Sunday, November 17, 2019

Birders - a breed apart

The mind of the serious birder is a strange thing.

Birders, Udawalawa National Park
Our current Sri Lanka trip is billed as "Culture and Wildlife", but as two out of the four of our group are pretty serious birdwatchers, birding has become the main (though not sole) focus of the trip. So, I have had plenty of opportunity to observe the mind of the birder in action, as I have on a few other similar trips in recent years.
And a fine mind it is, typically. They are genned up on a myriad small factoids and details concerning bird descriptions, behaviours, habitats and much more. They tend to have an encyclopedic memory, although mainly for bird-related data - birds they have seen (and when and where), birds they want to see, birds that night possibly be found in the particular area of the particular country they happen to find themselves in, etc, etc.
Birding guides are even more finely-tuned data machines, and also have enhanced senses capable of definitively identifying a small bird from a fleeting fly-past or a brief distant snippet of song, or spottong a stationary camouflaged owl in a dead tree. It's really quite extraordinary to observe. Guides, however, at least have the advantage of years of experience with the local bird population, and often higher degrees in the subject. And they are at least principally doing it to earn a living wage. Arguably, they are just doing their job - very well - but for most it is most definitely also an abiding passion.
And single-minded? While we would be taking in a cliff-top view of a sweeping bay, or a two thousand year old temple, the birder is quite likely to be looking the other way with a pair of binoculars glued to his eyes (and yes, it's usually a he). The holiday becomes an exercise in competitiveness and goal attainment: to "get" all 34 endemics, to meet or exceed the total bird count of last year's equivalent trip, etc. Entire expensive vacations are planned around adding to the birder's list of "lifers". I guess it's all harmless enough, admirable even. I'm just not sure I understand that level of single-mindedness.
Don't get me wrong. Birders are, in my experience, "nice people": affable, intelligent, gentle. It's just their intensity and their single-mindedess that slightly worries me. But that's probably becuae I have never had that kind of all-consuming passion for anything. You could consider that a blessing or a curse.

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