Friday 7 June 2013

A cautionary tale

I'm late to this due to a bit of time spent being intolerant, but there has been one and only one story in British birding circles this week (well, twitching circles, if that's different) and that has been the fiasco surrounding the mis-identification, or the mis-broadcasting of the almost-identification of a monster rarity in Devon, Orphean Warbler.

Like many, it would seem, I checked for bird news before heading off to bed on Tuesday evening. I am a well-rounded individual. Not that I'm a hugely keen twitcher, especially not now, and on a school night there is little potential anyway, but it's developed into a bit of a habit due in no small part to a tendency for recent megas to break fairly late, cf the recent Dusky Thrush.

Ooooh, will you look at that! An Orphean Warbler in Devon. Mega-alerted no less! A specific routine now kicks in - I jump in the car and drive there immediately! I'm kidding. What I mean is that I log onto BirdForum to see if anyone actually believes it. And lo, there is commentary suggesting it is without a shadow of doubt one, with confirming (and comforting) observer names. There is even a blurry photo of about a tenth of a warbler and a song recording. I have a quick listen, both to the recording on the net and to the recording on my phone, come to no sound conclusion one way or the other as it is late and for me it makes no difference as I can't go anyway, and then I go to bed, dreaming thoughts of mass twitchery and ticks. I wonder briefly who might be waking up a little early and can't think of anyone so filthy........ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The next morning dawns with the mega still present and correct, but before I am even out the door it appears there is a problem. Twitter is going ballistic, and there are MAJOR CONCERNS about the bird. Two minutes later and it is a Lesser Whitethroat. Eh? Oh dear oh dear. I mean, really? One is about twice the size of the other for starters. So last night a definite nailed on mega, today in the half-light a common summer breeder. How did that happen?! And far more importantly - and with a suppressed snigger - how many people are currently in Devon about to start a riot?! And even more importantly than that, do I know any of them?!!

More twitter messages are now coming through, and.......wait a minute, yes! There is some excellent news of exactly the sort I had been hoping for! I do know somebody! Fantastic! I couldn't possibly say who it is, but this is what birding is all about in many ways and easily one of the best things about twitching. And this is a proper banana skin. Yes it's about the thrill of the chase, yes it's about the numbers, yes it's about relief and despair in equal measure, but mostly it's about being able to have a bit of a giggle at your mates, or indeed at yourself. We've all done it of course, a desperate journey, the bird seen well and self congratulation begins. In my case it was even worse - I was actually home again before the Greater Yellowlegs a hundred miles away was re-identified as a Greenshank! I hadn't suffered the ignominy of having already put it on Bubo and having to slink back on and delete it, but I felt enormously stupid. However rather than blushing furiously and cursing, rewriting history and myself out of it, my response then and now, once the initial disbelief had passed, was to have a bit of a giggle. I mean what else can you do? Even today, when I think back to how smug I was feeling having arrived at the school gates, a distant mega snaffled in the meagre time available to me, an involuntary giggle never fails to escape my lips. Yes it's embarrassing, yes it's very silly, but above all it's very funny. Especially if it wasn't you! I appreciate that those who had driven overnight from various distant places (for instance, and entirely hypothetically, Walthamstow) might not see the funny side quite as clearly, but in time I am sure they will come round.

Of course the real fun starts now, the finger-pointing, the rewriting of history (and deletion of blog posts), the accusations and denials. And it's all there for everyone to enjoy, on the same place that confirmed the ID for many people in the first place. Top quality entertainment, and 100% free! Perhaps the best bit of all is that the young guy that found the bird hasn't had to revert to revisionism at all, as almost from the start he maintained it was a Lesser Whitethroat with a funny song, and presumably was quite surprised when birders from all over the country arrived on his patch slavering in anticipation of an Orphean Warbler, only to slope back to their cars feeling confused and ashamed, and with work many miles away, presumably all with nasty coughs coming on.....

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