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...