Continuing our ‘Birdwatching Wednesday’ theme, the other night I came across a documentary on Twitchers on BBC4. I watched it for as long as I could endure, which was about a quarter of an hour.
Dear me, what is wrong with these people? They seem to have no intrinsic interest in the birds they are chasing after; each is merely the next ‘tick’ in their enormous lists of species spotted – 500 and more among the twitcherati. A band of uncouth and unprepossessing middle-aged men (by and large – certainly no women), badly dressed in ugly weatherproofs and festooned with state-of-the-art cameras and binoculars, they congregate hungrily wherever a rarity – some hapless bird adrift from its normal routes – happens to have been spotted, and there they jostle for that all-important ‘tick’.
The only person who has done any bird spotting in this process is the one who originally identified the rarity and, like a fool, passed the sighting on to the twitching fraternity. They, the hardcore twitchers, are doing nothing but training their ferocious optical technology on the bird and getting that ‘tick’. In no real sense do they seem to be bird lovers, or even nature lovers; they might as well be trainspotting or collecting stamps. And they seem to be too driven by their completist urges to actually enjoy what they’re doing – it looks more like an ordeal to be endured, culminating in a momentary thrill of excitment, reluctantly shared with a small army of fellow obsessives, in the middle of nowhere.
Bird watching, a harmless and fascinating pastime rooted in a love of birds and of the natural world, seems to have evolved, in the hands of these ever more ruthlessly efficient, high-tech twitchers, into a kind of ornithological autism. What would Gilbert White, or W.H.Hudson have made of it?