Has anyone thought that one of the reasons twitchathons might not capture
the public imagination is because it's such a bloody stupid word?
The word twitch was not invented by Bill Oddie, as I've seen written, but
was an amalgam of the words tick (as in list!) and watch (as in bird-watch).
It also conveyed the impression of some poor unfortunate quivering with
excitement at the prospect of a potential tick that he'd heard about, and in
terror at the prospect of not seeing it.
In Australia, going twitching seems to mean going birding. In the UK, where
it originated, it means travelling specifically to see a rare bird that has
been found by someone else and that will probably not be on offer for too
long. At one end of the spectrum (with pagers and telephone bird alerts now
common), if a twitcher hears about a bird turning up that he has not seen
before in the UK, he will drop everything and anything that he is doing and
travel whatever distance, and at whatever expense, in order to see the bird
as soon as possible. That is twitching.
Some twitchers may have to wait for the weekend to travel (jobs and spouses
tend to intrude) and may even deny that they're twitching. "Oh, I just
fancied a weekend in Norfolk, old boy" when in truth they'd have been
tucked up in bed at 4 am on a Saturday morning rather than queuing (yes,
queuing) to catch a glimpse of an immature Ruppell's Warbler.
Birding World, arguably the UK's best birding magazine, was called Twitching
in it's first year, but this name was so unpopular it was changed. To much
of the general public in the UK, twitcher is synonymous with nerd.
I could go on! Also, I presume there are good reasons to hold a twitchathon
from mid-day to mid-day? Aesthetically a one-day bird race from midnight to
midnight (or part thereof) is much cleaner. I don't keep a year list from
June 1st to May 31st!
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