Internet-based birder

I came across this post's title via firstly a tweet, then a blog post from Jono Lethbridge. I get the impression that the phrase 'internet-based birder' was used against him as an insult (and apologies if I'm incorrect here). This got me thinking.

Birding is no different as a hobby when compared to stamp collecting, train-spotting and following a football team. There are, within the number of participants, varying levels of participation, knowledge and obsession. Being a certain sort of birder (or birdwatcher if you prefer, because the world 'birder' does confer a certain place within the ornithological world) does not mean that all the other sorts of birder are either less competent, relevant or worthy.

We all get from birding what we want - whether that be driving to Wales to look at a lost warbler, watching a local park, or helping out at a reserve in a work party. I have my own personal opinion on what I think is more meaningful, but that doesn't make me right. Nor, logic would suggest, wrong.

Back to being an 'internet-based birder". The suggestion here would be that, rather than paying ones dues out in the field, the person accused spends far too much time writing blog posts and playing around with curves in Photoshop. If that were the case, so what? Appreciation of birds does not have to be expressed by hours spent in the field. To be inspired by their form to produce art is, I reckon, a more creative way of expression than by merely looking through a scope at a bird and then driving a couple of hundred miles before repeating the process.

I've banged on about it before, but what we all do has never before been so scrutinised. It's all our own fault if we insist in telling the world via blogs and tweets what we are up to and what we think. The downside to this is that there seems to be an open season for others to comment on what we do - again, it's the nature of social media.

An example: David Campbell, a young birder who I know very well, has just started a university degree course. He is also in the middle of a rabid bout of twitching. During term time. When he should be at lectures. If he did not tweet and blog about his exploits, nobody would be the wiser. But because he does, he has received plenty of 'comment' about bunking off. Part of me wants to chastise him, but then when I think back to my student days I was just as bad. And, more importantly, what the hell has it got to do with me? Ah.... well, in a way, when somebody uses Twitter and blogging to tell me what they've been up to, then, in a way, I've been invited to comment. When you sign up to these things and create an account you are living in a glass house.

Am I less of a birder in 2013 than I was, thirty years ago, in 1983? I don't think so. I was out in the field an awful lot more. I was sharper in the field. I found more (if we are to use that shallow reference point). But my appreciation of the natural world is far wider now, and I get just as much enjoyment from writing stuff like you are reading now. If the term 'internet-based birder' was to become common currency, it's a moniker that I wouldn't be insulted to have bestowed upon me.


I agree, it's none of my business, and therefore I should not comment. But being older, and possibly at this point wiser (questionable), if I think back to my Uni days those first weeks were utterly amazing. I met the future (and indeed current!) Mrs L during that period. And that's why I have spouted forth. When asked "who did you meet?" what is the answer going to be? At the moment it's a bunch of men dressed in camo, in a variety of cars. The lectures are largely irrelevant in the first term, you're far too busy with other things, but in my case they were other things and I am hugely grateful I had not discovered twitching at that point in time. Then again, as I am attempting to remind myself as often as possible, live and let live, do what makes you happy, follow your arrow. But this time won't come again. Anyway, I appear to have written a blog post, so I'll leave it there. Oh, and the internet thingy is indeed intended as an insult. I may or may not deserve it, I am undecided - my unfortunate arrogant streak came out the other day, but the level of response has been particularly uncalled for. I'll live, naturally, and for now I'm letting the camera do the talking, and avoiding too many words as they appear to get me into trouble.
Steve Gale said…
Never give up on the words Jonathan!
Factor said…
Words are important - especially from both you and Jonathan, two of the very best wordsmiths on the blogosphere. You've written the post I was thinking of writing, and you're spot on. In this era of social media, our every move is under the spotlight if we choose it to be, unlike in my younger days.

I hardly ever went in to college during my second year and very nearly got kicked out because of it, but no-one outside of my immediate network of friends or colleagues knew I had been travelling half way around the country to racecourses and stock car meetings in pursuit of my passion at the time. I then met a girl at college and in the end I knuckled down and got a decent degree but...

I think David was a bit disarmed at the comments made towards his twitching exploits which, after all, aren't hurting anyone and were really only said as mild leg-pulls. However, there is an underlying message from those of us of a certain age. It's not for us to tell him what he should or shouldn't do, but we recognise from experience what issues can arise from what is basically obsessive behaviour - to have no off switch (to coin the title of a fine book). Basically, if no-one else is going to comment on it then those of us who care because he's a smashing lad have a right to voice concern.
Steve Gale said…
Spot on about David, Neil, spot on...
Tim Allwood said…
Makes me laugh because when my father was 20/21 he was flying heavy bombers at night before a stay in Stalag Luft 3. David Campbell is just a young man having a great time, doing what he enjoys and seeing a lot of the country in the process. He's no doubt learning a lot about it on the way too. He may get fed up with twitching in a few years, and even go abroad birding for extended periods having further wonderful adventures. Eventually, I guess he'll settle down as nearly all of us do, but by then he'll have seen a lot of life and will be better placed to decide exactly what he wants to do... He might even end up in a boring job, in a place with no birds and spend the weekends twitching others' birds for the rest of his years, but I very seriously doubt it!

Two quotes that always make me think... one from Cormac McCarthy - and there's no better wordsmith than he - "Life is brief and to have to spend every day of it doing what somebody else wants you to do is not the way to live it"

And whenever I wanted to so something daft as a young lad, my mum would worry but my dad would say "Let him go and do it; if he dies he'll die doing something he loves doing"...

