To the Birding Community,
My name is James Mustafa and I am birder, musician and the initial founder
of both the Victorian Birders and Australian Twitchers Facebook Groups.
Most of you know me from either these forums or through my 2014 VicTwitch
endeavour where I attempted to set a new record for the amount of bird
species seen within a single year. Though it has been over a week since
this was revealed, I wish to confess that my record attempt final tally is
false. As has been pointed out “They say the first rule of birding is
admitting when you made a mistake” and I have certainly made mistakes over
the past few months.
The honest truth is that I convinced myself that if I was to set my new
record, climb up the twitchers ladder, so to speak, that all my problems
would disappear. This is an obvious ignorant and immature discernment, but
I somehow managed to believe it anyway. We all have issues, dramas and
problems in our lives – this is just a fact of human existence. I do not
wish to bore you all with mine, but instead, offer up some kind of
explanation no matter how unacceptable it may be.
Birding to most of us seems to be an escape from our daily existence, an
escape from the reality that can often tie us down. For me, that statement
could not be more accurate as it was because of my ‘real world’ that I
undertook the foolish challenge of undergoing a big year so unprepared and
late in the year (April).
It all basically started when I was falsely accused for a severe crime
against a fellow student at Monash University where I study. I am not at
liberty to share exactly what that was but I did put my studies on
suspension and threatened my position at the institute and in the wider
music community. Though it was generally known that the claims were
fabricated, it took over 8 months for my name to be cleared and litigant to
be expelled from the university. During this period (and extended), I was
under severe counselling that I sometimes wonder whether it did more good
than bad. Every time I felt like I was getting through it, I had to drag
myself into a stranger’s office to bring up the entire trauma for a quick
During this investigation, I became sternly detached from my music world.
As the rumours flew around, it was hard to know who knew what and thought
what about myself. This cost me many relationships, work opportunities and
social acceptance. It was extremely hard to get back into a scene where the
attack had happened. Thankfully, I can report that this gradually been on
the mend. I believe this why I suddenly went from your standard
recreational birding type to an obsessive listing maniac. Ultimately, it
was a means of coping.
Unfortunately, even though I had become lost in my big year birding world –
life seemed to continue a downhill spiral from there. After driving over
80,000km around the state, I eventually lost my licence in October for
speeding whilst on route to twitch a bird. I then completed the remaining
three months of 2014 by hitching rides, spending literally hundreds of
dollars on taxis/public transport, driving illegally and inconveniencing my
friends and family. I then failed two subjects at university despite
getting what seemed like every possibly special consideration option that
faculty could provide given the issues from April.
During the middle of the year, I received an abusive email from a member of
the birding community that I had, until that moment, quite admired. They
basically tore strips off me unprovoked for a sighting I claimed whilst sea
watching. Until this point, the birding community had seemed like a really
accepting place of warm nature loving individuals. Even though I had spent
over 50 days sea watching during last year, this individual refused to
accept that I would have the ability to identify any species. I found this
experience really disheartening and damaging and had always considered
myself a very, very careful ticker. So much so, I was only adding birds to
my VicTwitch on clear visual alone – not on song.
As the year began to wind down, I got fired from a band for missing too
many gigs as I was almost always away on a pelagic or birding trip. Almost
straight after that, my binoculars were smashed. I managed to borrow a
friends pair for the next two months as mine were repaired. Given my luck,
I foolishly also managed to damage this pair – forever souring what had
been a really fantastic friendship.
The chase, the twitch and the record seemed to be the only thing that kept
me going. I’d pretend none of my other life bullshit was happening and
drive over night to Mallacoota to dip on a miss-identified Striated Heron
by local boatmen. As I said, I had convinced myself subconsciously that if
I beat the VicTwitch record and achieved a commendable number, everything
would be ok and that somehow, that would help me to get through everything
else. No matter what, it seemed that twitching and this record was my
sanctuary away from all my other problems – as I imagine this can be for
everyone else at times also.
So when I was so close to my goal I could pretty much taste it, I became
desperate, panicked and in an ultimate moment of weakness - hoaxed the
Melbourne House Crow of 2014.
To you all, I am so so aware that this is truly the ultimate birding crime.
It was more than just “the wrong thing to do”, it was selfish, desperate
and went against everything I had held high in the birding world ethically.
I’d like to think that I’m better than that and that I’d never commit crime
like this, but I guess that turned out to be false.
I apologise so honestly and with anxiety to how this may be received. I am
sorry for those that I have affected and sorry for the mess I have made.
However, I feel like the only way to move forward is too publically
acknowledge my mistakes, admit to playing dirty and trying to move on and
get back to why we all go birding in the first place. This is my own
name-and-shame if you will. Ultimately, this entire episode is of my own
doing. What a waste it all now seems. Thousands of dollars down the drain
and a million memories tainted.
It is because of this that I publically renounce my 2014 VicTwitch record
completely. I have really shamed and discredited that entire 365 day
effort, so I believe that it is best to have it expunged. I am also
deciding to step down as the manager of the Australian Twitchers and
Victorian Birders Facebook groups. I will leave these groups in the very
capable hands of people such as Kevin Bartram, Scott Baker, Rohan Clarke,
Tony Palliser, Tim Bawden, Jeff Davies and Owen Lishmund. From now on, I
will be taking a back seat in the world of Australian birding and will take
the time to get back into the bush with my bins and camera to have some
At the end of the day, I want to say that we all make mistakes. My first
mistake was last year, but my biggest mistake was not sharing this all
sooner. This community and world really does mean a lot to me and I know
it’s going to take a lot of time, but I hope this is something we can all
move on from. I am going to treat this as my own Blue-fronted Fig Parrot
scenario and hope to eventually come back from this debacle. I hope you all
can understand my actions, perhaps not accept or forgive, but at least
understand so that we can all move forward.
Yours truthfully and honestly,
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