Thursday, 23 October 2014
As birders, we all go through similar stages of development - from absolute beginner; to keen novice; a committed patch watcher; an ardent wanderer; and possibly manic world birder. This will take a good few years to come to pass, and in that time we will gather a number of skills - those of field identification, habitat knowledge, an understanding of how weather conditions will affect movements, effective fieldcraft, where and when to look to maximise the birding potential.
Whether you can tell a Booted from a Syke's Warbler, or are just happy with counting Coots on a local lake, we are all from the same extended family - that of the ornithologist, or birder if you prefer. But once we have reached the rarified air of the 'experienced birder', what then? What to do with these life skills so hard won? It would be a shame to sit on them and not share some of the magic with others, who are still on that long journey from absolute beginner...
There is joy to be had from sharing the 'birding experience'. I have been most taken by the attitude of a good friend of mine, a birder of 50 plus years, who has travelled the world in pursuit of birds, and who has honed mightily fine field skills through thousands of hours of being 'out there'. He now finds immense pleasure in sharing his knowledge with others. I saw him in action at Dungeness this May, helping a string of beginners get to grips with warbler song, explaining to them how he was able to confidently identify overflying shapes and what they should do to maximise their chances of seeing a Bittern. This week he spent a marvellous day sea watching at Cap Gris Nez in France. In a subsequent phone conversation I had with him, it was not the magnificent skua and shearwater observations that he was most pleased about, so much as his helping of a couple of novice Belgian birders to get to grips with the identification of the passing birds offshore. He had got a great big kick out of it, and I'm sure that he won't mind me observing that he most probably wouldn't have had the inclination to do such things 30 years ago. The Belgians were ecstatic, very grateful and left full of the wonder of what they had seen and how they could actually put names to these birds that, earlier in the day, were beyond them.
We are not all blessed with great field skills, but that needn't matter. An infectious enthusiasm will inspire others. An intimate knowledge of a local area can make a place far more rewarding for birders who don't know it. You can stimulate a whole raft of people just by sharing. It costs nothing. And I'm sure that we can all think back to our formative birding years and identify those who helped us along the way.