A young birder, who I do not know, recently sent out a short tweet along the lines of "Should I give up birding?" The reasons for this distress signal are not known, so it would not be wise to judge it without knowing those reasons. There were several responding tweets, ranging from the "No, don't do it!" brigade down to the "Well, if you are suggesting doing it, then why not do it" camp. I was stuck somewhere in the middle, pointing out that birding does not need to have an 'on' and 'off' switch and that it was perfectly OK to pause for a while. It got me thinking...
There does seem to be an assumption, among many active birders, that to stop birding - whether it be for five minutes, five hours or even five years is a bad thing. An act of treason even. Birding, they say, is an internal state of being for the serious birder and anybody that phases out, even for a short time, is not the real deal. There can be peer pressure to remain birding as much as somebody might be experiencing peer pressure to stop. Most 'phasing' birders who then return into the arena will often bemoan the rarities that they did not see during their exile. So it wasn't the birding that they missed so much as the missing rarities, and a blind adherence to the list.
But why phase in the first place?
Girlfriends. Boyfriends. Getting married. A career. Lack of spare time. A genuine loss of enthusiasm for the subject. And on the latter, who hasn't trudged around seeing very little only to be cheesed off by the ornithological haul attained elsewhere - it is sometimes enough to question why you do it. But then that question isn't so much about birding rather than rarity or number. Birding is as much about a back garden Dunnock as it is a Wryneck on top of a coastal gorse bush.
I have never phased, although there have been many times when I've gone out primarily to botanise, or look for butterflies and moths. Birding has taken a back seat. When I have stayed at bird observatories or gone on birding holidays abroad I will take a day out - I'll read, sleep, have a drink, just generally chill out and reset the ornithological button. I couldn't watch football or listen to music for a solid week so why should birding be any different. To some, that is anathema. Bird, bird, bird until you drop is their mantra. Well, in my book, that exposes a dull individual.
So, back to the original question. "Should I give up birding?" Maybe the most sensible answer is yes. Do something else. Buy a metal detector. Follow a football team for a season. Read the entire works of Charles Dickens. Learn French. Get on a bike and cycle across the countryside. Bake cakes. Visit art galleries and museums. Get pissed. And then, in a few months time, take a check - do you miss birding? If you do, you may well want to start up again, but do not let yourself get back into a rut or find yourself taking notice of the naysayers. And if you find that you're not missing it at all, then you made the right choice, didn't you?