Thursday, 26 November 2015

Suppression? Good Idea!

When I first started birding the Seaton area in the mid-noughties Black Hole Marsh didn't exist, and it was quite possible to go to Colyford Common or Seaton Marshes without seeing another soul. Even more so if up Beer Head or checking the estuary or seawatching. Here we are 10+ years on and this is no longer the case. When I looked in on the Glossy Ibis at Seaton Marshes on Monday I saw at least four other birders, and any visit to BHM virtually guarantees a few cars in the car park, if not lots. Yes, things have changed; the Axe is no longer the Backwater that it was...

So, a question: is this a good thing, or quite the opposite?

The answer probably depends on your point of view. As a patch birder - and a selfish one at that - I didn't much like the 'intrusion' such popularity precipitated. My preference would be that our patch had remained a well kept secret, known only to a few. This was of course impossible, for at least three reasons:
  • The publicity generated by a dynamic Birdforum thread and several lively blogs
  • The ongoing development of the Axe Estuary Wetlands project, with its reserves and hides
  • The relentless appearance of really rare birds

As patch birders, to a great extent we few were victims of our own success.

"Tough!" one might say. Indeed. However, such popularity has an interesting (and perhaps surprising) consequence...


For example, on Monday I was given a bit of gen about some local Bramblings and asked to keep it to myself because the locality was a bit sensitive. The concern? That photographers might spoil things by going where they ought not, thereby upsetting local landowners. Anyway, I went and had a look and scored six Bramblings. Nice. Local Woodlarks have also been subject to this kind of suppression. Some might argue that 'suppression' is a bit strong, and maybe 'non-publicity' would be a better way to put it. Perhaps. But supposing it was a wintering Little Bunting, say? Or, what about Pine Bunting? Well, that's definitely suppression, no question! So, even with something modest like a few Bramblings, really there is unequivocal suppression going on. And the reason why? Because the patch is basically too popular, and a lot more birders than the few locals would want to include Brambling on the itinerary of their visit. Okay, but so what? Does that fact alone justify suppression?

In my experience, yes, because so many birders simply cannot behave. And the more birders you have, the greater the likelihood of there being some utter divots among them.

A few years ago this turned up at Exminster Marshes:

A rather smart American Robin. I was fortunate enough to see it before the hordes arrived, but when I took Mrs NQS on the Saturday, this was the scenario:

The bird was in that hedge on the left. The charmers right on top of it there hounded the thing into oblivion with their big lenses and splendid fieldcraft. As a consequence Mrs NQS never saw it. It's not often I want to do people real harm, but that was one time...

My point? A lot of decent birds turn up on much less public local patches than Exminster Marshes. Witnessing this kind of behaviour is enough to make anyone think twice about releasing news, especially if the locality is a bit sensitive in some way. When it's just a scarce bird like, say, a roosting Long-eared Owl, well, no big deal. But when it's a real rarity, that's a very different matter! Birders generally resent such suppression. And yet, in reality some of them are responsible for it...


  1. The more I bird, Gav, the less I like birders... and I am one! After 40 years plus in the field there is without doubt a larger, selfish element, lacking not just field craft but basic humanitarian skills. It's not suppression, just being sensible.

    1. Almost all the birders I know, I also like. I would also trust most of them to do the right thing in situations where a bit of tact and sensitivity were needed. But even here, it's 'almost all' and 'most'. Sad, isn't it! I dislike generalising, but in this case cannot avoid it - collectively we really are our own worst enemy!

  2. Having seen that situation Gav with the AR. I wouldn't blame you for telling only the trusted few (about a rarity).
    Counter suppression may be the result, but at least you'll have the satisfaction of maintaining standards.

    1. Ah, telling the trusted few...
      Sounds like the course of wisdom doesn't it. However, in my limited experience of this option it does not result in the happy outcome one might envisage. No, just an awful lot of bad feeling.
      I really don't think there is a universal solution...

  3. Still. At least it gave you an excuse to trot out that rather grippy shot of american robin again eh? Is that the one you nicked off the internet or something? I remember an old blog post about it at the time...

    1. Hello Col :-) Yes, have you noticed that all (should that be 'both'?) my grippy shots are recycled on a regular basis? The Beer Head Ortolan holds the record I think - might even be double figures now!
      Your reminding me about the internet nickery has just made me search out the relevant posts - I still have them from November 2010. I got three posts out of that American Robin episode. My favourite is the Dr Patchworker and Mr Twitch one, but there was also one about the blogger who nicked my pic and claimed it as his own!