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Two Sides of the Same Coin

Yesterday Tyron Dall wrote a post where he said that by twitching less people would possible enjoy birding more ( Many of the views he shared in the article we had spoken about a few weeks ago on the drive back from a long day of birding – or rather twitching – some sought after rarities in Zululand. What was great about the conversation was to get another perspective on how someone else sees their birding journey. It got me thinking about how I saw things – was there truth in some of the things that he was saying?

Right now, my life-list is on 549 species and I really want to see that 550th species, which will allow me to notch up my next birding milestone. But here is the thing...Is my pursuit of a higher life-list something that I simply do because I feel inferior to others with higher lists? Is my desire to grow my list a little egotistical so that I will be able to brag about how many birds I have seen?

I have the privilege of hosting The Birding Life Podcast which has allowed me to have conversations with some of our region’s best birders. What this has highlighted for me is the different types of birders that make up the world of birding.

You get people that we would call ‘listers’ – people who to some degree or another, see their life-lists as important. Not only do these people have overall lists of what they have seen, but they also have smaller lists for things such as their region, city, and even a list for their gardens. For some of these people a romantic night would consist of a few candles being lit, a bottle of bubbly being opened, and looking at Excel sheets of bird lists on their computer (okay stretching it a bit, but you get the point - they like lists) .

You also get people that feel that they are more ‘purist’ in their approach to birding – they do not want to chase after birds, instead they want to enjoy the birds that they get to see every day. They are more excited about discovering the finer details and behaviour of the species that they get to observe. They are excited by the finer nuances of bird plumage of the birds that they get to see.

I know these are the two extreme sides of birding, I would suggest that most birders possibly have a more balanced approach to their birding – but it begs the question what is the right way to bird (or birdwatch)?

I would suggest that if you are not hurting the birds or the people around you there is no right or wrong way to approach birding. What makes you a good birder is simply this – you are enjoying yourself as you do it! Nothing more and nothing less – if you enjoy your approach to birding, you are a great birder.

I have chatted to so-called ‘listers’ such as Trevor Hardaker and as much as he loves to have a healthy life-list – he still loves birds, conserving them, and is extremely knowledgeable of the birds that he gets to see. You will always get extremes in terms of listers, people where the list is all that matters, but I have realised that they are few and far between. I have also had the opportunity to meet a lady in our area that frequents the same spots all the time – to be honest, this seems a bit boring for me because I love visiting different locations – but she loves doing this and I have been blown away by some of the birds that she has managed to see at these places. Trevor and her on face value would appear to be on opposite ends of the scale, but something they each share is a love for the birds that they get to see and for birding.

I would say that if you enjoy the thrill of the twitch – then you need to twitch as much as time and budget allows. If you enjoy simply observing the birds that you see – then do this a lot more. What you enjoy doing as a birder or birdwatcher - do that a lot more!

Which of the approaches has a greater impact on conservation and our knowledge of birds as a whole?

I feel that they both add to our knowledge and contribute in different ways. For the slow and observant birder, their observations when shared with the birding community add to our understanding of birds and their behaviour. There is a lot that we still need to learn about birds, and the approach of normal citizen scientists who observe birds aids this process of understanding our feathered friends.

What about the listers and the twitchers? They also make a valuable contribution to conservation with helping to understand the growing distribution of many of the species in our region, as well as seeing which species have started to occur in our region. Many of the region's listers are avid atlassers who use the Birdlasser app which allows every sighting – even a twitch sighting – to contribute to conservation in some small way. I have friends who are ‘list crazy’ and are excited to see a new bird but are even more excited to be able to record it in a full protocol card and contribute to SABAP.

What is needed in the birding community is the space to ‘agree to disagree’, to hold fast to the style of birding that you feel is best, while at the same time allowing others to do the same with the style that they see best. For someone, whose list is important – we can celebrate with that person when they reach that next birding milestone. For someone else who values experience and observation more than their list, we can draw from what they have learnt and celebrate that.

I wouldn’t say that I am a lister – instead I am a birder that enjoys getting out and seeing new birds, while adding new birds to my list (that may sound like a contradiction to some but I am okay with that). I enjoy sipping coffee while watching a family of Three-banded Plovers at a puddle of water made by a passing shower, just as much as I enjoy the thrill of a twitch. Both have value in my birding journey, and I don’t feel the need to justify either. I have simply learnt to get out and enjoy birds no matter how that experience looks.

Someone like Trevor and the lady that frequents the same places all the time do share something in common – they both enjoy the thrill of seeing a new bird! As much as their approaches may seem different, at the core of it their hearts beat to the same drum beat.

What excites you about birding? Do that a lot more this year and you will have a lot more fun – and don’t let anyone spoil your experience!


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