Thursday, 7 February 2013

Then and now. Go figure

Once upon a time, we went out birdwatching. It would normally be to a local place, where you would bump into other birdwatchers - they weren't called birders then, just birdwatchers. There would be a sense of originality about what we were engaged in as the chances were nobody had reported any sightings from that place for a few days, and if there was something special in the area we would most probably find out about it when we turned up that very day. The birdwatchers that you bumped into would also be a surprise as the chances were you wouldn't know that they were going to be there at the same time as you.

Most people carried scuffed-up optics that were not terribly good and not many of us had a scope - however, we were very proud of them and treasured them. If we needed to get closer to a bird to see it better we used stealth and hard-won field craft to creep up on it. If it flew off we tried again. And again. The one or two field guides that were on the market were woeful for critical identifications such as rare warblers, gulls and waders, but they were the sort of thing that observatory wardens found and identified, so it really didn't matter that much. Our expectation were not low, just realistic. We most probably cycled to our place of birdwatching choice. Or got a bus or train. Or all three.

We might arrange to go birdwatching with friends to the coast, and where we went depended on not what was around (because generally we didn't know) but where we fancied going. These trips were highly exciting. Arrival might involve being confronted by a list of recently seen birds on the door of a hide (or even a visitor centre), where we kicked ourselves for not having been there earlier in the week (because some lucky so-and-so had seen a Wryneck). This only upped the anticipation of what might be present, not lessened it. All our life lists were different as the rarities that we has seen (and there weren't many) had been jammed in on, or were hard won by staying at bird observatories.

Our bird club annual report would arrive in the post and each and every word would be feverishly read, marvelling at seeing our initials in print and finding out for the first time about several rarities, including some that had been just down the road. This was inspiring, not gripping.

We didn't know about gulls. We didn't understand redpolls. There was one species of Chiffchaff.

Birding was altogether more innocent, and dare I say, spiritual. It is perhaps easy to suggest that such thought and observations are typical of misplaced nostalgia, a sickness of a middle-aged mind that finds the modern birding world a little confusing. However, I'm not a luddite. I blog. I tweet. I keep abreast of what is around by the internet. I keep up to date with taxonomic changes, with the latest identification papers and try and embrace other natural history orders. I'm not settling into a semi-retirement from data gathering.

BUT... I find the incessant ticker tape of latest bird news to be pollution (and yes, I add to it). I get quickly tired of seeing photographs of the same bird posted from hundreds of different angles -by hundreds of different people. Birding has been taken over by the ME, ME, ME generation where we find it necessary to tell everybody where we've been, what we've seen, how many we're on and what we're going to do next. Originality is sorely missing. Where are the ornithological pioneers, the free thinkers, those who are going to inspire the next generation to get involved?

And yes, I am a part of this information diarrhea. This post is just more of it.

As the Americans would say, "Go figure"


Stewart said...

Another stormer Steve. The sad thing is, many readers, young and old will not have a clue what you are on about. If they have just started birding since the advent of the internet, pagers, mobiles etc they must think you are barmy, one Chiffchaff indeed.

For me, I remember things in your post as if I had written it myself.

I had no scope when I found my first American race Teal. I got the bus to Druridge Bay and would walk most of the day to coastal ponds seeing very few people let alone birdwatchers.

I would find out about good birds two months after they had gone, even birds at sites when I had been there on the same day and not known about them or seen anyone to tell me!

I have a pang of longing for those days again, but they are well and truly gone...

I'm copying your post into word, to look back on, just like I have my old DIMW articles from 80's Birdwatching mags...I read them maybe once a year to give me a fix of the 'good old days'.

Steve Gale said...

You and me are cut from the same cloth Stewart... Looking forward to your very own '40 years of birdwatching' homage to HG Alexander - I'd buy a copy!

Stewart said...

Aye, another absolute favourite of mine, that is well read too!