A short intro to GreenBirding by Richard Gregson See his website at: http://www.greenbirding.ca
GreenBirding was recently defined as “Minimizing the environmentally negative aspects of birding (and lifestyle) and maximizing the positive ones” by a Californian birder and as “Carbonless Twitching” by a British one. In essence it is just simple regular, mainstream birding but its practitioners are concerned that there is something not quite right in the burning of fossil fuels and adding to greenhouse gas emissions by people supposedly pursuing an interest in wildlife and conservation. GreenBirders do not use cars or fly while birding. Period.
A fairly average traditional birder who makes, let us say, two birding trips a month on average and drives up to 50 miles in the process of finding good birds (and many, many birders do far more than that) plus takes a medium-haul flight to some distant place with birds every second year will be responsible for the emission of an estimated 0.6 tons of greenhouses gases in a year. Perhaps not enormous by modern standards, but in aggregate it adds a considerable contribution to the things that affect climate change – there are a lot of birders out there.
A few years ago discussions about this impact started to appear on birding chat groups from time to time and it was clear that some struggling with consciences was taking place. It has to be admitted, that a majority of birders have chosen to ignore this state of affairs and justify their flying and driving by saying that they offset its effects by contributions to local conservation groups but that, let’s be honest, is not a valid argument. Greenhouse gases are greenhouse gases and if we care about our environment and that of the birds then we should probably try to find means to reduce our personal contribution.
Gradually, some of the birders who were posting on chat groups and talking in pubs after trips began to walk and cycle more to find their birds and did not automatically get into the car when they heard of something worth seeing in the next county. Some of them did walking and cycling Big Days and were surprised to discover just how many birds lived close to their homes after all. In 2007/2008 a small group of birders in Montreal (Quebec) put out a challenge to their friends to do a Big Green Big Year during which they would only count birds seen while travelling from their homes under various means of self-powered transport. News of this local venture was posted on the web and one of the group, Marcel Gahbauer, pointed out that the acronym for a Big Green Big Year – BGBY – was pronounceable as Bigby and a movement was born.
Shortly after that, a single web page was put up explaining the idea of a Bigby where visitors were invited to “register” by sending in their names, email addresses and the part of the world they lived in. No membership or fees, just a simple public statement that you were, in essence, a GreenBirder … and the floodgates opened. Within a couple of months there were about 800 names sent in from 15 countries on four continents. The majority were from North America but sizeable numbers came from Britain and respectable representations from other countries. Frankly, we were overwhelmed. It was hard to keep up with acknowledging all those emails and entering the names in a spreadsheet … a couple of dozen would have been an impressive number to us and we had never anticipated that this idea would be so popular once it was given a means of expression.
Inevitably, the website owners struggled to keep up and the GreenBirders realized after a year or two that registration was not really essential. That they could greenbird happily on their own and the contact point faded away. Nevertheless, the hope of keeping a register of greenbirders did not die and after a steep technological learning curve a new website has now appeared that explains the movement to interested birders, registers their names and – most importantly – provides a place where achievements can be posted and discussed and emulated. There is value in this in that it demonstrates to the traditional birding world that an alternative exists and is both viable and enjoyable. It also helps to show individuals who have not been following the discussions – perhaps most birders – that they are not alone in leaving their cars in the garage.
Visit http://www.greenbirding.ca to add your name to the community
Human-powered birding – what is it?
Most birders, whether they will admit to it or not, are rather competitive people who enjoy comparing lists and sightings with other birders. The problem for a birder who wants to add more and newer birds to his life list is that the over 9000 species of birds on the planet can range far and wide and rarities turn up anywhere yet we are constrained to living in one spot and, much as we might wish it were otherwise, sooner or later we have to accept that we are not going to see them all. In order to see “good” birds and to add to our lists, most list-keeping birders have been prepared to travel considerable distances to see them. Certainly, getting in the car and driving a hundred or two hundred miles to try to see some bird, the details of which have been posted on a local birders chat group is not at all out of the ordinary in today’s rather competitive birding community. There are enough of us who are prepared to go further, even to hop onto an international flight in some instances to add an exceptionally “good” bird to our list.
This is understandable. For a lot of people, keeping lists of things that interest us is a normal part of life and adding new birds to our life lists is hugely important to those of us who find birds fascinating. Unfortunately, in doing so we find that we are acting against the conservationist instincts that most birders hold to. We exhibit a certain willful blindness to the environmental damage being caused by our actions. Of course, the actions of birders add only a small contribution to the factors that are causing climate change but, more and more birders of all levels of expertise and experience are realizing that we, of all people, ought to be ambassadors for a sustainable approach to life.
Let me say right away that GreenBirding is not a holier-than-thou crusade. There are no hard rules and prescriptions to be followed. Certainly nobody is in a position to impose any, even if we wished to. Ultimately, it is up to us all as individuals to decide how far we are prepared to go green in our birding activities – full time or just once a month. After all, every bit helps.
The point is to try to reduce and not eliminate our carbon emissions while still seeing good birds – because it is entirely possible. A British birder has described GreenBirding as “carbonless twitching” which sums it up quite well.
So, the key thing about GreenBirding is that with the exception of occasional limited use of scheduled bus and ferry services etc we decide that all, or at least most, of our birding is going to be carried out using human power to travel the route from home to bird and back again. The real purists, and there are quite a few, go further and do their birding starting from home only and eschew the public transport option altogether.
What does this mean? Well, first of all a GreenBirder inevitably has chosen to restrict his or her activities to birding within the area that they can reach from their homes by acceptable, carbon-neutral modes of transport. That could be at the simplest level simply by walking out of doors and seeing where the trails take us but it also allows us to use our cycles, to row a boat or paddle a canoe or kayak. For some of birders it would include horse-riding or even a pony and cart if available.
Of course, this is actually rather appealing, unless you happen someone who enjoys sitting in a car rather than looking at birds in the open air! In the early days of GreenBirding, a participant wrote that this is “Probably the most important thing that we can do to protect wildlife and their habitats … to stop driving our cars everywhere, especially to see birds. I know, this is traumatic, but you will be surprised at the numbers and varieties o f bird species that you can see”.
So, to be a self-powered birder you don’t have to do anything more than put on your boots or grab your cycle and head out of your front door. The birds are waiting for you.
Created: 07th Sep 2011