Saturday 30 July 2011

In defence of listers

[I will admit it. I am a lister. I keep track of all the birds that I see, keep year lists, county lists, state and province lists, yard lists, a life list, etc. I also enjoy the non-listing aspect of birding, such as the other day when I watched a Field Sparrow sing incessantly from its perch atop some dogwood for 10 minutes. It was cool!]

First off, I apologize in advance for this rant, as I want to keep this blog more on the subject of bird sightings, as well as sharing a few photographs. Well on second thought, I won’t apologize because I’ve been meaning to type this for a while! 

Neotropic Cormorant - Wheatley, Ontario (found by B. Holden)

It seems that in the birding community in North America, there is a general consensus that “twitching” a bird to add it to a list is something to be frowned upon. Before I jump into that, I’ll clarify the term for those readers who may not be up to snuff on the newest birding lingo. You see, birders are crazy and we have a whole new language to describe our peculiar activities. “Twitching” a bird is essentially the act of traveling to a location with the sole intention of seeing a previously reported bird. Often, rare vagrants stay put in an area for a few hours (or even a few years, as was the case with Ontario’s only Heerman’s Gull), so other birders may have a chance to glimpse these rare birds. Additionally, many birders often keep lists, which may be one of the mechanisms that drives the “twitching”. For me in particular, I keep an Ontario list so when a Mountain Bluebird showed up near Hamilton this past spring, part of the motivation I had to see it was driven by the fact that I was missing that species on my Ontario list. Check out a poorly phone-scoped photo of the bird below, possibly the best photo I’ve ever taken: 

Mountain Bluebird - Stoney Creek (found by C. Edgecomb, B. Charlton, R. Dobos, D. Don)

One article in particular really rubbed me the wrong way. It is entitled “The Filth of Twitching” and is available here.
In the article, the author describes twitching a bird as “a despicable, deformed beast that consumes the innocent birder”. He describes going to look at a Lesser Sand-Plover in California, and seeing many birders arrive, look at the bird for 10 minutes, add it to their list, and move on.  The author sees this behaviour as despicable because the bird was seen as a quarry or prey. The birders were seeing the bird, "collecting" it (adding it to their list), and moving on to the next rare bird. The author seemed to have the high and mighty opinion that HIS way of birding was the only correct one (spending lots of time studying the bird, perhaps not seeing it only as something to be “collected”), and these filthy twitchers weren’t doing it right. 

Black-throated Sparrow - Port Burwell, Ontario (found by A. Allenson)

To me, I find it nearly impossible to describe behaviors as right or wrong. I see very few black and white issues in the world, and this is another gray issue.  There is no rule that states that the only good birder is the one who doesn’t chase rare birds. What birding means to one person is completely different than what it means to another birder, and I find it very offensive to call someone out on their style of birding, just because it isn’t the way you do it. If chasing birds and adding it to a list is what gets you off, then by all means do that! If you enjoy watching the ecology of birds in your garden more than anything else in birding, then by all means do that! Essentially, do what feels right to you and don’t worry if other people frown upon it.
I’m going to use an analogy that may be a little extreme, but here goes. Ok, birding is like religion (that’s right, I went there). Just like there are different religions, there are different styles of birding. I think that someone should choose a religion or belief system that seems exactly perfect for them, and no one should tell them that it is wrong to have that belief system. Same with birding styles. I also hate it when people attempt to force their belief system on others, telling them that all other belief systems are incorrect. Same goes with birding.

So basically, this entire article can be boiled down into a few sentences:
(These are my thoughts and you don't have to agree)

There is no “right” way to practice the art of birding. People shouldn’t criticize other people because they do it differently. People should do whatever feels right for them, regardless of what other people think. Ultimately, we are all out there because we share a passion of birds, so let’s all get along! 

While the author pointed out many negative aspects of twitching, I’ll mention just a couple of the positive aspects of twitching.

-the thought of seeing a new bird can be the driving force to get us out of bed and out in the field
-it is a great way to run into old friends
-it can bring you to explore other parts of the province that you normally wouldn’t check out

And that’s all for know! Let me know your thoughts. The next post will be actually about current bird sightings, I promise.

1 comment:

Blake A. Mann said...

I tend to agree with you!
Everyone has a different way of "listing". I don't do much of the "chasing" thing, but just like to get out and enjoy birds and the outdoors (or find my own rarities!).