Over many years of birding, both Down Under and back Up Above, I have often
viewed the trends in our pastime much as one would perhaps see fashion fads
in the length of ladies? skirts. When I was a younger soul, with much less
around the middle and a lot more on top- and Cannock Chase was my stomping
ground for birds not necessarily of the feathered genre- it was considered
rather bad form to even be seen with a field guide. Real birders used only
their binoculars and a notebook in which they recorded details of any bird
not immediately recognized out in hedge or briar. Books were only consulted
after the outing, back in the library, or, more likely, at the local with a
pint of the landlord?s best bitter to sup while considering the various
nuances of plumage, or other characteristic details that separate one
species from a agonizingly similar conspecific. Anything else would have
been viewed as unseemly.
Much as when ladies carried their skirt hems below their ankles. Even the
hint of exposed stocking would have raised eyebrows, set tongues wagging.
Reputations were scandalized on less.
I note with interest Peter?s mention of 'RememBird?, an electronic notebook
one takes out into the field. And yet it has overtones. It can be armed
with birdcalls and that may be akin to offering a ketchup-smothered hotdog
to a delegate of the Slow Food Society.
Some time later in my birding career I came across the first of the pishers
and whistlers or those who preferred to suck on the back of their hand.
They rambled up dale and down vale and never saw where their feet trod, or
what their feed trod in. Ladies? hemlines rose above the ankle.
It wasn?t long after this that I was introduced to the scrap of polystyrene
and a chard of broken glass. Rubbed together they were a total failure to
any respectable arsonist but could induce the odd bird or two to break cover
for a fleeting moment to see the latest circus in AviTown. Ladies calves
were becoming visible beneath their hemlines.
Where there?s a perceived need there?s a capitalist prepared to exploit the
niche. Some might prefer the adage that necessity is the mother of
invention. Whichever agrees better with your palate, the practice of
attracting birds to artificial calls encouraged the Audubon squeakers to
flood the market. And yes, Bob, I still have mine, attached to the strap of
my binoculars. Hemlines rose to the knee but it is the devil?s own job
locating those small plastic vials of resin needed to revitalize drying
As technology advanced so we had the bird call tapes and all one needed was
a portable player. At one point it came close to absurdity. The challenge
was not so much whether or not one could recognise the call of a particular
species but whether one could distinguish the Real McCoy from the myriad of
frantic twitchers belting decibels of Pitta calls out into the rainforest.
The era of the midi skirt had arrived.
And so we have come to the ipod and its ilk. The mini skirt!
Tastes remain personal. As a young man I was always attracted to women in
minis. As an older man? Some moralists have always loathed the shortening
of the hemline, as if the two were somehow inversely linked - the higher the
hemline, the lower the moral standard. Using calls to attract birds seems
to be encountering similar trade winds and it depends on the tack of your
boat as to whether it is the best thing since sliced bread or the devil?s
I very much doubt whether those who don?t will ever be convinced that they
should or those that do be persuaded that they shouldn?t. In a pastime
without official referees or rules set in concrete each birder will proceed
in whatever manner they feel most comfortable with. After all some birders
can twitch television programs ? and set themselves strict guidelines as to
what is or is not ?tickable?-. Who are we to say them nay?
In the end I suspect that the words of Simon King may be a reasonable
compromise. His advice is to use the recorded call up until such time as
you hear the first response and then stop ? never to repeat the recording.
Simon King, alongside the delightful Kate Humble, assists Bill Oddie with
the Springwatch and Autumnwatch programs produced by the BBC- and therein
lies another tale of what can be done to attract the average person in the
street to take an active interest in wildlife.
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