I went through almost exactly the same thing over 10 years ago, in a different
situation and I think I know how you feel. I was a hardened twitcher in the UK
and hated missing vagrants. I would take off from work at the earliest
opportunity, hopefully combining with mates, but often going on my own anywhere
in the country (except perhaps the most remote Scottish islands).
After a while I started having the occasional holiday abroad, and my job
started to take me to interesting locations (like South Africa at least 3
times). I found it harder and harder to rouse myself for twitches and I was too
far behind the top blokes to ever be in the top 10 or so listers. I missed a
couple of birds that way, either going too late or not at all, but it all came
to a head when a Little Swift was in the country - about a 3 hour drive from
where I lived. I prevaricated for 2 weeks and then had to go on my own. I
turned up 15 minutes after the bird was last seen (it had roosted in the same
place for 2 weeks and frequented nearby fields and its disappearance coincided
with the farmer starting to plough up the stubble).
As I drove home, I just wondered what the hell I was doing. Petrol is expensive
in the UK. I had recently seen millions of the things in South Africa. Years
before I remember coming back from a holiday in Canada once and dumping wife
and baby straight after landing and screeching off after an American sparrow of
some sort - again I had seen loads in the preceding couple of weeks! I enjoyed
the fact that I had been everywhere (man) in the UK, but it was getting
repetitious. Twitching just lost its sheen. Why spend all that money and effort
for a number on a list, when you can delight in the same species and hundreds
more on a proper holiday, with a relaxed instead of pressured situation, seeing
them in their correct habitat, breeding plumages and experiencing a new
country? It was weird letting go, but whilst I wondered why I had bothered in
the past, I put it down to having a great crack at the time, which I really did
for most of the ten or eleven years I did it.
In the end I found I gained more than I gave up. When I came to Aus 10 years
ago, I decided I would NOT go on twitches. I've seen all the birds that have
turned up here as vagrants. I just want to see all the regular species and have
20 or 30 to go. That's enough for me in Australia (and you can add NZ I
suppose). Twitching is enormously expensive here due to the distances involved
- you might as well go to New Caledonia and see a Kagu (that's an ambition for
me - it would be nice to see at least one bird from every bird family in the
world - which should keep me going a while!). I still see my twitching mates on
a birding holiday once every year or two.
Twitching (and I suppose any casual birding really) has no intrinsic value at
all and in fact might be a realtively minor contributor to pollution etc.. The
best one can say is that hopefully most proponents of it also have an interest
in the environments they visit and to some extent might contribute to awareness
of conservation and/or eco tourism, and usually have some sort of parallel
I just think "each to his own", and have a great time out birding, wherever you
go. Let anyone who'll listen know how great it is. And try and put a little
back into conservation (I know we're pushing water up hill, but we can't just
All the best and see you around somewhere, I hope.
Date: Thu, 9 May 2013 10:25:19 +0930
Subject: A twitcher falls off the perch
Hi All, I've been twitching since the early nineties, feverishly chasing
after vagrants new and rare to Australia. My Oz total now stands at 753
given my last twitch for the Eyebrowed Thrush near Atherton. I have in the
past spent what must be thousands of dollars on fuel, airfares,
accommodation, site fees, food, etc., and many hundreds of hours going for
the latest vagrant arrivals before they disappear or die or get predated.
However, things seem to be changing. In recent years I've thought about
going for the latest vagrants in Broome and Perth, like the Semi-palmated
Plover in Broome and the Northern Pintail in Perth,, and even the Princess
Parrot in the Centre, but somehow have lost the compulsion to go for them.
Money and time are not the determining factors. I just seem to have lost
The recent Widgeon in WA and the current Wagtail in Alice have of course
caught my attention, but I find I just can't be bothered going for them.
What for? Just another tick in my list? I was hoping to catch up with a
Black-headed Gull in Darwin sometime, but having just been to the UK
(without my bins) I saw hundreds of them. And widgeons. So what?
Surely this sort of thinking is sacrilege to the true twitcher I thought I
was. Now the thinking is "so what if I don't see them?"
I used to think that lifting my total towards 800 was important to me, now
it seems entirely immaterial. So what if other people get a bigger list than
me? It doesn't affect anything does it . I collect beautiful pictures of
rare birds on the internet. Not the same as seeing them in the flesh ? Of
course not. So?
In the past I've had many a heated discussion with some of our more academic
birdos over the value of twitching, which they of course consider
contributes very little to the important issues of habitat and species
conservation. I have to agree with them. What possible useful impact can a
single vagrant achieve before it dies or gets eaten?
Of course a group of vagrants, like the Canada Geese of a few years ago, if
left to establish and form ever growing numbers, can have effects on habitat
usage, nest sites, food supplies etc, which upsets the natural ecological
balance and often affect indigenous species adversely. Moreover, many of
these feral groups are now too well established over time to be eradicated,
and isn't it better to learn to live with them than get all upset about
them. Feral colonies are only good for twitchers but only of nuisance value
I don't understand how my drop off in zeal has come about. Those disdainful
of twitching might suggest that "Aha, at last he's come to his senses", but
I don't accept that. The thought of seeing a new bird is still interesting
, even exciting, but I just can't be bothered going after them anymore. I
Googled the creek where the Widgeon was seen in WA, and I thought about
asking Chris Watson precisely which garden in Alice has the Wagtail. But to
what avail? I know I'm not going.
Is there anybody out there suffering from a similar malaise ?
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