Thursday, 9 April 2015

A birding template

The older I get the more I cannot see the point in running around after other people's birds. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-twitching or even suggesting that birders should not chase target birds, but for me to do so lacks - how should I put it - a certain amount of art. Time, money and a sat nav can set anybody up as a competent lister - just check the news feeds and burn rubber as soon as something takes your fancy...

I used to do just that, many moons ago now. National twitches, obsessive county listing, manic site list compiler, but in reality I couldn't compete with the most rabid exponents of the 'art' and found that I was a ball of stress waiting to get to a bird and not much better after connecting with it. It had been relegated to a tick on a list, one that was no longer needed, a product that had just been consumed. There, I said it, the bird was just an object to be collected, collated, chewed up and spat out. Well, maybe that's going a bit far, but you get the picture.

I reference this little bit of wisdom from Eckhart Tolle:

'The ego identifies with having, but its identification in having is a relatively shallow and short-lived one. Concealed within it remains a deep-seated sense of dissatisfaction, of incompleteness, of  "not enough". 

Want some more?

Having - the concept of ownership - is a fiction created by the ego to give itself solidity and permanency and make itself stand out, make itself special. Since you cannot find yourself through having, however, there is another more powerful drive underneath it that pertains to the structure of the ego: the need for more, which we could also call "wanting". No ego can last for long without the need for more. Therefore, wanting keeps the ego alive much more than having. The ego wants to want more than it wants to have. And so the shallow satisfaction of having is always replaced by more wanting. This is the psychological need for more, that is to say, more things to identify with. It is an addictive need, not and authentic one."

Some of you reading this might be more mentally well-balanced than me, but I got to the point where the act of getting ready to strike out on a birding mission (i.e. to twitch or list) became an unhappy experience. I was already getting myself ready for the inevitable dip in my emotional state (and maybe a dip on the bird itself). To counter this I retreated into moths, plants and butterflies for a while, before trying to reinvent myself as a local birder, one not driven by the need to collect. I do still keep lists, but I don't chase them. I maintain them. There is a big difference. This has meant a big fall in my ornithological expectations, I don't see as many species as I used to and I certainly don't find as much (not that I was a prolific finder anyway). My prowess in the field has also taken a dive as I am not honing my skills on a regular basis at the coast - north Surrey does limit my ability to watch and listen to 'difficult' species.

Now my birding is more about the purity of the act, trying to understand the field craft, the reading of the weather, immersion in the habitat and trying to put myself into the mind set of a bird (pretentious, or what!)  Maybe we all evolve into this benign birding state. We start by wanting to just watch birds, anywhere and anytime. Then we want these birds to be rare, special and exciting. And then, when this wears thin, it's the manner of the birding that counts, where it takes on a philosophical and spiritual edge. And with this the joy returns.

Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it. As usual...


  1. Replies
    1. I really should just go and have a lie down...

  2. Well although you said it in a tad more intense way than I would of, I agree with your sentiments. I've never been a twitcher and have always struggled to understand the obsession, especially when you consider not only the sometimes monetary cost of achieving a tick, but the fact that it can often wreck relationships, etc., and for what, to see and tick off a bird that somebody else has found for you.

    1. True words Derek, unfortunately lost on many...

  3. At last you've got the idea!!

  4. I couldn't agree with you more Steve. These days for me it is the act of 'going birding' that I enjoy. Of course I do enjoy seeing some 'good' birds if I can whilst I am out, but it is always on my patch and never twitching at all these days. The act of going birding is the motivation and the enjoyment for me!

    1. Glad to find another out there who is following the same birding path... sometimes it can feel as if our choice is somehow perverse!