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Twitching & Twitchers

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TWITCHING AND ALL THAT JAZZ.

by Simon Nichols

What`s it all about, that`s what I keep asking me self

So said Michael Caine at the end of Alfie, A successful British film of the 1970’s, Many think he was talking about women, I think he was discussing the multi-faceted hobby that is Birding!

Birding! A name that originated in the US to describe, I think, the more energetic side of Birdwatching – It conjures up the image of people actually seeking out Birds and studying them, rather then the old sit back and wait attitude.

So, I hear you asking yourselves, where is this leading, I assume that as you are reading this you are probably a birder or at least vaguely interested in Birding. – So I will not bore you with what we do or why we do it. I am here, however to discuss the (in my opinion!) next stage up from Birding – that we call Twitching… I am now imagining the shrieks of horror coming from certain parts of the Birding Community and the click clack of keyboards as they write to the webmaster demanding the immediate removal of this filth! Like I said, this is my opinion and my reasoning, I don’t ask you to agree or disagree – just to enjoy the ride!

The Word Twitching also originated from the states – how or why I don`t know. But needless to say the name caught on and there are now more then 4000 active Twitchers in the UK alone with an estimated further 3000 who Twitch occasionally. So in one sentence you have Twitch, Twitcher, Twitching. Back to Alfie on this one – What`s it all about?

As a Twitcher you go twitching or go on a twitch, once you have been you have twitched if unsuccessful you will have dipped (*More about that later) – Confused? Pay attention – now for the science bit! – A Twitcher is essentially a Birder who actively seeks out the rare and scarce birds that get blown off course – thus appearing far out of their normal range. Distance is no object for the Fanatical Twitcher, nor it would seem is money or Time – for those of us who are governed by these rules a less sedate attitude is assumed.

My personal involvement in twitching happened around 1986, As a young Birder I did all the usual rounds, Saturdays and Sundays at the local Gravel pits interspersed with the occasional RSPB outing meant that birding was always fun – However I was always reading reports and listening to the few members of the Group who were into Twitching, I would be captivated as they would recount tales of Little Whimbrel , Varied Thrush etc – Birds I had not even heard of or seen pictures of, let alone seen in the flesh (or should I say feather). I was soon looking these birds up in field-guides and slowly learning more about them – hoping that one day I might be able to see them.

I finally plucked up enough courage to ask these real Birders if I would be able to tag along when they next went out - I must have annoyed them for ages before they eventually said Yes.

So it was sometime in 1986 that I was looking at my first real rarity – I say real as the bird in question was an American Wigeon at Tring Reservoirs on the Hertfordshire/Buckinghamshire borders, only 25 miles from my house. But to me it represented a break into the world of twitching. Many thanks must go, at this point, to Chris Ward and Phil Lymbry who steered me through those early years – not least because they chauffeured me about as I was too young to drive – cheers lads.) Since that day I have never looked Back – twitching to me is more then just chasing rare birds around the country; it`s also a chance to see a lot of places I wouldn`t normally think of going to, as well as the chance to see other birds that would normally require a special effort to see.

By way of explanation of the last statement – I made a trip, recently, to the Isle of Lewis (in the Western Isles) to twitch A Whites Thrush (A long time favourite bird of mine!) and although we saw the bird really well – it was the Trip itself that made it special – Watching Storm Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters and Great Skuas from the 3.5 hour crossing, Mealy Redpoll, Hebridean race of Song Thrush, and Wild Rock Doves and Greylags on Lewis, not to mention the Capercaillies and Crested Tits in the Highlands on the way back. So its not necessarily seeing the White`s Thrush that I will remember the most, but the people and the places. We stayed overnight in a youth hostel, enjoyed a few beers in the local hostelry and generally had a great time, all heightened by the fact we spent over 3 hours watching an amazing bird that I am unlikely to see again in my lifetime – in a place I may very well never visit - that is the real beauty of twitching.

Those sceptics who would have us all tarnished as uncaring, only-in-it-for-the-fix, maniacs have it all wrong. I have been in the enviable position of meeting many Twitchers/ birders over the years and they all care a great deal about birds, indeed many started just as I did – working local patches – before realising that they wanted more out of their hobby.

