Most generations will claim their time and legacy as something of a golden era, particularly when looking back on their formative years. This is particularly true of any group of enthusiasts, whose collective memory will be bathed in sunshine and a shared nostalgia that brings back incidents and events with an almost overbearing clarity - there is happiness in the reconnection but a sadness that it has long gone and cannot be relived.
The twitching fraternity of the late 1970s to early 1980s have a genuine claim to be a’golden generation’. The possibilities of what rarity could make it to our shores were being re-written with every passing year; the number of birders that chased rarities was increasing; more rarities were being found and the prowess in bird identification kept increasing. But maybe more relevant was the demographic of the twitching crowd - it was largely made up of young birders, mostly men, in their mid-teens to early thirties.
Society was quite different back then. Car ownership was lower, mobile phones did not exist, expendable income was at a premium, rarity information was largely through word-of-mouth (a network of birders joined by hard won telephone numbers) and, for the hard-core, the way to travel from rarity to rarity was often by the law of thumb - hitch-hiking. This ‘band of brothers’ had no spare money to use on accommodation if the need arose, so dossing in bus shelters and out-buildings was the given choice. Given the ‘Kerouac-flavoured’ feel to the scene, the ‘drop everything at once’ response to the news of a rare bird and the camaraderie that such life choices created, it is no wonder that a sub-culture was formed and that legends were forged. Birders who went for everything, undertook tortuous cross-country hitches, underwent epic fails, got covered in farmer’s slurry or drank 12 pints in an evening in the George became known, forming a part of the birding myth. Many had nicknames, and these were whispered with a certain reverence by us ‘bit-part players’ when their owners turned up at a bird, or in the pub.
A couple of days ago, one of this crew, this birding tribe, left the arena. His name was Keith Lyon and he owned one of the most recognisable nick-names of all - Dipper. I met him regularly during my twitching time, but couldn’t claim to have known him. I have been reading his friends tweets in response to his passing, and it has been touching to do so. He was obviously a popular person, a bit of a character and a touchstone for their shared time. Photographs have been posted of young lads larking about, draw-pull telescopes being waved around, faded colour memories of long hair, army surplus, flared jeans and a lost innocence. Even to an onlooker such as myself you can feel the warmth and sadness. As this generation ages there will be other losses, and with it comes reflection - reflection on what they/we had and what they’ve/we’ve lost. There will be many of Dipper’s friends looking back on those days right now, reliving a bird, a journey, an incident. His memory lives on, wrapped up in birding. What a charming legacy to leave.