Saturday 22 September 2018

If Only I Was a Proper Birder...

If only I was a proper birder...

This recent rough weather would have got me all excited, that's for sure. A few storm-blown waifs guaranteed, I reckon. And sure enough, several Grey Phalaropes have turned up along the nearby coast. In times past I would have been out there looking for such gems, and hoping for even better, like a Sabine's Gull perhaps.

Or a Leach's Petrel. Like this one, found in Christchurch Harbour yesterday...

My sentiment would typically have echoed that of @amythebirder there, along with a little envy. If I was a Christchurch Harbour birder I would quite possibly have been popping down for a look, even in my current mode of deep phase. Yes, I might have rocked up, peered at it through some pricey glass, maybe taken a snap or two, willed it to fly around a bit, and so on... All pretty standard birding behaviour which, over the years, I have exhibited many times. On a handful of occasions with this very species in fact.

However, not all the Twitter comments had a tone of such innocent delight...

Now it's true to say that sometimes I have had 'poor thing' type thoughts because of the sorry state of a particular bird (or even a lot of birds during hard-weather movements) and certainly it detracts from one's pleasure when you can see that a bird is clearly on its last legs. But the comment above caught my attention. Evidently it reflects a measure of concern about the bird's condition, and I can appreciate why. Fine. However, the suggestion that observers need to mute their pleasure somewhat because of the bird's seemingly unhappy circumstances surprised me. Putting aside my initial reaction that it was a bit preachy, I gave it some thought. And it has me wondering whether I am somehow out of step with current birding sensibilities...

Let's be frank. If I was out birding in foul weather, an encounter like the above would be exactly what I was hoping for. If I chanced upon a storm-driven Leach's I would be extremely chuffed. And I can say without reservation, worries that I might be experiencing 'too much joy' would be far from my mind; in fact it would be difficult to think of a more satisfactory outcome to a stormy afternoon's birding! Even if the bird was found by someone else, who then texted me, and I twitched it...again, no worries. If it was a patch-tick, I'd be celebrating. If it was a lifer, even more so!

So, is there something wrong with me? Do I lack compassion or something? Is my sensitivity chip corrupted?

Maybe all of those things. Because I have to confess, if I were ever to find a Nearctic cuckoo of some kind (and let's face it, every single one of them is basically a dead-bird-flying, or, more often, a dead-bird-hunched-miserably-on-the-deck) I would be absolutely ecstatic, and no amount of social media moralising would have me feeling any different. Is that not normal any more? Do I need to ask my conscience some hard questions...?


  1. Gav, you and me are fully involved in activities that in the sense of what we do, has an effect on what we are. We run, we cycle - we get fitter. Fishing - we catch a fish - a tangible result.

    Birding isn't like that. It's just looking. The recorders can record all they like. The twitchers can twitch all they like. But it's still just looking.

    The only time the subject of the watching is affected is when they are being hassled for a closer look or a picture.

    If the watchers stopped watching and recording, it will have no effect on the subject. The birds will just come and go regardless.

    So it has to be all about competition with other people. We take pleasure in finding a rare bird because we get a sense of high currency with it.

    The bird which only two people in Britain have on their lists is envied by those interested in such things, because of bragging rights.

    The fact the poor bird was picked up half dead and rescued from certain death less so. They were just lucky to stumble across a near dead un.

    The bird itself has no concept of our activities. They are but means to an end.

    1. An interesting take on things, Ric. And you've given me the germ of an idea to explore, re what fishing and birding might have in common...

  2. Should we have a conscience regarding the creatures we are watching? If a bird dies as a result of an exhausting journey and no food to eat at the other end it is sad but it is, after all, nature at work. The natural order, and all that. If we were on the plains of Africa watching an zebra being culled by a pack of Hunting Dog, would we feel guilt then? Don't think so.

    So long as observers we give the bird distance and leave it be that is fine, in my view. A very enthusiastic young birder did go a bit over the top on Twitter last year about a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that was clearly very poorly as his photo clearly demonstrated – he regretted it later – so It is probably better not to express too publicly how joyful one is seeing at seeing a half-dead lifer.

    1. Cheers Neil. Your real-life example involving the enthusiastic young birder illustrates the issue nicely. Evidently he was at first joyful, but (unless I've misunderstood) it sounds like he was shamed into feeling otherwise.

      Which, if true, is a bit sad I think.

      It's true that experience, the passage of time, and other factors can change the way we view things, to the extent that behaviours or feelings which used to be acceptable to us no longer are. And with something like 'how excited am I allowed to get when my new lifer is a bit moribund?' I'd say that's a question for our own inner Ethics Committee to address. And while perhaps I might offer for consideration my thoughts on such a matter, hopefully I wouldn't then presume to suggest that my viewpoint ought also to be everyone else's!

  3. To lighten matters on this subject I'd like to think back to the image of Bill Oddie attempting to resuscitate a Great Reed Warbler he'd found dead but still warm. Just so he could add it to his British list within the rules of the game.