a (longish) note on twitching and twitchers

To: <>
Subject: a (longish) note on twitching and twitchers
From: "Andrew Stafford" <>
Date: Sat, 26 Apr 2003 22:16:13 +1000
David Geering wrote:
> At this stage I haven't heard what the group saw after they left me at Burrendong but at the time when we parted company we had notched up something like 120 species.  Not a huge tally but this was not a group of twitchers, probably more interested in spending time watching Red-rumped Parrots feeding than trying to find new birds.
Hi all,
I read David Geering's sign-off from his trip report from Dubbo with some interest, and would like to make a few comments for the public record.
A few preparatory remarks are in order. First, I don't wish my comments to stir up the kind of personal rancour that periodically surfaces on birding-aus (thankfully all has been quiet on that front for some time; I just hope I don't speak too soon). Second, I appreciate that for many people on the list, the pros and cons of twitching is rather old hat: if so, look away now.
Personally though, I think it's time for a considered reprise of some of these issues. While David's remarks in isolation are hardly offensive, the disdain for twitching and twitchers implied within them (and, it must be said, a series of earlier posts) deserve closer scrutiny.
The obvious and shortest reply, of course, would be to say simply that twitchers may take as much delight in the feeding behaviour as a Red-rumped Parrot as any other birder. I understand why David and others would doubt that, and I would happily concede, were a Turquoise Parrot feeding right next to it, I would choose to watch the Turk over the Red-rump. The reality, though, is that I have yet to meet a birder who is in the game purely for the numbers. Lists are fun, but without exception, the birders I've met were drawn to birding by the beauty of birds.
If twitching can be defined simply as the pursuit of rare birds (as Mark Cocker does in his excellent book Birders: Tales of a Tribe), then to a degree we are surely all twitchers. When David talks of visiting specific locations to visit Plum-headed Finches and Glossy Black-Cockatoos around Dubbo, isn't that a kind of twitching? I hate to generalise - my hatred of rank generalisations is what has prompted this post - but I'd wager this much at least is true: all birders like to see new birds.
Of course, it's the degree to which different people are prepared to go to see new birds is what inspires passionate debate (and makes for some of the best birding stories - see Cocker again).
David has had plenty of experience, of course, with the minority of birders - and it is a small minority - who, in their desperation to see Regent Honeyeaters, have made his job more difficult (and give other birders a bad name) by trespassing on private land. Others, notably Terry Pacey, have reported horror stories of thoughtless birders who trample through the nesting habitat of vulnerable species.
David, Terry and others will, I am sure, call these people twitchers. I actually hesitate to even call them birders. While I can understand their anger in the face of such behaviour, it is unfair to project the failings of a few onto the many.
What I find really annoying about the constant sniping at twitching, though, is the snob factor. This of course is by no means unique to David's postings, but I'll draw on the above for the sake of example: the innuendo that watching the feeding behaviour of a common species is somehow more morally virtuous than the pursuit of others. I don't see how this follows. To argue the point purely on David's terms for a moment, if I was surveying an area for the atlas over a set period, I would consciously try to cover as much ground (and thus see as many species as possible) in the alloted time. But just as importantly, I don't see why such a crude hierarchy between twitchers on one hand and supposedly "serious" birders on the other (as if twitchers can't be serious!) need exist at all.
I offer as an example Australia's two highest-profile twitchers, Mike Carter and Tony Palliser, who for years occupied positions one and two on the list of  Australian birders' totals. They have already seen all bar one of the resident species in Australia, and their chances of seeing new birds on home soil rests almost entirely on twitching (and finding) vagrants from foreign shores. (I say almost, because I have often joked what both will do should they ever see a Night Parrot.)
Now, Mike and Tony may go on anywhere between zero and five trips a year twitching new arrivals to these shores, most recently the Isabelline Wheatear that turned up in north Queensland last December. Does that mean they can no longer be bothered going birding elsewhere in Australia? Of course not - I'm sure that, when time allows, they are as happy to go birding in their local patch as anyone, and they may even spare an idle moment to watch those feeding Red-rumped Parrots.
What are they doing the rest of the time? Well, the expertise of both has been put to good use on the Birds Australia Rarities Committee, into which both pour an enormous amount of personal effort - as volunteers. Tony fits this in around his own full-time work schedule, as do others on the committee. Here lies another factor: some of us, believe it or not, have lives outside of birding, and we individually structure our down-time in a way that provides the most meaning and pleasure to our lives. And how people choose to spend their leisure time is entirely their business.
Mike and Tony hardly need defending from me, and this argument is of course in no way about them personally. They merely have the biggest (Australian) lists. But they are also good illustrations of the shallowness of the twitching stereotype, and they are far from alone.
This has become a long post, and it's time I wrapped up. In closing, and for what it's worth, I admire David's personal and professional devotion to birds; he is a fine field observer and a tremendously hard worker. But I can't resist quoting from Cocker one more time: "My hope is that there will come a day when the birding tribe is not divided up into little sub-clans, least of all by ourselves. Nor should we hunker down in narrow little shells, peering disdainfully at the neighbours for small differences of approach. Birders should be seen, and should view themselves, as heterogeneous, pluralist and multi-faceted. In my book we should all be fair game for Roger Tory Peterson's famous Oystercatcher at Hilbre - a beast that easts most any kind of mollusc."
Over and out
Andrew Stafford
editor, Twitcher's Corner
<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU