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Sunday, 14 November 2010

Lark ascending & "Twitchers" BBC4 documentary

Whilst replenishing the bird feeders first thing this morning, I heard the "Chirrup" call of a Sky Lark flying low and south- east over the garden. My first actual sighting of this species in or over the garden having only previously heard their wonderful song in the spring and summer.
A look around Gunton wood, revealed Bullfinches calling from the SWT section, Song Thrush on the wooden fence, 3 Goldcrests, 7 British Long- tailed tits and an obliging Dunnock but no Pallas' or Firecrest. A female Sparrowhawk that flew in and perched in the wood gave a female Blackbird, a fright nearby but she escaped unmolested.
On arriving home at 3pm after doing the food shopping, a Grey squirrel was cheekily feeding off the fat balls at the back of the garden (meant for the birds and NOT Grey Squirrels!). It had to contort its body quite a lot to reach them. 

The recent BBC4 documentary "Twitchers" portrayed twitchers and twitching in a very poor light indeed. It certainly captured the more extreme elements of behaviour and machismo actions of the participants in this male dominated hobby. I, for one, would like to see more women birding.
The editing of the comments by Lee Evans in particular portrayed him in a poor light. Although he's obsessive about his hobby (by definition all twitchers and year listers are, this is not meant as a criticism, everyone to his/her own), he's OK in my book as he takes great pains to get everybody onto the bird. I can testify to that, when we were looking for a Lanceolated Warbler at Sheringham one autumn Lee refound the bird and gave very clear directions of where it was, it was extremely difficult to see and I probably wouldn't have seen it without his help. 
He has also compiled and published several books on rare bird sightings in the UK. He also runs several websites on current rare birds sightings (with pictures of them and clear directions of how to find the site) and local wildlife in his local area, all freely accessible & all highly commendable.

That said, I thought the documentary was very, very badly made, badly edited and the filming of the rare birds was very poor indeed. Much of the film appeared to be poorly shot through a telescope showing heavy vignetting at the edges. 
They didn't even mention the species of bird one of the twitcher's travelled to Ireland to see. Was it a Cedar Waxwing? Also the twitcher who twitched a rare gull, had ticked it, but admitted he hadn't seen everything on it. Surely he can't tick it then??
But I wish I had been there at South Shields when the Eastern Crowned Warbler turned up.

Above all the film didn't show to the layperson, any of the participants motivation for twitching (other than ticking them off on list, surely it's more than that??) where was their passion or enjoyment for birds? Emotions such as admiring the bird's beauty, and being passionate about bird and wildlife conservation? 
I know Lee is particularly passionate about birds and wildlife and this didn't come through in the documentary (Lee is particularly critically vociferous of the cull of the Ruddy ducks for example). All it showed were the twitchers racing to see the birds, literally a minute's viewing (poor editing?) and then, them rushing off onto the next rarity. 
Birding or indeed twitching is so much more than that, where one can admire the beautiful plumage of our avian friends, observe and record/note down the bird's distinctive identification features, watch their behaviour, listen to the bird's call & song and so on?
As well as the social aspect of birding/ twitching too. I, always enjoy a social natter with friends (especially those I haven't seen for a while) that's why they are always mentioned in my blog reports.
In particular I feel one has to give something back, for example local campaigning for the preservation of wild areas (eg. at present I am fighting a losing battle trying to save the Orchid meadow at Fallowfields or being part of a number of people who campaigned to save Arnold's Walk in it's current form, without which there would have been no recent sightings of Red- flanked Bluetail or Radde's Warbler) and being a member of at least the RSPB and your local wildlife trust.
There was no mention of fieldcraft, making notes or descriptions of birds or learning your birds by going through a birding "apprenticeship" these are essential in becoming a good birder. Sadly though, these traits seem less prevalent anyway these days.

I can only assume this film was intended as a psychological profile of those it portrayed and twitching in general, if so, why didn't they have comments from a psychologist, commenting about man's hunter gatherer collecting instinct and so on.


Colin Jacobs said...

The programme was on BBC Four. The video was done purposely to show the dud how images are seen through telescopes or digi scopes. Did u see me at the south shields bird? well u cud hear my suffolk accent (Happened to be in the area at the time botanising)

Lee does a lot of good work.

Peter Ransome said...

Thanks Colin, what a spot of luck to be in the South Shields area when an Eastern Crowned Warbler turned up. I know because I saw some in China in 1999, cracking birds!