Twitchers Wars!

To: "" <>
Subject: Twitchers Wars!
From: Tom Tarrant <>
Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2001 21:32:43 +1000
Hi All,
Wait until you've read this one......picked up from the
WildbirdSingapore Mailing-List!
Tom Tarrant

Feathers fly as the world of the twitcher fights over its pecking order

By Michael McCarthy, Specialist writer of the year

26 March 2001

Can the king of Britain's twitchers be knocked from his perch? Feathers
are flying in the birdwatching
world after a challenge from a young rival.

The dispute, described by amused observers as a "duel with binocular
cases at 10 paces", concerns who
has seen the most bird species in Britain and Ireland in a year. The
issue is one that serious ornithologists
view as meaningless.

But for thousands of hardcore twitchers - whose passion borders on an
obsessivecompulsive disorder,
involving electronic pager messages and frantic long-distance journeys -
life revolves around trying to see
as many different types of bird as possible, everywhere. And although no
prizes are won, the man with
the biggest list (it's almost exclusively a male pursuit) is liable to
be elevated to near god-like status by his

In one corner of the hide stands the title holder, Lee Evans, aged 40,
from Little Chalfont,
Buckinghamshire, Britain's self-styled "top twitcher" since the
mid-1980s. Mr Evans operates the UK400
Club, a sort of Premier League of twitchers; to qualify for membership
one must have seen at least 400
different species of bird in the British Isles. He claims to hold the UK
annual record for bird species, with
the 383 he saw in 1996.
In the other corner crouches the challenger, Adrian Webb, aged 28, from
Grays, near Tilbury, Essex,
who also claims to have seen 383 different types of wild bird in Britain
and Ireland in 12 months. Mr
Webb notched up his total in the course of last year, when he travelled
about 80,000 miles - a record that
he claims is much more solidly based than Mr Evans's.

A slanging match has ensued, loud enough put up a flock of geese or
drive a grasshopper warbler out of a
bramble patch.

Mr Evans has accused his challenger of trying to narrow the gap between
them by adding species to his
list that he either didn't see or that should not be included because
they were not genuinely wild birds.

Mr Webb has countered by claiming Mr Evans was not entirely
straightforward over some of his own
sightings. Mr Evans has hit back by banning entry to his UK400 Club to
Mr Webb's supporters. He also
publishing a vituperative editorial on his website, but had to withdraw
it after a flurry of writs.

Is this really what we expect of the Fellowship of the Anorak?

The war of words erupted after Mr Webb published a seven-page account of
his year-2000 exploits in
the current edition of Birding World magazine. Mr Evans immediately
challenged this.

Seeming to anticipate what was to follow, Mr Webb wrote: "Unfortunately,
disputes and controversy are
never very far away from year-listing, but I wish to take this
opportunity to unconditionally refute any
charges of dishonesty. Those who know me will testify to my integrity
and commitment to include only
sightings which I am totally convinced are genuine."

By Mr Evans's reckoning, however, even at best Mr Webb's species total
should be no higher than 377
or 378. He specifically challenges the sightings of ivory gull,
ferruginous duck, goshawk, Lady Amherst's
pheasant, Baird's sandpiper and black kite, and adds that "doubt could
be raised over several other birds
on his list ... As far as I am concerned, his claims to have beaten my
best-ever list are rubbish."

Mr Webb responds: "I stand fully behind my claim. Lee is not doing
himself any favours by his attitude - if
anything, some of the species on his own best-ever list are
questionable." He admits telling Mr Evans he
had not been to see the ivory gull, but claims that this was a tactical
untruth: "I didn't want him to know
too early in the year that I planned to seriously challenge his record."

The two men are already serious personal competitors. After he got to
Holme Nature Reserve, Norfolk,
to see a rare desert wheatear ahead of his rival on 3 November, Mr Webb
wrote in the sand: "Evans eat
your heart out: desert wheatear, 377."

Last year Mr Webb gave up his job in his family's greengrocery business
to spend all his time, and
£12,000, pursuing birds. This is a man who thought little of driving
with 50 litres of diesel in his boot
during the fuel crisis to ensure he kept mobile, and once made a
691-mile overnight lone trip from
Aberdeen to Penzance. What made him do that? "It was a sure way to see a
lot of wonderful birds," he

Mr Webb is most proud of seeing Europe's first blue-winged warbler, an
American species, on Clear
Island off Co Cork in October. A month later he suffered his worst
experience, when the boat he had
hired to carry him from Skye to South Uist to see Britain's first
long-tailed shrike broke down and began
drifting towards rocks; a lifeboat later came to the rescue.

Stressing that he had witnesses to virtually all his sightings and had
taken photographs of most of the
rarities, Mr Webb said he planned to submit his efforts to The Guinness
Book of Records.

Mr Evans commented: "Both Adrian and I must both be regarded as wallies,
especially by people not
concerned with birding. That does not bother me - I enjoy what I do and
what people think is like water
off a duck's back. But as a lot of people have long regarded my
lifestyle as odd, it in some ways seems
strange that Adrian should want to emulate it and to take questionable
steps to go one better."

Ironically, the totals claimed by both men are, in the eyes of the
143-year-old British Ornithologists'
Union, inflated.

It is the BOU, one of the world's oldest and most venerable
organisations dedicated to bird study, that
rules what species should and should not be on the British wild bird
list. The BOU all-time total of British
species is 573, but this does not include several claimed by both Mr
Evans and Mr Webb. If their claims
had been based on the BOU's own yardstick, Mr Webb's total for 2000
would be reduced to 372, and
Mr Evans's 1996 record would be whittled back to a slightly higher 376.
This is partly down to some
birds having a number of racial forms, which the twitching movement has
unilaterally declared as separate

But don't start them off again, or you'll never hear the end of it.
Article adopted from

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