What is this twitching lark all about? We’ve all heard the term and no doubt some of us have been branded as such, in which case if you’re anything like me you bite your lip, smile sweetly and through gritted teeth point out that calling me a twitcher is akin to telling me that my flies are undone; embarrassing, and making me realise why I’ve been feeling a draught for the last 2 hours. No, twitching is a disease, a serious emotional and psychological problem that in my opinion needs at least strong medication and probably a lobotomy. If I had anything to do with it ‘twitching’ – a condition where mainly single men (and women) dress in military fatigues, and loiter around a bush waiting for a small, frightened, hopelessly lost bird (which somebody else had the good fortune to find), to show itself whilst all the time wishing they were somewhere else, where someone else has had the good fortune to find another equally small, frightened, hopelessly lost bird in another bush, preferably on a remote island between Scotland and the Arctic - would be classified as a medical emergency treatable initially by confiscation of pagers and ultimately by grafting on a meaningful life. As a point of interest a significant proportion of twitchers do seem to be single…… or soon will be.
‘Hang on a minute’ I hear you cry ‘you write about rare birds’. Well, no not really, at least not in the same way. Yes, I like to see unusual stuff, but that’s true of any hobby, the difference is I do not race around the country with the sole objective of ticking a bird I haven’t seen before and that I didn’t bother to find in the first place. There seems nowadays to be a whole race of folk who spend their days with their pager about their person, awaiting news of what other people, who took trouble to get off their backsides and get out that morning, have found for them. So what am I then? A conservationist? Certainly, but we all are, or at least should be. We all live on this planet and should be very concerned with its wellbeing. A naturalist then? Guilty, although I wouldn’t pretend to be anything like an expert in anything. Aren’t we all naturalists to some degree? We all love to hear birdsong and feed our feathered neighbours during the hard days of winter; we all love to watch those wonderfully crafted TV documentaries charting the lives of big cats or marine life, and we all despair at the pitiful state to which the lust for ivory has rendered the African elephant population. Yes, we are all most decidedly naturalists. A birder? That too, and I freely admit that birds, their lives, variety, migration, incredible resilience and beautiful colouration is my main interest. But I do not see the value in screaming around the world ticking them. It has no value, it becomes a self-serving obsession and most importantly all you are doing is taking. And we all know it is much better to give than receive.
I didn’t always hold such a polarised view of this malaise. Time was when I got sucked into making trips to the coast in the hope of catching sight of some wind-blown stray, although I never tended to stray from Norfolk. But the incessant urge to see something for its own sake soon paled. Ignorance is surely bliss in this regard: if you don’t know something is there you don’t get upset about missing it. My pleasure nowadays is derived from just plodding around a chosen venue grateful for anything I see. It is all nature and it all has worth. Even more pleasure is derived from sharing those experiences either by way of taking people on guided walks or by writing about wild places and wild things. That’s not to say I don’t keep lists, life list, UK list, Norfolk list, garden list but what joy to add to those through your own efforts. Perhaps I’m getting old.
I think what has really made me adopt this ranting, crazed anti-twitching stance is this blogging caper. Since I’ve started this one I have also started looking at other peoples birding blogs out of sheer voyeurism. Many are excellent, varied and interesting and I have, with permission from the owners, linked to them from here (you will see the list on the right of the page and they are all well worth a thorough read). Others are, quite frankly, downright boring containing simply lists of things seen, i.e. found for them, and juvenile moaning about the things they have missed. All accompanied of course by the conventional expressions of their ilk, ‘gripped off’, dipped out’ etc that no mature adult should surely ever stoop to type or utter. I’ve learned recently that there are many good folk out there who really care about the natural world in all its glory. I’m proud to call some of them friends. Take my mate Darren who I’m sure would admit to once being at least a semi-twitcher (an itcher perhaps). He has seen the light and has dedicated this year to concentrating his efforts on recording the birdlife of the area in and around Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Not everybody’s idea of fun, but he is having a hoot because everything he sees has a value. Everything is effectively another piece of a jigsaw where nobody knows the whole picture, because nobody has taken the time to do it before. At the end of the year he will have amassed a series of observations that have a scientific worth. He is giving something back.
Then there is Tom, my colleague from Cley (now defected to the National Trust). He devotes much time to conservation issues volunteering not only at Cley, but patrolling Blakeney Point to safeguard breeding terns as well as leading photography and sketching sessions at Holme. He does it all for nothing, although I suspect the glamour of being able to race along the exposed sands at Blakeney at 20mph in his Polaris buggy is payment enough for the man.
There are others – look at their blogs and you will see the great work they do.