Listing to one side…
(This article first appeared in the May 2015 edition of Birdwatching Magazine)
Somewhere wreathed in mist and hidden by a time vortex is the schism that divided those who need to note their observations and those who are happy just to observe.
Like loving or hating Manga, musicals and Marmite, you either love to list or are completely unable to understand why people bother. The obsession may be a relative of the collecting bug. There are those whose minimalist lives have no use for old theatre programmes or a stamp album let alone a lawn infested with gnomes or a wall covered in frog-shaped teapots. They would stare open mouthed at a five year-old collecting bus tickets or an anorak-clad cove noting down the number of the train they are taking to work.
I am by inclination on the listing side of one of human nature’s grand canyons. I guess I need to collect sightings just as, when a boy I needed to collect matchbox covers, stamps and coins. I once even had a world-class collection of cigarette packets, which I guess today would be just a series of blank paper adorned with health warnings.
When I started birding ‘seriously’ as a teenager my diaries were full of lists of birds with ‘lifers’ underlined, year records circled and county newbies marked in red. I progressed from RSPB grey-covered printed lists to a series of ‘Birdwatcher’s Logbooks’ replete with every sighting noted, primitively sketched and everything from the weather and the state of the tide, to my sandwich fillings and the books I had just read put down in detail.
I had summer lists and winter lists, year lists and patch lists, county lists and British lists all of which are as useful, in general terms, as last year’s railway timetable. Even the most avid fellow lister would deign only a passing glance. Some are lost in abandoned attics and a few still cram the top shelves in my study, looked at seldom and in private, like a serial killer’s trophies.
Like many things that time passing erodes the urgency of listing wanes. Most of us grow out of binge drinking and obscure music, fashion following and TV soaps. I seem to be growing out of collecting and listing. My stamp album is in some forgotten corner and just about everything else I ever hoarded has been car-booted, charity shopped or chucked in a recycling bin.
However I cannot quite wipe the slate clean. My world list may not be growing much but it is constantly re-shuffled to accommodate taxonomic change. I have resolved to go to Devon this year to look for a Cirl Bunting as its not on my stagnated UK list ignored because it sits somewhere on my world one. My county list will continue to be maintained and might grow as I do very occasionally twitch a world or UK lifer if it turns up in my county.
Nevertheless, I still keep a year list. Year lists are different, an incentive to see the same old same old. Somehow the fact that it is annually renewed remains an incentive and every year I set out to ensure there are 100 species or more on it by the end of January. When a blackbird or blue tit is desperately ‘needed’ for a day or two there seems a point to listing still. Sadly, that need seems to lessen with each month and by the end of February the list may only have been extended by a bird or five after January’s mad dashing. I guess the driving force is novelty. Each January the commonplace is novel for that year.
I may have put listing to one side but the need for novelty, to see something you have never seen before is almost hard wired into the human brain. Knowing what I have seen makes it easier to target seeing what I’ve never seen before!
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