Listing continued

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...


Ric said…
Steve, I didn't get Golden Winged Warbler for two reasons. The previous twitch for DC Cormorant had resulted in a bad case of flu which made me think twitching wasn't worth it.

Second reason. Running around in a supermarket car-park with hundreds of others all desparte to see a bird belongs in the realms of having a 'Roo loose in the top paddock'.

I like birding, but not if it identifies me as a prat weirdo.
Gavin Haig said…
Steve, I read your last post when first published, and have just revisited to read the comments. Have you touched a nerve?? Enjoyable stuff!
Gavin Haig said…
Ric, I just laughed out loud at your closing sentence!
Steve Gale said…
Prat weirdo? Yep, I’ve been one and now run a mile from suburban street birding Ric!
Steve Gale said…
Trouble is Gav, I agree with it all. Confuses the hell out of me.
Dylan Wrathall said…
Extreme listing = obsessional dysfunction. I would agree that ego is a huge part in the requirement to seek fulfilment in whatever hobby (twitching, fishing or pan-listing) yet will offer this as another reason - age? I think it would be true to say that Ric, Gav and yourself have reached your conclusions due to the journeys that you've undertaken - hence experience over rose-tinted specs? It's only with the passing of time that any individual can make a sensible judgement on the value of listing within the bigger picture. Of course I still keep lists, but purely for personal reasons and not for the purpose of devaluing my encounters with wildlife by turning it into a sport (with all the associated rules, regulations and league tables)
Listing? If it floats your boat, then it's a personal decision, but not one which ensures enjoyment or inclusion. I have to agree with Gav - you seem to have hit a nerve, but with the what generation?
Steve Gale said…
Yes Dyl, I’m in agreement that the longer you have been into fishing/birding the likelihood is that you will be more successful in self-regulation. As you will know however, there are plenty who still burn fiercely as listers after 40-50 years. Someone ought to interview them and try and get to the bottom of this fascinating social phenomenon.
Harry said…
I'd like to offer a perspective from someone who, if not as old as Steve, might certainly be becoming more reflective with middle age (I turned 44 this year). In Irish terms, I have been, to varying degrees, a big twitcher here, someone who one might expect to see on the first day for most megas, willing to travel anywhere on the island (or offshore islands). I'm not part of the hallowed Top Ten, but I'm probably not miles away, either. I say probably as, oddly, even at the height of my twitchiness, I've never really cared where my list falls in relation to that of others. Strange, that, considering I invested so much time and importance in it.
In recent years, while by no means 'cured', I have, at times, questioned my actions, wondered why I do what I do. Steve's previous post was very enlightening, and in tune with stuff I'd recently begun to think, but, unlike Steve, I can't yet claim to be 'in remission'. It's easy to think that one has recovered when there's simply nothing around to be tempted by, though, as I sort of keep a Western Palearctic list, that Little Whimbrel in the Netherlands has crossed my mind more than once.
I once, disastrously, announced to a wide group of people that I was giving up twitching, cold turkey, end of. The very next day, a Caspian Tern turned up in Co. Kerry, and I went for it. I didn't even see it, but it made a mockery of my great resolution. Having learned my lesson that time, I make no sweeping statements any more, but perhaps just questioning one's motivation, admitting that one has occasionally been caught up too much in unimportant stuff and not wasting time thinking about what one hasn't seen are, in themselves, positive developments, whether one actually gives up twitching or not? Or perhaps I'll give up, eventually, just in a more gradual manner. Either outcome is fine, possibly.
Steve Gale said…
Harry, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us all, and also for your earlier correspondence. I knew that I was ‘cured’ when the Acadian Flycatcher turned up at my beloved Dungeness and I didn’t even think about going. Some didn’t understand that, thought I was mad not going, but not doing so was strangely cathartic. Good luck with your own journey!
Derek Faulkner said…
Blimey, as someone who has been bird watching for sixty of my seventy two years and who has never kept lists, other than those sent monthly to the Kent Ornithology Society and has never once twitched, I've come to the conclusion that I must be a boring old fart. All my life I've simply bird-watched on Sheppey, the last 33 years as a Vol Warden of a NNR and been very happy to be basically anti-social and non listing.

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