A fellow birder recently asked me the following question:
" Why do we want to let others know what we see?"
That really got me thinking. Don't we just chuck our observations out into the public domain without given it a moments thought? Or maybe we do have our reasons, our ulterior motives, for doing so. I had a bit of paper nearby and jotted a few thoughts down as they entered my head. After five minutes the following had been written...
To contribute to and create an accessible database
To inspire others
Sharing data and success
To inform others of what's about and where to go
For entertainment value
To educate (or at least to arm others with information)
Because data is important
To act as an alert to those who may be interested
To justify what we do and to give our observations meaning
As you can see, plenty of overlap but also many diverse reasons as to why we pass on our observations. All of the above are why I do so, or at least these are what entered my thoughts unbidden - you may have many other reasons for doing so.
The way we pass on this data has changed in recent years. When I started birding, I would send my observations (by post) to the county recorder, with phone calls being made to close birding friends if I found something of interest. Part of it was to advertise my presence in the birding world (through initials in bird reports and acknowledgement from recorders) but it was also a public celebration of what I was getting from my bird watching. Now we have many ways of alerting others to what we find - Twitter, Facebook, What'sApp, blogs, phone - but the premise is the same, that of letting others know of your success/luck. So is it really down to showing off? Some of the time almost certainly. Why not bask in the glory of finding a rarity, as it doesn't happen all of that often. But we will also announce a good sky or sea watch, one full of common birds, and such an event is surely not a case of blowing our own trumpet. Maybe we are just advertising the fact that we are out in the field and paying our dues - but it isn't as straight forward as that - we are also wanting to let other observers know that something is happening which they to can also enjoy if they just get outside right away and join in. And what about a simple tweet that tells your followers about a Firecrest in a hedgerow or some Brambling feeding in a field? Neither are rare, neither suggest that you are manfully facing the elements in a time consuming search of the skies or sea - maybe these are true examples of altruism, just wanting to give others the opportunity to watch desirable species. All of the above most probably apply some of the time, it's not a black and white decision as to why we do release our sightings out into the public domain. Shades of grey rule!
And then, just when I was about to send this off to post, I thought of another reason, possibly THE reason.
We want to belong
We want to belong, or at least feel as if we belong, to a network of like-minded souls who get their kicks from this passive art of birding. There, that's the whole thing sussed then - it's all because of our human need to connect with like-minded souls....