Three times this week, people have referred to me, in good faith, as a “twitcher”. I’m not, and I blame lazy tabloid hacks for creating this misconception, which I will now try to lay to rest.
I am a birdwatcher or, if you will, a birder. I like to be outdoors, with my binoculars and sometimes a telescope, to watch birds. I like to travel to different places, such as hills or the coast, to see different kinds of birds, but I also like to watch common birds, like Starlings, in my garden, or as I move around my home city.
[Picture: Common Starling, Sternus vulgaris, from Creative Commons, by Paul Stein; licenced under Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.]
I like to know their life histories, and to read about and study their behaviour, their conservation and their contribution to human folklore.
All together, this brings me a great deal of enjoyment, and helps me to de-stress after spending long hours at a desk in front of a computer, or in stuffy meetings, in my day job. I try to pay some of it back, by sharing my interest with non-birders, and beginners, and by doing voluntary work for the RSPB and the West Midland Bird Club, of which I’m a trustee.
Occasionally, I am pleased to chance upon a rare bird, or to travel a short distance to a local reserve, knowing one is present. The interest in seeing a new species this way is sometimes tempered by the fact that, if it’s a rare vagrant from Siberia or the Americas, it is likely to be exhausted and near death. At the very least, it will never get home or find a mate.
Twitchers, on the other hand, enjoy an extreme, compulsive type of birding, whereby they will hunt out such rarities, competitively, often travelling great distance, at great cost, and enduring considerable discomfort, to do so. They will often prefer to see one bird of a new species, involving a day or more travelling, over the opportunity to spend time looking at a whole range of other, more common birds (which some of them refer to as “trash birds”). There have been cases of twitchers paying hundreds of pounds to charter a boat or plane to get them to The Scillies or The Shetlands, and one once famously left his own wedding reception and missed the start of his honeymoon, to chase after a rarity.
Unlike some birders, who disdain them, I make no judgements about twitchers, and I know that some are very knowledgeable, and are just as likely as other birders to be involved in voluntary and conservation work.
But I’m not one of them. I trust that that’s now clear.