Twitching

twitch·er/ˈtwiCHər/
Noun:
  1. A person or thing that twitches
  2. A birdwatcher whose main aim is to collect sightings of rare birds.

So I’m just going to say it straight out. I went on a birding weekend. A three day “birding” bonanza to ring thousands (yes thousands) of feathered creatures with a group of hard core “twitchers” all of whom actually know one LBB (little brown bird) from another. What a strange creature is the twitcher. And what a strange country England is to have bred so many of them.

twichers

This country is obsessed with birds. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has millions of members and a budget of almost £100 million. Sightings of rare birds make the front pages of English newspapers. For example, last year in October someone saw some kind of warbler (a type of LBB) in the south of England that had never been seen before here, though it is common as mud in The Netherlands, just a two hour flight away, and looks exactly like all the other hundreds of warblers that already exist here. Needless to say this spectacular natural wonder (not) drew 1000’s of bino-wielding, khaki-clad, middle-aged white men (most twitchers are white middle-aged men) to the region to behold this poor lost little creature and tick it off their lists. Then there was the story about the old guy that gets up at the crack of dawn each day to go to the local water reservoir to look at the seagulls. On any given day, there will be 100’s, if not 1000’s, of seagulls on this particular little lake. 99.9% of the time, 99.9% of them will all be Herring gulls. But nonetheless he scours daily for the 0.1% that aren’t  Apparently, on the rare occasion that he he finds one of the more elusive species (which probably only differ to the common Herring gull in eye colour), he makes a call. A single call.  Within hours, twitchers from far and wide have flocked to his side to tick off the strange gull from their lists. Twitchers are strange folk.

And now that you are all somewhat enlightened as to the twitching man’s psyche (I use man intentionally here as the female twitcher seems to be a far rarer species), you can appreciate my continual feelings of being surrounded by aliens during this banding weekend.

“Check the third anterior tertiaries for rufus, but not rust brown colouration?”.

Umm, aren’t they the same colour?

….no Shelly a fat score of 3 would imply that you could see fat 1/2 way up the bird’s side, not just 1/3 like here”.

Oh, yes sorry. It’s just that the bird is only 2 cm wide and I was having some difficulty seeing through its feathers and skin to decide whether its fat extended up 1 cm or only 7 mm.

Ringing a bird

Ah but it wasn’t all that arduous, and the birds are very cute.

A bird in the hand...

And once the pain of waking up in the cold at 6 am had subsided, and the caffeine was working, I could start to appreciate the beautiful site. And I have to admit, I really do enjoy extricating the many hapless critters from the seemingly impossible tangles of the mist nests. Oh, and I did see a legless lizard and, briefly, a badger.

But the most unbelievable thing about this weekend is that of all the thousands of birds we ringed, measured, weighed and fat-scored, perhaps 0.01% will ever been seen again. We were ringing in the south of England, pre-migration to Africa, the most perilous time in these birds’ lives. At this ringing station, they ring tens of thousands of birds each year. Only a small handful has ever been seen again. What a futile activity! Not so much the ringing, which on the scale that bird ringing is undertaken in England at least does provide some useful scientific data; but the fat scores and weighing, etc.   What for? It’s kind of like going to a sea turtle breeding colony and collecting every recently hatched nestling sea turtle, measuring everything about them and then hoping to see any of them ever again. Highly ineffectual data collection, but then I guess for these twitching types it provides a convenient excuse to prolong the time they get to handle (or should that be fondle) birds.

 

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