40 years a birder

The realisation came only this morning - I began birding in 1974, so this year marks my fortieth anniversary of being involved in this most absorbing of interests. Forty years? I still feel like I'm nineteen on the inside, even if on the outside I may look very much like a bloke who is 55...

Birding has taken me to places that I would most probably not have visited had it not been for the lure of the feathered beasts - off-shore British islands, Israeli deserts, Malaysian rain forests - and I have been fortunate to meet and befriend a right old cast of characters through this shared obsession. And obsession is the correct word for it. I may have reduced the amount of time that I spend purely birding (due to looking at other aspects of natural history), but birding is always there. I never switch off (just ask my wife when it is me who is driving).

Much has changed over the years. Here are just a few thoughts of the birding life in 1974:

We had but three decent field guides (Peterson, Hamlyn and Collins, the latter the first multi-purpose guide to depict middle-eastern birds).

You had to get British Birds - there wasn't anything else to read.

Bird news came via annual reports, bird society newsletters or, if you were in the know, word of mouth.

Rare bird news was gleaned via personal telephone communication (yes, you had to cultivate a network of like-minded souls and talk to fellow human beings!)

We went on twitches on spec - I have turned up on site to be told the bird had gone three days previously - that's just how it was.

We hitched and slept rough.

Nobody's life list was anywhere near the same. Those that put in the time at bird observatories generally had the most enviable lists. FACT: in 1979 an Alpine Swift hung around at Fairburn Ings in Yorkshire. Not only was it a tick for me, it was also a lifer for most of the big listers. It was an unblocker! Times have changed.

The celebrity birder market was collared by the likes of Robert Dougal and Tony Soper.

Nobody looked at gulls.

Only the most adventurous travelled abroad, with even a trip to the south of France being considered exotic.

Our optics were largely a shambles. My telescope was a draw-pull, it seized up in the wet and cold and was as proficient as looking through a milk bottle (it was a Nickel Supra). I thought I was the dog's bollox when I bought it, though.

Nobody had seen 400 species in the UK - yes, read that again, it's true. Toddlers have seen more now.

Scottish Crossbill did not exist (it still doesn't as far as I'm concerned).

Water Pipits, Hooded Crows and various Redpolls were just sub-species.

I could still see Willow Tits with ease in my area.

Birding has become, without doubt, more proficient with the increase in the quality of optics, instant information and numerous identification advances. It has lost a bit of its soul - or maybe that's just the expected response from someone who still remembers the excitement of getting up in the darkness of a winter's morning, catching two buses to Staines Reservoir and spending the day in the pouring rain -  and not knowing what was going to be there.

That was part of the thrill.


What I like about your blog is that reading it you would never get the impression at all that you were an old fart ;-)
Steve Gale said…
Come, come Mr Lethbridge, you flatter me too much... but oldish fart I certainly am!
northernloon said…
That Swift was rather good. Kipped in a hide after hitching across the M62
Jerry said…
Steve, once a birder, always a birder, there's no cure, thankfully!
Steve Gale said…
Funnily enough, I kipped in a farmer's barn the night before. Alpine Swift for breakfast!
Steve Gale said…
Amen to that Jerry...

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