A twitcher falls off the perch

To: Tim Jones <>
Subject: A twitcher falls off the perch
From: Laurie Knight <>
Date: Sun, 12 May 2013 21:19:43 +1000
That's a well articulated perspective Tim.

As I see it, the key factor is the thing that motivates a twitcher out of the door ...

The drive to see as many possible species in a geographic area is different to the drive to see all the species that could be expected to be seen in a geographic area. The emphasis in the former case is numerical - each species is a tick. The emphasis in the latter is broader. For example, seeing the 10 species of grasswrens in Australia would have greater meaning to me than seeing an equal number of vagrants. Similarly, the psychology of a planned holiday is different to that of the hasty dash.

If you are just increasing the number of ticks you have, the novelty is likely to wear off. If you want to spread your wings and make the world your oyster or you want more than simple identification, the enjoyment is less likely to wear off.

Perhaps the greatest value of chasing vagrant birds is in the social interaction it engenders in the birding population ... perhaps they are the birding equivalent of leks - otherwise solitary individuals come together for a shared purpose ...

Regards, Laurie

On 09/05/2013, at 2:05 PM, Tim Jones wrote:


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 conservation involvement.

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 despair).

All the best and see you around somewhere, I hope.


Date: Thu, 9 May 2013 10:25:19 +0930
Subject: [Birding-Aus] 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.
Great fun.

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
for conservationists.

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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