GOB 79 – Birding 101

GOB 79 – Birding 101

(This article first appeared in the July 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

How enamoured are you of today’s birding scene? Do you relish the technological advantages today’s birders have or miss the old ‘anything about mate?’ days?

Like the famous Curate’s Egg… birding today is good in part, but not everything has got better. Yes, I know I am an aging curmudgeon pining for the ‘blue remembered hills’ of yesterday’s birdwatching, but I’m also a bit of a techno-bitch, slavering to stay apace with ever-changing upgrades and envelope bursting ‘progress’.

There are plenty of changes I can enthuse about but some things get my goat so bad I want them assigned to the fabled Room 101!

Here are my three candidates:

Birding Jargon

“I spent the morning watching viz mig, but it was mostly mipits and by the time I got the call for PGTips a spawk had it, so I dipped on another stonker”.

This is an example of deliberately esoteric language to eliminate communication with normal mortals. Does it really tax these poor souls too much to say ‘visible migration’, or is all that energy saved a necessary boost for twitching? Meadow Pipits and Sparrowhawks may be common, but contracting their name to a single brief word hardly makes them more or less exciting. As for the truncated Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, turning it into a commercial cuppa makes just no sense at all. These guy’s notebooks must be as hard to read as Pepys’ diary!

Stonker is another word that irritates me no end… because it is not a measure of loveliness, but of rarity. I’ve twitched with the best of them, but nothing will lead me to spend hour upon hour watching one LBJ simply because it had a bad sense of direction or go caught out in a storm. I appreciate the cryptic splendour of a common pipit or wren no more or less than a rare one. Rarity does not render anything more beautiful, and a tick is a tick whether you take ten minutes or ten hours to watch it. An adult rose-coloured starling or a lesser grey shrike are stonking birds, olive-backed pipits and juvenile rose-colored starlings are great ticks, but Miss World they ain’t!


I’m a lister; keeping year, county and country lists, but really do not see this as any sort of competition with anyone other than me. There is nothing on earth that will convince my oldest birding buddy that he and I are not competing! This might, of course, be due to the fact that his UK and world life lists are both longer than mine… but I really, really don’t mind! What I hate most is that some birders feel triumphant when their friends miss out… I mourn other people’s dips. Sit alone watching the funniest movie ever made (Bridesmaids) and you will smile a lot, watch it with friends and you will all be crying with laughter… birding like laughter is best shared.

The Fieldcraft Void

Because of the ‘sport’ of twitching lots of new birders have no experience of how the environment works, no grounding on common birds and other fauna and flora and often no understanding of how to view wildlife with little impact on its wellbeing. Their ID skills may be very well developed, but they may have no clue about what impact they have on avian life, let alone the livelihood of landowners or wider conservation concerns. If all you want to do is get a sight of a new bird with no care for others, the bird itself or the habitat its appeared in, then you need not bother to learn to tread quietly, respect others and put the welfare of wildlife above all else.

I’m not attacking twitching here, only some of the mindlessness that spoils too many twitches. With luck twitchers become birders become conservationists, but until they do I’m for isolating them in cell number 101.

Hear the Podcast:

Rant it out!