Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Coming of age

It's 11:55pm on October the 22nd
and I turn 18 at midnight.
So what? 19 million people plus will be acknowledging their birthdays too. A significant figure will also be the same age as me. At 0:00 hours, we'll be able to (depending on our country's laws) get married, divorce, vote. We can place bets, get a license to own a monkey and drive an ice cream truck. 
Wonderful, again: so what?
18 is the age you're an adult. That means I'm an adult now. An adult who eats Fab ice-lollies, slides down the banisters at M&S and still thinks ET is the scariest film he's seen. I mean, I don't even have a telephone voice yet.
But it's indisputable. On the 23rd of October, I become a grownup.
My head sizzles with hundreds silent unanswerable questions about this fact. The biggest sits at the front of my mind, spelled out in a thick, black font:
How will becoming an adult change me as a birder?
Yes, I can now buy a pint after twitches (two if I've dipped) and am able to get Mullarney and Zetterstrรถm immortalised onto my skin in ink, Tristan Reid style, but does it change the way I can identify myself?
Am I even a young birder anymore? I've been one all my life so far, for the first 10 years as a bird-watcher and for the last 7 as a birder. When do I stop?
Probably not for a long time, as with the current birding demographic, you could still be considered 'young' at 35. Indeed, Ive seen sprightly septuagenarians scale fences or spring to the ground to photograph a close wader. Young at heart is perhaps a more appropriate measure. So I don't have to worry about that. 
Will my attitudes to birds change? I doubt it. I never suffered from that most heinous of birding illnesses, the 'teen lapse (Avesovirus girlsandboozii)', Gannets still hold me in raptured veneration and I punch the air every year when the first Swifts return to my roof in May. I do find myself edging towards the twitchier persuasion, and this year has seen me travel to waifs my earlier birding self would never have thought of.
Birds will never be anything less than feathered scraps of awesome in my eyes. Should the day come when I overlook the Sanderlings swarming the beach for something else, you have permission to smash my scope. Ticking should only be done by vis-mig buntings.

Crossing that blurred line in the biology textbook from tadpole to frog has provoked one of those worldly-aware moments in me. Looking back on my time on this epic spinning petri dish quickly turns to thinking about the lives of the birds that have made mine.
As I turn 18, those two year-tick Hobbies I saw in early summer are now picking apart dragonflies in the Zambezi Basin. The aforementioned Swifts which fledged from my roof will be carving up the air over their mystery Sub-Saharan home.
As I type, scores of Redwing are crossing the North Sea in the pitch black, murmuring Brents are settling down along windswept estuaries, having been above the Arctic Circle only weeks before, and god only knows where that Bridled Tern; which granted me 4 hours of beaming, dreamy-eyed viewing, is now.
I worry for the male Redstart I ringed, fledged this summer and making his first journey to his African wintering quarters. I am reassured that it is autumn by the appearance of Common Gulls on my school field. I am delighted that I can vis-mig from my bedroom window again, as the lines of bouncing Pied Wagtails drag along mipits for the ride. I am so many things because of birding.

This hobby, this infatuation has taken me to some amazing places, got me in some close scrapes (a Montenegrin farmer brandishing a shotgun, anyone?), introduced me to an amazing bunch of people and, oh yeah, got me onto some quality birds.
Those quality birds make up probably less than 3% of all the worlds 10,000 odd species, and that, to me, is wildly exciting. Im feverish at the thought of seeing Ivory Gulls on some freezing coastline or clapping sight of a Crab Plover pottering on a sandbar. Imagining a Sunbittern flashing those mosaic wings gets me giddy and Im close to tears thinking of glimpsing an antpitta. Any antpitta.
In what other hobby can you predict so much enjoyment for the future? Certainly little boredom can come out of it. It'd be easier to moonwalk with MJ than to see every bird on Earth, and that's without all the new discoveries and more lumps and splits than an ice cream parlour causing reshuffles in taxonomic lists almost weekly. It's an ever-changing, beguiling world, and it's not just one I want to be involved in as a hobby.

Turning 18 makes that confusing, uncomforting, career-tunnel; which late teens are propelled into, even narrower, with a tangle of advice, pressure and unhelpful comments echoing from all sides. I can see how it'd be awful for those who are unsure of their path, but I'm decided. It's birds for me. Other wildlife too, but mainly birds.
A cheesy quote; fridge-magnet and 14-year-old Facebook status standard, tells us to "Never do what we love for free". It sets heights loftier than a Capuchinbird lek, but I reckon, I dearly hope, that this can be my case.

I look to the Martin Garners and Yoav Perlmans of the world, striding on the forefront of ornithological discovery.
I look to those who have made birding their business: tour companies, Angel Paz (+ Maria) and co, paid to share their world with eager customers, educating and inspiring locals and tourists alike.
I look to every single conservation worker; from those negotiating with global superpowers in stuffy boardrooms to the mud-splattered few, tramping across some Eastern mudflats. Be it filling out another Blue Tit nest record card or discovering a new tailorbird species in Cambodia's capital, I can only hope to be anywhere like these lucky people are at the moment.

18. And life's not really started at all.

-By Jonnie Fisk
Jonnie is an 18 year-old Yorkshire-based birder, invertebrate enthusiast and frustrated artist. When not being oblivious to every local rarity, he enjoys autumn vis-mig and being distracted by bugs. 

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