The 'Fanatical' Intensity of Birdwatching

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"The dark underbelly of birdwatching," runs the dramatic headline on The Telegraph. Don't giggle.

"It's an easy hobby to shun, spum or sneer at," writes the British Alex Horne, who admits he did just this in his teens. But since joining in his father's passion he has learned that "the term 'birdwatcher' has many shades." There are people who simply watch birds and then there are "the 'twitchers'--the fanatical collectors, the men and women prepared to pay any price to get a new bird on their list." They're highly competitive. Apparently BBC4 is airing a documentary--Twitchers: A Very British Obsession. Horne points out that

the film ... highlighted a less obvious side of the pursuit: the crucial role played by reputation. Despite advances in photography, spotting birds is a hobby based on trust. If someone says they've seen a particular species, one has to believe them. If evidence is produced to prove the claimant mistaken, innocently or otherwise, their reputation is ruined. A mistrusted birder can find themselves estranged from an already marginalised community.

Let it be known: birdwatching is serious, British business. Do not try this at home.*

*The article's argument may be more subtle than that. Rather like birdwatching itself.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.