My last post, on the subject of listing, has certainly caused a bit of a stir - it has become one the most visited posts on ND&B of the year, and apart from the comments left on the blog itself has also drawn some private correspondence on Twitter and email. Thank you all for adding to the debate.
I had better come clean. A lot of the last post was written tongue-in-cheek with a large dollop of Devil’s advocate thrown in for good measure. I’m not suggesting that listing is futile. I do keep lists, and lots of them. But rather than chase them I just maintain them. They are not the reason why I go out into the field, I do not do so to seek out another tick, but if one comes along then it adds a bit of excitement to proceedings. My lists are just handy places to manage my observations, a tidying mechanism, aide memoirs, and a bit of fun.
I doubt that even the biggest supporter of listing would disagree that if you take listing to extremes it can cause problems. I know of relationships ending, jobs being lost and mental breakdowns being suffered, all because of unreasonable behaviour due to self-imposed pressures driven by the need to list and list again - you could say by becoming the victims of the ego.
Ego. We all have one, but some egos are bigger than others and demand feeding. Maybe those of us who list obsessively are suffering from a form of mental disturbance which could be likened to alcoholism or a gambling addiction. The ego’s need takes over and demands feeding. Self control is hijacked. This extreme behaviour is commoner than you think. Even I, ‘Mr. Sniffy Lister’, have feigned illness to get out of a previous engagement to be able to travel to see a bird. I have missed social engagements, let down friends and behaved anti-socially as well, all in the name of adding a bird to a list. I can read that back now and feel shame, but at the time of these indiscretions felt as if my behaviour was perfectly acceptable.
I stopped serious listing - and by that I suppose I really mean twitching - when I realised that I was gaining no pleasure from it at all. I would worry from the moment I heard about a bird until I arrived on site, and just feel a brief flutter of joy and relief if I did, in fact, see it, before returning to a state of agitation about where the ‘next one’ might turn up. And if I dipped, well, the sometimes lengthy journey home could take on the guise of a bereavement. But I would be disingenuous if I did not admit to looking back on some of my twitches with pride and pleasure. And I regularly milk some of them as being blockers, taking a perverse pride when I reel off such species as Wallcreeper (x2), Varied Thrush, Little Whimbrel, Golden-winged Warbler, Red-throated Thrush... and there are more. So even for a cured lister like me their is an echo of the listing past that still resonates in a positive form.
We are really talking about the problems that can be caused by extreme listing here, or rather the inabilities to deal with it. For most people it is a harmless vehicle used to collect objects or garner recognition and acceptance from like-minded souls. Listing could also be seen as a taming of the birds that are observed, bringing them into our ownership. Where we used to use arrows and slingshots to bring them down we now condemn them to pen and paper or spreadsheets.
So, is listing a harmless pastime, a cry for help, a wish to belong or a worthy pursuit? They can be all or none of these. And does it really matter? Whatever it is, the subject certainly fills up a blogpost...