Adventures, Nature

On birds

I’m a terrible birdwatcher.

I don’t mean I’m bad at identifying birds: I’m pretty good at that. I’ve been interested in birds for almost 20 years, I’ve owned several ID books. I always want to know what I’m seeing, and I’m getting better at telling calls apart too. I’ll happily go out all day “to look at a bird” – it was the main focus of my trip to Scotland last year, and many days before and since. Since realising that I really can’t take more than a day without leaving the house, I take frequent trips to my local park to see the birds. I’ve delayed many a family walk so I can spend longer watching something. I’ve read more books about birds than any other nonfiction (studying aside), and I expect that’s a trend that will continue.

But I have no interest in twitching at all (twitching is travelling to see a bird that’s usually not present in wherever it’s been seen, a kind of treasure hunt sort of vibe). I went to Walthamstow Wetlands a few weeks ago and passed a big group of men with scopes and massive cameras. I asked what they were looking for, and was told rather curtly that there was a little bunting – a sparrow-like bird that’s rarely seen in the UK. I didn’t feel welcome at all. I know that I might not look like everyone’s idea of a bird person, but I don’t understand why anyone would dismiss someone who was interested in their passion – in Scotland, at RSPB reserves on my own, I spoke to so many people because they asked me what I was looking at, and they all seemed pleased about it. At Walthamstow, we paused for a couple of minutes but ultimately I was much happier looking at flocks of gulls on the reservoirs than waiting for a glimpse of something I might never see, and that I would’ve been unlikely to identify anyway. I get why people are drawn to twitching, but it doesn’t appeal to me.

I get my joy from noticing the shudder of a gull mid-flight, from seeing the blackbird that lives around the school yard, from hearing goldfinches fly overhead, from watching the long tailed tits swing through the honeysuckle at the end of the garden. I’m always thrilled to see a cormorant – I look out for them on my way to work especially, since I’ve taken to walking along the river. I’m hugely fortunate to work somewhere with nearby peregrines, I’ll often see them daily, and I know their calls, and where to look for them. I saw grey wagtails at the weekend, by chance, and it was lovely.

And, beyond that, I love to share my joy. It makes me happy to notice my friends paying attention to birds, because I’ve made them notice. Plenty of them tease me about it, but lovingly, in a way that shows they’ve taken notice of something I am endlessly enthusiastic about (a marked change from my school friends, who were unkind enough to make me pretend I didn’t care any more). They tell me when they’ve seen something exciting, and they ask me what it is that they’re seeing. Someone told me she always thinks of me when she sees a kestrel, and it made me cry. My friends’ 7 year old has developed a huge interest and, while I can’t take full credit, I’ve certainly had a hand in that (he saw a bar-tailed godwit recently, and I am impressed that he could identify it, thrilled that he was so happy, and envious of him for seeing it). People tweet me things about birds all the time. It makes me happy to see the people I love getting joy from something that I love. I love sharing my bird joy almost as much as I love seeing the birds themselves.


I’m a terrible birdwatcher, but I’m perfectly happy as I am.


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