roses in a magazine that really deserved to survive.