Sunday, 16 February 2014

The post in which I admit to quite like birding

I have been asked on more than one occasion why I bother with birding, as I obviously don't enjoy it. I can understand why some people may come to this conclusion - after all, I do moan a lot about 'birdy' things, be they twitching, the 'modern' ways or the pseudo-science of identification (there, I've just had a little dig, I just can't help it).

Well, I have news for you if you think that I am anti-birding and birder - I'm not! I love it and them!

Yes, I do find a lot of what goes on today as absurd, but then a lot of this is a generational thing. Identification is an evolving field in which you can either immerse yourself wholeheartedly, you can totally ignore or, like me, pick and choose what you try and take in. I can pick a Caspian Gull out of a gull flock, I'm not too bad on redpolls, but just don't try and get me engaged in a meaningful conversation about Thayer's Gulls. They are as familiar to me as fifth-century Mongolian pottery.

Not many people know that I was an 'A'-permit holder for bird ringing. I spent eight years studying birds in the hand, mostly passerines, but I also helped out with canon-netting waders and ringing gull and tern chicks at colonies. I was in charge of Dungeness Bird Observatory during the summer of 1979 while the warden, Nick Riddiford, was on a seabird sabbatical to the Salvage Islands. Therefore I've never lost the ability to find my way around the topography of a bird. I'm not phased by an alula or a humeral, I just find that some birders try and create an air of mystery around such things. I think this is one facet of birding that I find particularly annoying - that of a small number of participants trying to make birding into something that it isn't, building up walls of difficulty that don't exist and which can put those, who lack a bit of experience, off.

I am also more than aware that what I write on this blog can also be pompous. After all, it assumes that what I've got to share is something that somebody else might (a) read and (b) find worthwhile. However, in my defence I am aware of this and am also aware of my own absurdity. I can do self-deprecation with the best of them. I am part-buffoon and part-fraud. At least I know it.

My admiration goes out to those who work at their birding, be they patch-workers, twitchers or world listers. Most of them have level of field skills that I could never attain. But where I do feel nauseous is the backslapping and congratulations that are indulged in when somebody gets in a car and drives a few miles to see somebody else's bird. You might as well congratulate me for driving to visit an ageing aunt - it's no different apart from the fact that the bird I end up seeing is very old, slightly batty and less likely to look as good...

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