Thursday, 2 November 2017

Birder on non-birder action

This afternoon I took myself off to Juniper Bottom, looking for H*********. I positioned myself on a cleared slope above the footpath, which gave a fine view across to the far canopy. Sound travels along this valley with ease - you can hear a Goldcrest sneeze at several hundred yards. I could certainly hear the three young hikers who were noisily making their way towards me. As they got closer they started to look at me, obviously unsure as to why I would possibly sitting on a log staring at trees. Then, as they drew level, one of them lowered his voice and said "Must be a bird watcher. Fucking weirdo".

It reminded me of a couple of birder/non-birder encounters that I have had over the years. The first took place at 03.30hrs one May morning when I was taking part in a Holmethorpe Sand Pits 24-hour bird race. I had parked up in a lay-by to listen out for Tawny Owl when a police car drew up alongside.
"Morning sir, can we be of assistance?"
"No thank you, everything's OK"
"Can I ask why you are parked here?"
"Well, as funny as it might sound, I'm birdwatching"
(Officer looks up into pitch black sky)
"Not going to be seeing much at the moment, are we now"
"I'm listening for owls"
(Officer turns to his colleague, shakes his head, looks back at me, shrugs)
"Each to their own sir, each to their own..."

My most memorable was when standing on Amberley Brooks one glorious winter afternoon, scope on tripod, scanning for the reported Short-eared and Barn Owls. A middle-aged couple came up to me and the woman asked:
"What are you waiting for?"
She physically started, her eyes widened, her mouth broke out into a beaming smile, her bottom lip was quivering. She looked at her husband with unbridled excitement, then back at me.
"ELVES! There are elves here??!!!"
When I explained that, no, I had said "Owls" and not "Elves" her expression crumpled into one of mass disappointment. I have rarely felt such a heel.


  1. Try sea-watching from the Essex coast mate, everyone wants to know what your looking at/for and are usually disappointed when you say birds,never been sworn at though! ,why would you go hiking in the countryside if you cant appreciate birds?,fucking weirdo!

  2. Being called a "weirdo" is par for the course in my experience! Not having a reposte, to such a comment, is less in line with my stance. I have been in very similar situations, on many occasions. Try explaining to a member of local constabulary, what you are doing wandering a cricket pitch with a bucket and a torch? "Collecting worms officer!" They do take some convincing.
    One of the best was French customs in the Chanel Tunnel, as Craig and I were returning from an overnight moth trapping session. The language barrier was nothing compared with the disbelief of anyone wanting to catch moths! Happy days - great memories - Dyl

  3. Last Sunday I was laid down in a Lay-by photographing Reflexed Saltmarsh-grass when a car pulled up behind me. It was a Paramedic vehicle, there were one 2 men inside. The driver said to his colleague " I know him, there's only one person who would lay down in a lay by to photograph grass ". It was a birding friend. The work colleague looked on in disbelief. So..... birders are classed as weird, but botanists are weirder.

  4. Me standing looking intently at Ash and Oak trees halfway to the beach at Church Norton. Middle-aged lady approaches, " may I ask what you are looking for " , yes I say, Purple Hairstreaks, this is their favourite breeding site in the area. " have you seen any ? " yes I say , but they are difficult to spot up there, they are only this size, holds finger and thumb apart to show size. She now very excited, " gosh I didn't know you could see birds that small in UK ". It's not a bird I say forcefully, it's a butterfly ! Never seen anybody so disappointed !

  5. Like most birders I have had so many awkward, confused if not scared looks that I'm starting to feel like a ghost walking around.
    Birdwatching with your friends looking at you is awful, but hard not to avoid. It wasn't my fault that I got hit in the stomach for not paying attention in a cricket match because of a Wheatear on the pitch!

  6. I remember standing next to a large oak tree in the middle of a meadow, my face mere inches from the bark as I scanned the fissures and crevices for the larval cases of Psychid moths. So intent was I that I failed to notice the bloke walking by who quipped, "I think it's a tree, mate!" I had to grin, the cheeky fekker.

    Steve, this could run and run. You could write a book from these comments!

  7. There's weirdos in all walks of life, or at least people that have an interest in things that other people find odd. Take the anoraks that stand at the end of railway platforms all day, noting down train numbers - or twitchers.

  8. Love the owls/elves tale Steve! You`ve certainly hit on a reach seam here. I can recall many similar encounters down the years, particularly with the bobbies on early morning bird races. In 1984 during the miners strike a car load of us got pulled over on the A1 en-route to a twitch in Yorkshire. "Flying pickets, eh" said the bobby,"out and spread em!". It was only when they saw the optics in the boot that they let us `weirdoes` pass!
    Anyhow, we got the Little Bittern at Potteric Carr as I recall, but incredibly got stopped again in Notts on the way back south!

  9. Thanks for all your wonderful responses - as Seth says, there's a book in there...

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  11. I’ve been asked if I’m lost a couple of times, though perhaps I have a knack of giving that impression. I fondly remember being explained as a ‘naturist dickhead’ when a five-year-old girl asked her father what I was doing walking about the Newhaven clifftop. Also, I altered my default response to the classic ‘what are you looking for?’ when a lady thought I was rounding up illegals for Farage. I’d told her my quarry was ‘any migrants, really’.

    1. David, it seems as if you've got a whole books worth of anecdotes to yourself!

  12. Guy asked me this morning what kind of birds do I see when looking out to Sea. First thing that came to mind where Auks !.Orks he replied ?,the things that are in Harry Potter ?. He was serious too !.

    1. Darrell, what with Elves, and now Orcs, we should gather together a list of fictitious creatures that non-birders assume we are all watching!