If you're reading this David, sorry to have been talking about you in public without your knowledge, it seems a bit discourteous. Anyway, have fun! It'll end one day, and when it does you'll wish you'd done it all...
Steve Gale said…
Tim, you're making me feel like a puritan now! Maybe some of us are looking at David and seeing our own lost youth. We are with responsibilities that we feel compelled to meet, but part of us longs to stick two fingers up to society and go off and do what we bloody well want to. Believe me, we know the lad (ironic calling him a lad, he towers over me) and only want to impart some (possibly misguided) advice. He can, of course, tell us to bog off (although he's far too polite to say that). And his list is already longer than mine - I did say list...
Factor said…
Do like the McCarthy quote – sounds like my life for much of the time. Bugger.
David Campbell said…
Quite amused/bemused by all this, most of which I have taken as quite light-hearted/caring though I must say I thought Jono's comments were a bit much, if only because he made his views known rather snidely no less than three times and basically accused me of spending tax-payers' money on twitching. This I have a problem with because a) You don't know how I fund myself and are making rash statements; b) I have a part time job which funds my recreation, the living allowance goes to my dad at the end of the day to pay for accommodation and c) Even if I was using my student loan to twitch, I think having a go at me for that is rather brazen as it will come out of my pocket once I'm earning and it's just generally a rather petty thing to get so disgruntled about, while some other students are spending it on much more harmful things. I don't have a go at others for doing what they do and don't expect be at the receiving end of such comments.

The McCarthy quote is more or less what my mantra to life has been for a while now. I know, though, that doing what I most enjoy needs to be balanced with things that I really ought to do in my long-term interest. Ergo I haven't taken a gap year (yet...) and am working reasonably hard (I'll be honest, I have some catching up to do). I am not missing out on student life either, going out for the night with my new friends regularly.

At the end of the day, as has been identified, what I do with my time is no-one else's business really. I haven't got a problem with this discussion though, only the comments which I perceived as a little too strong.

Steve Gale said…
Thanks for replying David. I've said all I wanted to privately to you. It's your life, follow your dreams, because if you don't you'll only regret it in later life. All the best, Steve
Hi David

I’m sorry. My comment was not intended to portray you as some kind of free-loading slacker. Just the slacker part! I’m clearly not in a position to judge how anyone funds themselves, and if I’m honest I have no idea how it works these days, whether tuition fees are all or part of it, or even how the loan works, it’s all different to when I went through it. I’d get defensive if people questioned me, though I guess that’s fairly well understood, i.e. I work my nuts off doing a job I loathe, which in turn means I start getting pissed off when I am unable to go and do what I’d actually like to be doing, possibly causing some ill thought through tweets, blog posts and so on directed at people who don’t have those constraints. I was a much nicer person in 2010. At the end of the day though, I am who I am, and this is just me being me, and if you knew me better you would know that. A lot has been written lately about internet presence, and this essentially falls into that – many people may think they know me, but actually they don’t, and my bark is lot worse than my bite. I’ve always put the caveat out there that little I say should be taken completely seriously, as other than photography an work, I do not take very many things seriously at all, and especially not birding and the internet. Anyway, if I have offended you, I apologise for that, I don’t like to make people unhappy. Ironically enough I didn’t even bother going to see the bird in question as I didn’t end up feeling like it when I was free.

However, and as per my follow-up tweet to you (which I can’t find but must be there somewhere), my biggest concern, and accepting that it is absolutely not my concern and absolutely none of my business how anyone else lives their life [see first comment above], is the same as that of Steve and Factor. Which is that the first weeks of Uni have simply got to be more important than seeing a few birds. The birds will come round again, they always do. Being a fresher won’t come round again (unless you flunk and have to start again), and in my view that’s an immensely important period of a young person’s life. I met Mrs L on day one of my Uni course, and those first few weeks have pretty much set the course of my entire life since. I would not want anybody to miss out on that if they’ve been fortunate enough to have that opportunity in the first place, especially not for a few vagrant birds. As I see it, there is no contest. None. I want to read about your Uni exploits, about pouring beer into your nostril through a cardboard tube, about surfing into the common room on a tray of shaving foam, about wild nights with young ladies, ideally several young ladies, and about all the other dumb, dangerous, exciting and absurd things that students do. Not too bothered about hearing about lectures or the course, at this point that’s not so critical. Though of course it will be. I’m probably just being an old fuddy duddy, but if you spend your student days twitching the length and breadth of the country, you’re ultimately going to jeopardise your whole future. Sorry, this is sounding like a lecture.... (possibly your first this year!)

But it all depends on what you want from life, and as I mentioned somewhere recently, do what makes you happy, not what makes other people happy. And anyway, is Uni everything? Look at me, I worked very hard, pulled a top degree out of the bag, and now am consigned to sitting in an office day after day tearing my hair out. Not wondering where it all went wrong exactly, but certainly there are many other things I would prefer to be doing. If I had my time again, what would I do I wonder?

All the best
David Campbell said…
Thank you for the apology, Jono. I do understand what you mean about the importance of the first few weeks of university from a social perspective. I have been having a lot of fun here, I've made lots of new friends and been doing things I've never done before ([fairly] sensible things only!); the experience certainly has been developing me as a person. Yes, I might have missed out on a small handful of opportunities or a couple of nights out but I'm prepared to pay that price to continue my passion, I honestly don't think I've missed out on a huge amount. Maybe I have, I don't know, but I always come back to find my friends still there and still inviting me out where I have a great time and forget about the birds. Bunking off for two weeks and staying on Scilly might have been different but remember I've been away on average for 1-2 days per fortnight and that frequency is not going to continue.

As you elude to, I don't want to come out of university finding myself at an office desk 9-5 each day and unable to see all these things that turn up, so I'm happy to balance university life with the birding life that has had an unrelenting grip on me since I was seven. I enjoy it too much and it means to much to me to just let it go.


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