Saturday, 1 October 2011

This is where I stand!

Someone has already phoned me to ask about exactly where the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was seen yesterday and the answer is - "I don't know"!

Anita Scott
found it and is reluctant to share the information with me because, as she put it, she is concerned that it Will be "hounded". Those of you familiar with this species will probably appreciate that unless you are the most talented hang-glider pilot in the world the chances of 'hounding' an LSWP is slightly less than the chances of me giving up beer and becoming slimmer of the year!

There is however a serious underlying point here though, the myth of the 'Twitcher', the thug of the countryside who will trample vegetation and barge children aside in their insatiable lust to add a new species to their list. Indeed the common perception (promoted even by wonderful television programmes like "Watching" and "To the Manor Born") seems to only omit twirling moustaches.

Birdwatching (like every other hobby) has its good folk and bad folk. I have met many stupid birders and many thoughtless birders, and to be honest there are birders I have had dealings with that I wouldn't cross the road to p*ss on if they burst into flames, but I have never met an evil birder, the very concept is almost an Oxymoron as it can't be possible to be so enthused and care about birds if you are so negatively motivated.

Someone reading this once pulled up alongside me as I walked back from Chasewater and said "Are you Chaz the Twitcher" To be honest I just smiled as this very daft term is now associated with anyone who goes birding. I have been a 'Twitcher', there were weekends in the eighties and nineties when my wife forgot what I looked like. My British list is actually quite modest but is still somewhere around 420, and you don't get to see that many species by doing Clayhanger every day.

People sometimes are quite amazed that I can identify a little brown shape flying overhead by its call - well that's because instead of just reading books or internet blogs I (like all serious birders) have spent god knows how many hours over the last thirty years experiencing and familiarising myself with them AND also learning flight characteristics and calls from other more experienced birders and Twitchers, many of whom are people who love wildlife so much that they give their time and effort to learn and experience them.

I am not a Twitcher these days, I didn't give it up because I learned the error of my ways, if I was younger and better off I might still go twitching, I happen to have some health conditions that actually don't respond well to the very real Stress that was involved (as Tony Stackhouse will tell you, I did used to get very stressed). I am proud to have been a Twitcher and pleased to have friends and acquaintances who are twitchers (and don't forget, any of you who came over the Marsh to see Anita's Hoopoe - you have all been twitchers!)

So where is this going? Believe it or not since I have been doing the blog I have been gently criticised by several people for enticing people over to what they perceived as their little area. Well to be honest, Tough! The whole purpose of the blog has always been to promote interest in the area and share wildlife with others. If people don't know about the Marsh and Mere or just regard it as an elitist site 'just for the locals' how can we ever inspire them to care about it?

There is a very well known naturalist who was for many years in the national consciousness as the face of rural Britain, he wrote many books and was held in high esteem by the BBC and all of the 'serious' wildlife experts. I will tell you now that this man was a wildlife fascist - he once said at a public meeting "Town people shouldn't come into the countryside because they don't understand it" How are they ever going to understand it if you stop them from experiencing it?

Similarly, many years ago I was out with an organised group and we heard that there was an American Wigeon on our route at a place called Messingham Gravel Pits (Near Scunthorpe). We were all behaving properly and quietly going through the flocks of duck when one or two of the locals led by this huge and abusive 'posh' woman came and asked what did we think we were doing on THEIR reserve and that whoever put the word out about the Wigeon had certainly not got the management committee's permission and would we all leave please? I had to bite my tongue as I would have cheerfully helped her to insert her Wigeon where 'the sun don't shine', but as I was a guest on an arranged group I couldn't.

How would you feel about that sort of treatment? If you honestly think that either of those individuals was right then please log off now and don't come back!

Unless the welfare of a bird is at risk I will not suppress anything that occurs on the Marsh because I want others to enjoy it. This is not always and easy path to follow. Some weeks ago I heard and briefly saw a Spotted Crake on the Marsh and had to make a very real decision about what was my best action. I have plenty of experience of this very elusive species and knew that there was a better than average chance that it would never be seen again.

So, do I save people the effort and cost involved by suppressing the bird or give them the chance to come and look for it?

It wasn't really a decision that I had to think about, if there had been any doubt about the bird I would have said nothing but having suffered suppression several times over the years I did not feel that I had the right to keep quiet about this bird. How in good conscience can you go and look at other peoples birds and suppress the ones you find yourself?

That is me having a rant about something that really matters to me, it is genuinely an important part of my life view and if it is wrong then I might as well stop doing the blog now.

Please drop these pre-conceived notions about Twitchers and accept the right of others to enjoy wildlife. Wildlife doesn't belong to anyone, it belongs to everyone and as a well known birder called Peter Grant once said; "If you go two doors up the road to look at a Woodpecker on a bird table - then you are a twitcher"

If you have bothered to follow this posting - thank you - Chaz