Thursday, 28 November 2013

The adventure of birding

What does birding mean to me?

Ah yes, the age old question. The one which irritated Aristotle, vexed Voltaire and positively perplexed Plato. Birding is a thing of many limbs, a tree of infinite branches, how on earth does one begin to describe what it means to their good self? We've had some excellent articles on this already, and, before I begin, I must apologise to our readers for bringing it down a notch.

There are many reasons why we might delve into ornithology from a young age. For some, it is the collectors urge, the desire to see as much as possible; that same urge we find in Pokemon, in antique collecting and maybe even in our endless thirst for information and knowledge. For others, it is the peace and tranquility offered by the natural world, an all too valuable commodity in our increasingly urbanised; hustling, bustling and frantic lives. For some it is the companionship and camaraderie, and I certainly think that this aspect, which I found when I became an ‘NGB’, helped keep my own passion ignited at the same time as teenage doldrums threatened to sweep me away. But for me, birding, the mutli-limbed, many-faceted hobby, can be boiled down to one thing. Adventure.

We live, as any young person will know, in increasingly sterile times. We also live in what are, for 99% of the young, financially very restricted times. This is a double-whammy, meaning the adventurous, curious mind of many a young man or woman is increasingly restricted by overprotective adults and lack of funds for exploring pastures new. But birding can offer a way out of this. What it can offer is cheap, it’s safe and it’s thrilling. Have you ever had the rush of finding a Long-eared Owl? Scouring the local countryside, at a time when most decent people are tucked up in a soft bed, and hearing that ethereal hoot, or seeing a silent silhouette swoop onto some unfortunate nocturnal mammal. Have you ever camped up all night with a Nightjar? Have you ever walked on your local patch, for another dull winter walk, and seen an incredible bird you’d never even dreamed would occur there?

I believe birdwatchers are thrillseekers at heart, regardless of how much of a bunch of anoraks we are perceived to be by society. Think about it. When you start birding, everything is new, everything is fascinating, every new piece of information you pick up feels like another weapon in your arsenal. Every bird you see is thrilling, exhilarating. Then, you grow your wings, if you’ll indulge me that terrible metaphor. This may involve different things for different people. Some will chase the ultimate thrills in the form of rarities, birds that may only be seen in your part of the world once in your lifetime. Some will stick to their local patches, getting their thrills from the unexpected on your doorstep. Though, as one of these people, I would say that the thrills of patch birding can be every bit as fantastic as the Needletails and Dusky Thrushes others may chase.

I guess that, for me, the best thing about birding is that so much is unknown, and there is so much I haven’t experienced. Now I’m a bit older than when I started, I do see myself as free to do what i want, within limits, and for a birder this is fantastic. There are so many things I want to find out. Just where are all those elusive species I’m sure must occur in my local area; the Long-eared Owls and Goshawks for example. Can I find the feeding spots of the Purple Sandpipers that roost on the piers at Newhaven and Brighton? How many Caspian Gulls will I see this winter?

Some local birders will spend their days attempting to find rarities. I've done this in the past, but really, now I feel like I’m through that phase. I have a local area where, for better or worse, almost all birders concentrate upon the few well-known sites, such as Cuckmere Haven and Newhaven Tide Mills. This means a fairly vast array of unexplored habitats. Not all of these will be brilliant, not all will reward me with superb birds, but I find the not knowing so much more thrilling than just strolling up to a well-known location, or strolling up to a crowd of other birders and a confused waif from halfway around the globe. To quote Helen Keller, Life is either a great adventure, or nothing. 
And I think the same thing can be said for birding.

-Liam Curson
Liam fancies himself as a jack of all trades when it comes to nature, but his longest and most dedicated fascination is with the Order Aves. He's based in East Sussex, but also loves travelling to other countries when he can. His favourite bird is the Wallcreeper. He likes patching and seawatching, and spends his summer months delving into the murky waters of entomology.

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