Birders, Brits & STats

To: "'Birding-Aus'" <>
Subject: Birders, Brits & STats
From: "Julian B" <>
Date: Fri, 4 Jan 2013 07:32:01 +1000
Yes, Philip, the 16 500 [550 x 30] was an absurd exaggeration, as is the oft
touted fallacy that there are few or no birds in Britain.  I had a teaching
colleague who, on returning from a year's teacher exchange in London,
bemoaned the lack of British birds: sparrows and starlings with a few feral
pigeons to spare.  Puzzled, I asked exactly where had she gone in search of
birds and was flabbergasted to learn that apart from one trip to Stratford
to see a Shakespearean drama she had never set foot beyond The Big Smoke.

Nor was that the thrust of my point.  Numbers are irrelevant in this debate.
What does it matter whether Britain has 50 or 500 fewer species that
Australia?  Australia is 30-times the size of Britain and has habitat types
[e.g. deserts, rainforests] not found in Britain.  No one doubts that
Australia has more bird species than a small European outpost and therefore
all those defensive parries [e.g. lack of birders makes it difficult to
discover the true Australian total; more than half of the British list (?
Evidence based or another stab in the dark?) consists of rare vagrants] were
unnecessary and rather missed my point by the proverbial country mile.

I was simply trying to dispel the seemingly widely held antipodean view that
there are only a handful of rather drab and lacklustre avian species in

Given some of the responses [both in this public forum and emailed
privately] it appears to me that a number of correspondents are in danger of
comparing apples with oranges - equating Australian birdwatchers [birders]
with British "twitchers".  

Twitching is not unique to Britain and alien to Australia - and anyone who
doubts that was obviously not present when the Blue Rock Thrush arrived at
the "Devil's Kitchen" on the Sunshine Coast.  And I do seem to recall one
rather well-known former Queensland politician/birder dropping everything to
race off in pursuit of a reported Great Reed-Warbler at Port Macquarie.

Nor. of course, are all British birders mad twitchers.  Lee Evans does not
hold sway over all!  Penny gives a fine example of this.  

I would add my own contribution.  Back in the early 1990s, having to return
to Britain on family matters, I took the opportunity to chase down that
elusive Puffin.  On arriving at South Stack [Anglesey, North Wales] I was
amazed to see the number of family groups enjoying a picnic while birding.
I fell into conversation with one such family and moments later their
14-year old son [along with the nine-year old daughter] called me over to
their telescope in which they had a Puffin!

Fay and I hail from Staffordshire where our local patches included
Blithfield Reservoir [for which read "dam"] and Cannock Chase [a "chase" is
a large woodland area not owned by the Crown].  This was our
bread-and-butter birding.

Yes, we twitched on occasions.  We were there for the White-winged Black
Tern [a Staffordshire rarity].  We were among the crowd for the Salisbury
White Stork as we were for the Red Phalarope BUT these were anomalies.  Our
birding consisted of regular counts at the Doxey Marshes, the Uttoxeter
Quarry, at Belvide Reservoir, etc.

It is surely an exercise in futility to maintain that it is better or worse
birding in Australia than in Britain [or vice verse].  The birding is

Here in Australia you can attend your local patch, any patch, and be largely
confident of the birds you can record.  Yes, there are always the
exceptions: the Javan Pond Heron of Darwin; the Black-headed Gull at Broome
Sewage Treatment Plant; the Franklin Gull of Salisbury Plains; etc.  But
they are random; there appears to be no rhyme or reason behind their sudden
and unexpected arrival on these shores.  You wouldn't hold your breath
awaiting the next one.

In Brittan, on the other hand, especially at both the Spring and Autumn
passage seasons, one can be reasonably confident that something strange,
rare of unusual will appear somewhere, either from across the Atlantic or
overland from the farthest reaches of Siberia.  

In part it is that expectation that fuels many twitchers or simply warms the
cockles of the most humble patch birder.

Other debateable points have been put forward in this thread but my final
[public] word is simply an apology to Ed.  I seem to have usurped your
innocent parting quip to a fellow Pom and birder and turned it into a
diarrheic comedy of mostly misused English grammar and lacklustre logic.  I
would make it up to you should you ever find yourself in my neck of the
woods [the South Burnett, some 280km NW of Brisbane] with time to watch [or
twitch] a few of my local birds.



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