The Little Lady Will Have A Sherry
(This article first appeared in the February 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)
Have I banged on lately about sexism in birding?
It’s still as prevalent as feral pigeons in Trafalgar Square. It doesn’t matter that ten years after her passing one of the world’s top ten listers is female, nor that many top wildlife writers, bloggers, film makers, conservationists and ornithologists are women.
Birding is blokey. It’s as oriented towards male values as motor racing, football and hiding from the wife in the shed. Women and girls are, of course an increasing proportion of enthusiasts for sport in general. Look along the terraces at Twickenham, Wembley or your local side’s sports ground and female faces are far more familiar than in my youth, or even a decade or so ago. Blokeyness is no longer confined to blokes, but that hasn’t shifted the paradigm. Lads may not be the only ones necking too much beer or getting fighting drunk in Ipswich or Ibiza; the ladies in their lives have become laddish, rather than their boyfriends becoming less boorish.
Disabled people, youngsters and ethnic minorities are still less likely to be birders than white males in their twenties and thirties. And if they, like women, bird, they often adopt the out-dated and outrageous attitudes that define male dominated pastimes.
I’ve noticed that many middle-aged birdwatchers drift away from ‘twitching’. It could be they want to find their own rarities, or that they love the solitude of patch working or the joy of seeing new behaviours rather than new species. But my money is on them no longer enjoying the competitiveness of the ‘sport’ of birding. How long your list is, is, after all, a more or less exclusively male obsession. Ticks equate to notches on the bedpost or the number of cow seals a big fat male can corral into his harem.
A quarter century ago my young teenage son found and announced a rare wader we were searching for. He was ignored and the group of twitchers moved on until they found it for themselves! Women are still assumed to be ‘along for the ride’ rather than equal to male birders in every respect.
I know this to be true….
Last December, Hawkeye and I went down to look at our hometown sea. Storms had been raging (albeit from the west) and I was hoping some interesting birds might take shelter along the cliff-shadowed bays of this southeast resort. Dozens of ships had anchored offshore sitting out the bad weather but little seemed to be moving. A few grebes bobbed among the waves including a nice Slavonian, but no auks, skuas, or even distant shearwaters. There were close in gannets and, unusual for this part of the world many were loafing in the water. I scoped the few gannets that were diving for food in water dotted with the heads of seals.
My wife sheltered from the wind in the car, occasionally tapping the window to point out the growing number of Brent Geese on the tide line and a couple of Rock Pipits hopping along the car park fence. Then, in an almost unprecedented sally she came forth and shook me to say… ‘Did you see the Swift?’
‘A Swift?’ I half admonished’, …in December, are you sure? Describe it’. ‘Well’ the patient lady said ‘it had dark scimitar wings’ and dived rapidly over the cliff edge… she held her hands apart to demonstrate that it was too small to be a Peregrine. ‘I’m sorry’ I said ‘Its just not…’
It was at this point that the Swift nearly parted my hair. We watched it for ten minutes going so fast and close I could hardly get my bins on it. The next day’s crowd were of the collective opinion that it was a Pallid Swift… although I thought it too dark on the back. But, given my display of sexism, what do I know?
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