I want to conclude by saying that Twitching should be seen as an enhancement of birding. I like local birding as much now as I did 14 years ago but the need to work for a living limits the time I spend on my local patch if I still want to chase rarities – and, dear reader, I do!

I could have called this piece: Twitching – don`t knock it `til you`ve tried it. I`ll leave that as my end-piece of advice and respond to Alfie`s question – What is it all about? by answering, Twitching is all about having fun!

Simon Nichols

whites_thrush@hotmail.com

*Dipped , Dipping , Dip – not something you do to guacamole with nachos – but the act of missing the bird that you set out to see , whether it be a little Stint at the local pits or Male Siberian Thrush at Burnham Overy Dunes- I`m not bitter. (Not much he isn`t – The Fat Birder)

Useful Reading

Arrivals and Rivals - A Birding Oddity: A Year of Competitive Twitching

by Adrian M. Riley Paperback 168 pages Brambleby Books 2004

ISBN: 171335

Buy this book from NHBS.com

The Big Twitch

by Sean Dooley, Allen & Unwin [Australia] 2005
See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 1741145287

Buy this book from NHBS.com

How Many Birds is That?

From the Forty Spotted Pardalote on Bruny Island to the White-tailed Tropicbird on Cape York Sue Taylor 154 pages Hyland House

ISBN: 1864470445

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Rare Birds Yearbook 2008

Edited by Erik Hirschfeld - 274 pages, photos. Rare Birds Yearbook

ISBN: 169718

Buy this book from NHBS.com

The Biggest Twitch: Around the World in 4,000 Birds


By Alan Davies and Ruth Miller | 301 pages, 32 pages colour photography | Christopher Helm | Softcover | 2010 
See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 9781408123874

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Other Links

Club 4500

Website

For world class twitchers!

World Twitch

Website

Less known parts of the world well covered.

UK400 Club

Website

This is the UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert highlighting all records of avian interest and published in association with Rare Bird Alert Pagers and utilising additional information gleaned from the Regional Birdlines, BirdGuides, local email groups and individual observers

700 Club

Website

Twitching is increasing in popularity in Southern Africa and there is now a dedicated group of people who try to see as many birds as they can within the sub-region. It is not uncommon these days to hear of a group that travel from one end of the country to the other to chase after a rare bird and with the advent of cell phones and the SA Rare Bird Alert list server, this is becoming reasonably commonplace. Southern Africa currently has a list of just over 930 species recorded within its boundaries and the group of people listed below have all seen at least 700 of these.

Year and Life List Rankings

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Welcome to a new and fun program on Surfbirds. Enter yourself into any or all of the Year and Life List Rankings below and share your milestones with others and maybe even enjoy some friendly competition. As we add more and more regions, this will become the largest database of its kind and a great way to share your milestones with the rest of the birding world. Even if you're a casual birder who isn't that list obsessive, this is still a great way to share, with others, some of the more exciting new birds you've just seen. If you're a keen lister, get the worldwide recognition you deserve for your achievements. It only takes a minute, updating is instant, so enter yourself today and keep updating your entry as often as you want!

Mailing Lists - Rare Bird Alerts (USA)

Website

Rare Bird Alerts

Mailing Lists - EuroTwitch-Birdline

Website

A free mailing list for interchanging up-to-date information of major bird rarities in the Western Palaearctic. It is running quite well with over 150 members from various European countries. We already have regular reports of rarities from Holland, Sweden, Finland, Germany etc. More information about the major rarities from other countries would be very welcome.

British Birds Rarities Committee

Website

Hon Sec MJ Rogers, 2, Churchdown Cottages, Towednack, St Ives, Cornwall, TR26 3AZ 01736 796223
The BBRC is the official adjudicator of rare bird records in Britain. Its members are democratically elected by birders` representatives in each county and serve for a fixed term…

Garry Bagnell's Birding Adventures

BLOG

My Name is Garry Bagnell. I am 46 years old and I absolutely love watching Birds. My main birding achievement was being featured in the hit BBC-4 documentary "Twitchers-A very British Obsession". It was broadcast 9 times and I loved the whole experience…