Sunday 12 April 2009

Twitching with children

Twitching with children is not easy. In fact it is quite hard. It isn't the kids. Some kids would complain, moan, whine, scream and so on. Mine are fine, they love being outdoors, especially the little one. Today they spent 5 hours playing with moss, sticks, pine cones, rabbit droppings, and a worm, and enjoyed every minute of it. It is hard because of the planning (food, water, clean nappies, timing of these things). It can be physically hard, carrying a toddler in a rucksack, or pushing a buggy up hills and over uneven ground. It is hard on the brain, you have to constantly watch out for them - is that a barbed wire fence they are running towards? What about that dog? Is there any water they can fall into? Are they still here or have they been snatched? But the hardest thing of all is trying not to piss other people off. And by that I mean other birders. Lets face it, twitching is not the preserve of men with kids. I am not tarring everyone with the same brush - reactions of course vary. You get smiles, you get encouragement or even praise - one old guy today saw the kids playing on the grass and said it was "wonderful, what a great way to grow up" - but that kind of reaction is relatively unusual. Outright hostility is also unusual, birders are on the whole a nice bunch, but on a twitch it is a little different - they have a purpose, a single-minded purpose. So mostly I get glances, but glances say a thousand words. The glances say "you shouldn't be here". Or at least that is what I interpret them to mean, I could of course be dreaming this all up. I don't think having the kids in tow should prevent me from seeing rare birds, but I am often caught in two minds. On the one hand I don't want the kids to somehow spoil it for people who may have travelled some distance, the most obvious concern being that they scare the bird away by being boisterous or noisy and cause people to dip. On the other hand, I want to see the bird too, and I will overcome all the difficulties that kids present in order to do so, and the grumpy twitchers can all get stuffed. The nice part of me says that this second thought is selfish though. Then the selfish side of me says "what kind of wuss are you?" to the nice part. See what I mean about being in two minds?

The answer as always is the middle road. I deliberately avoided the White-throated Sparrow twitch today as I felt that there was potential for a very large crowd of serious twitchers, and we would have got in the way, plus the bird was elusive. I remember all too clearly the White-crowned Sparrow at Cley - the kids would actually have been in mortal danger in that kind of stampede. Instead I went for a Little Bunting in Sussex that was supposedly showing well, and was near the car-park.
Indeed it wasn't that popular, perhaps twenty people max. The terrain was tough on the buggy, but we made it down there, and I don't think we pissed too many people off, bar one guy, but that was entirely my fault, nothing to do with the kids. Showing well my arse. Spent five hours there with one 10 second view. Unfortunately for this one guy, to whom I unreservedly apologise again, when it did show, I inadvertedly stood in front of the scope he was trying to get up, and he missed the bird perched up. I don't know if he had seen it in flight the previous time it had shown, but he was less than impressed. These things happen I suppose - in fact it happened to me at Cley, I had barely set eyes on the Sparrow when I got unceremoniously bundled to one side and my scope got knocked over - but I still feel bad that he missed a decent view because I got one, there is etiquette after all, or at least there should be. I think I feel like an idiot mainly because if it had happened to me I would be well annoyed, and yet I have gone and done it to someone else. Anyway, guilt-trip over, time to move on. Nice bird, first tick for ages. Would have liked a longer look, but it flew. My brief view suggested small juv-type Reed Bunting, which when I later looked it up in Collins is basically exactly what it is. I did not have time to clearly note any features, nor did I notice a call, although that Bradders bloke who seems to be following me everywhere got some clear "zicks". He arrived about an hour after I did, and actually recognised my car due to how dirty it was. My phone rang: "Are you in Sussex by any chance, I've just seen a really filthy car..."

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