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Birdwatchers vs. Twitchers
A Timeless Hobby
- Berghaus - Outdoor Clothing, Waterproof Jackets & Rucksacks
The place to go for all of your outdoor clothing requirements.
- In focus : binoculars, telescopes, tripods & digiscoping
The best website for binoculars, telescopes and tripods. Also they are partners with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and do a lot of work to promote bird conservation.
- The RSPB: Bird guide
The RSPB bird guide is an introduction to the bird species of the UK.
- Bird Watching in UK | Birdwatch Magazine
Birdwatch Magazine is the UK's premier birdwatching magazine, with birding features, equipment reviews, articles, photos, trip ideas
Birdwatching is a truly wonderful hobby enjoyed by millions around the world. Its appeal lies with the fact, that virtually anyone can do it; regardless of whether you’re 8 or 80. It can be as cheap or as expensive as you like and its timeless appeal means that it can transcend the generation gap in a way that virtually no other hobby can. By doing this, it helps to bring us all closer together as human beings. Unlike many aspects of our culture, it’s pretty certain that we will still be watching birds the same way in a hundred years time, and possibly using the same equipment, and going to the same places, provided they still exist at that time.
Although not generally recognised by mainstream culture, there are in fact two distinct kinds of people who love to watch birds. Firstly, you have the regular birdwatchers; basically that’s anyone who simply loves watching birds regardless of where they are. It doesn’t matter what species it is, it could be the local robin that comes to your bird table everyday or taking a trip to the local pond, observing the waterfowl and mentally recording their personalities and antics.
There are some birdwatchers, like me who go a little further and invest in a pair of binoculars and perhaps some appropriately coloured clothing. We also take pleasure in watching birds in our gardens and parks, but we also occasionally take trips out into the countryside, mostly to quiet nature reserves where for several hours we can immerse ourselves in avian heaven and forget all of the stresses that often plague us in our everyday lives.
Other birdwatchers go a little further by investing in more expensive equipment, such as a high magnified telescope. These can be fantastic for getting really close views of a bird that you would normally never be able to get close to. But, for me birdwatching is all about freedom, and relieving yourself of burdens, and the idea of lugging around a huge telescope that’s cost more than a thousand pounds holds very little appeal. I suppose I’m really quite a casual birdwatcher, I rarely if ever take notes, just in case I miss something. To be honest, calling myself a birdwatcher is actually quite inaccurate; the term wildlife watcher is more appropriate to me, as I have a very broad interest in the natural world, and am fascinated by everything from the smallest beetle to the tallest tree.
There is another kind of birdwatcher, one that behaves very differently from those already mentioned, they are the twitchers or chasers, as they’re known in the US, and I shall proceed to explain exactly what they are.
The Hunt for Rarities
The Birdwatching Kit
Twitching or chasing is basically the pursuit and observation of rare birds, particularly if they appear in an area where they’re not commonly found. For many people it becomes a total obsession, with some even chartering private aircraft at short notice to reach some far flung corner of the Earth to cross that all important species off their list. It can consume lives, ruin marriages, relationships, friendships work/career prospects and decimate any financial savings.
It’s a form of birdwatching that divides opinion more than anything in the wildlife world. Some birders, including myself resent being referred to as a twitcher, while those in the fraternity are very proud of their obsession. The media however, often simply label anyone who enjoys watching birds as a twitcher
Very often, the life of a twitcher involves standing around, often for hours in all kinds of weather. Their instincts may plead for them to come to their senses and give up, but they've probably travelled a long way to see that elusive bird so they stay put. The life of a twitcher can be exhilarating, I can personally attest to that, because I’ve experienced those same exhilarating feelings whenever I’ve stumbled across a rare bird, so I can understand why people may get sucked into the obsession. Amazingly, twitching seems to be a primarily male pursuit, maybe down to the fact, as a twitcher, you are chasing after an animal, effectively hunting it. So maybe twitching serves as an outlet for the hunter gatherer within. However, as every hunter knows, you can’t be successful every time, and often twitching can be very infuriating. For instance, sometimes you may arrive the morning after the rarity was last seen, and the others are already leaving the area, your hearts sinks when you realise that your quarry has gone.
So how do twitchers come to know of any rarities in the first place; most of them nowadays sign up for websites such as Birdguides.com and subscribe to message alerts sent to their mobile phones. I remember having a lengthy conversation with a self confessed twitcher at work, and his phone was going off virtually all of the time. He found it hard to understand why I hadn’t been caught by twitcher fever, surely there’s nothing better than sighting a rare bird. But I explained to him, that I had general all around adoration for nature and wasn’t too interested in statistics and competition. Twitching is a very competitive hobby, and there are various competitions in both the US and UK that reward those who spot the most amount of species in a year.
Links for Aspiring Twitchers
- Twitchers: A Very British Obsession - Watch Free Documentary Online - BBC, Lucy Leveugle, Christophe
This is a very interesting documentary originally shown on the BBC, that delves into the world of the twitcher.
- Twitchers Retreat Bed & Breakfast Accommodation, Snettisham, King's Lynn, Norfolk
A Bed and Breakfast that caters especially for twitchers, set in the heart of Notfolk, the birdwatching capital of the UK.
The ultimate website for any twitcher. Here, you can sign up for both email and text alerts, so you never miss that rare bird.
Becoming a Twitcher
Becoming a birdwatcher is easy; all you need to do is pay attention to the birds that live all around you. If you wish, you can go a little further by investing in a pair of binoculars, some appropriate clothing, and maybe a guide book. If you have the cash to spare, then maybe think about a decent telescope, so you can get some close views. Then, look up nature reserves and other birding areas as places to visit. Once there, not only will you experience the joy of observing nature in all her glory, but you’ll also meet many like minded people and maybe make new friends.
But what about becoming a twitcher? Well, firstly you need to get on those websites, such as the one mentioned earlier, and subscribe to text alerts, so that you can be among the first to know of a rare bird. It’s probably best to befriend other twitchers, so that you can share travel and transport costs. More importantly, you’ll need a sympathetic partner who will tolerate your obsession, even if it means abandoning them on their sickbed just so you can tick off that Eskimo curlew that you’ve never seen.
Don’t worry about swotting up on birds initially as you can learn from more experienced twitchers, but it is beneficial in the long term to ‘gen up’ on the species you want to chase, so that you can recognise them when you see them.
The most important thing to remember about being a twitcher is remember to always put the welfare of the bird first, and never stress it out by getting too close or attempting to flush it out of cover. Remember, it’s a wild creature, that’s probably hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from home. Also, remember to respect the land you are on, also the local residents too. This is important stuff to remember, because twitchers often get bad press and can suffer vilification in the media. I remember reading a story several years ago of a rare American tree sparrow that turned up in Britain, and of course the twitchers flocked from all over the country. Eventually, the poor thing was so exhausted from the pursuit, that it simply collapsed and died. So, remember don’t forget why you got into twitching in the first place, because you love birds, always put them first.