Monday 4 November 2019

Dodgy Birders - Part 3: Don't Lie. It's Not Worth It.

In parts 1 and 2 we hopefully established two fundamental principles of birding:
  1. Correctly identifying birds becomes important only when birdy gen is shared with other birders. Up until that point, it is perfectly okay to live in a parallel universe where every other bird is a BB rarity; knock yourself out...
  2. Notwithstanding principle #1, all birders make mistakes. Knowing this, all birders consequently are (or should be) very tolerant when mistakes are owned up to.
And now, in part 3, we're going to discuss something that involves a fundamental principle not just of birding, but of life. It is this:

People hate being lied to.

In part 2 we touched on one scenario where there could be a temptation to lie, ie, in order to cover up an embarrassing misidentification. We might call this 'understandable' perhaps, but would never condone it, and any birder caught doing this (or simply suspected of it) is going to have a tough time preventing their reputation from suffering. But in birding, as in life, there are countless opportunities to lie, many of them far less 'understandable' than covering a mistake. Let us examine one or two...

Here's an example from real life. Birder X is doing a regional year list. It's late in the year, and a Leach's Petrel turns up on one of the region's vast reservoirs. Birder X needs it, and Birder X claims to have seen it. And Birder X produces a ropey photo to 'prove' it. Some of Birder X's fellow enthusiasts smell a rat and put this photographic 'proof' to the test. [I am not party to all the gory details but believe Birder X's regional tally was by now under the microscope anyway due to factors other than simply unfeasible hugeness.] Some careful sleuthing reveals that Birder X's photo has actually been nicked off the Internet. The image has been tinkered with too, prior to being presented as his own, which somehow makes it worse.

There is a birding blogger in the US who sometimes writes about this kind of stuff, and with reference to one individual similarly caught using photos fraudulently to back up his 'sightings', put it this way: 'That birder has since been excused from the birding community...'

Very sad.

The obvious question is why on earth would anyone do that?! One can only speculate. To me though, a more interesting question is this: why is such behaviour not tolerated? Really, REALLY not tolerated. After all, each of us is well aware of the various manifestations of human frailty, so can't we just live and let live when something like this happens? The short answer seems to be no. Here's my take on why...

Because birding is based very largely on trust, and trust is a sacred thing. When another birder tells you they've seen 4 Redstarts and a Pied Fly, you trust them to be telling you the truth. If they rush up to you, all red and breathless, gasping about the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper they've just found down the road, and urging you to come quick... well, you might think 'Ooh, I hope they haven't mucked up a Wood Sandpiper or something', but you don't for a second doubt their sincerity; you trust them in that sense at least. When the county recorder receives a load of seawatching counts from someone, he trusts those numbers to be pretty accurate. When you share your own sightings with others, you expect them to be taken in good faith, to be trusted. In birding we just expect the truth from one another, simple as that.

Therefore, in birding, as in life, betrayal of trust is a cardinal sin. To simply lie to other birders is pretty gross, and they won't tolerate it. In fact they will resent it. Even more so if they realise it is not a one-off.

And what the liars don't seem to appreciate is that resentful folk will seek retribution. That feeling of being taken for a fool will galvanise the most easy-going birders into a remorseless squad of vigilantes, intent on catching and unveiling them for the lying fantasists they are.

There is just a slim chance that someone reading this is thinking: 'Hmmm, he's talking about me. What he's described is exactly the kind of deceitful dodginess I get up to. But I'm careful. I will never be caught'. Well, perhaps you are not aware that they are already very much on to you. If you use social media, they will be taking screenshots of your nonsense and sharing it with one another, gathering evidence, building a case, trying to catch you in a lie. They will be discussing you among themselves and biding their time. Because eventually you will trip up mightily, will be confronted with your birdy crimes, and will be forced to come up with lame excuses like how in your excitement you accidentally posted a photo from a holiday taken six months ago, or accidentally typed 'Icterine' instead of 'Willow', or accidentally let a vindictive hoaxer have all your account passwords and post the stringiest garbage imaginable in your name...

Or maybe you're right, and actually you will never be 'caught' in the fullest sense. Nevertheless, while it may be true that no-one will ever be able to say of you: 'That birder has since been excused from the birding community...', you have already, in effect, excused yourself.

Coming up in part 4 of the Dodgy Birders series: the Birders Who See Too Much


  1. Yes Gav, mistakes of youth apart, one's good reputation is something you only have one shot at.

  2. I am looking forward to part 4, the seeing too much thing is really a local patch concept in my opinion, and thus very very hard to deal with.

    1. Agreed, Jono, very tricky. Patch, and perhaps county/regional level in my experience. Unless, of course, a tiny proportion of birders are perpetually jammy... :-)