Sunday 23 January 2022

Purposeful Birdwatching...or Not

The late Ian Wallace wrote an inspirational little book entitled Discover Birds (1979) which I devoured with enthusiasm in 1981. I've been a fan ever since. Wallace always encouraged 'purposeful birdwatching' (he probably coined that term) and that little primer planted all the seeds necessary for such: the need to take notes, to count, to describe; to record and report. In the ensuing four decades I am painfully aware how far away from that ideal I have mostly been. Purposeless birdwatching might better describe much of my participation in this hobby...

A wonderful introduction to birding. Worth seeking out even now, if only for the evocative account (and lovely illustrations) relating a magical spring day at Flamborough: 1st May, 1978.

Sure, I've had my moments. Periodic bursts of note-taking, counting and record submission. Just recently for example. Though I haven't used a physical notebook for years now, a notes app on my phone has done the trick, and today I emailed a 630-odd row spreadsheet to the Dorset Recorder. But I detest compiling spreadsheets, and have always found the whole process a dreadful chore. In a way, the tiresome administrative slog is a sacrifice I offer to try and offset the guilt of many years of no records at all. Yes, guilt. I hope I'm not alone here, and that at least a few other birders feel a similar twinge of conscience because they're bad at sending records in. Last year I wrote a post about Caspian Gulls in the West Country. Afterwards it was tactfully pointed out to me that four of 'my' Axe birds were not part of the Devon record, because I had never submitted them. Guilt galvanised me into writing four retrospective descriptions.

What I'm trying to get around to is this: I genuinely want to be a 'purposeful birdwatcher' - up to a point - but I also want it not to be a chore. I wish to enjoy it. Is that too much to ask? And so much the better if I get something out of it too.

To that end I've been investigating ways to contribute records directly - ideally while actually birding. At least two platforms I'm aware of - BirdTrack (run by the BTO) and eBird (run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US) offer such a facility, and in a bid to find out how other birders got on with them (and/or other platforms) a few days ago I asked birdy Twitter...

The response was brilliant, and in a coming post I'll report back on the outcome, and what I am now doing as a result. Watch this space...


  1. The thing about citizen science projects is there aren't that many things you can't go and look up...

    1. And I like the idea that any 'drop in the ocean' contribution which I make will not just vanish into some inaccessible databank, but provide me with something I can subsequently use and enjoy. A bit selfish, but reward generally encourages effort, so win-win for both citizen science and me I hope.

  2. I use eBird virtually every day now. I find it satisfying that you can build up bar-charts for your locations so that you can see what occurs there week by week through the year. And it's very easy to use, once you've had a bit of practice. There are a lot of 'tricks' - such as just using the first two letters of both words to find a species on your list (e.g. GRTI for great tit, or if you prefer PAMA for Parus major. I particularly like GAGA for common snipe! I think eBird is better suited to world listing but that may not be a factor for everyone.