It didn't take long for the news to leak out that lovers of schadenfreude everywhere, as well as a handful of Pendeen unfortunates wouldn't be seeing photos of the Tropicbird any time soon. My immediate reaction was one of disbelief, I believe I said at the time that this was a "a load of bollocks", and then in a more measured way a few days later that "this wasn't right". I don't begrudge a person trying to make a few quid, not that the money involved was ever going to be earth-shattering, but really? I'm not judging the man (OK, actually I am) but my reaction would have been rather different. If you've just found a complete monster of a bird, even in somewhat difficult circumstances, a natural reaction would be to shout the house down. Look at me! I found it! Me! Me me me me me! Or something like that, but forgetting the personal glory aspect, I felt it was such a great bird, and let's face it, such a great story, that all interested parties (i.e. every birder in the UK except for 40 bitter ones) should have been able to see the pics immediately. We live in the digital age. Me me me, and now now now. It didn't happen like that, and about a week ago Birdwatch dropped through my letter box. Rarity Exclusive! The Truth about the Pendeen Tropicbird. I forced myself to read it, and you know what, it wasn't that different from my account, except with less venom directed towards the finder.... What I understand from this is that the 1,573 people who have so far read my post must owe me a pile of money. So, if that was you, cough up please. A pound each and I can buy another pair of Swaros. Sorry, is that wrong? I thought birding was about making money? No?
I am of course somewhat conflicted. I have been known to make a few quid from the birding mag in question, I wrote a column for a while, and every now and then I still contribute a photo. I have the greatest respect for the editorial team, who I know read this blog every now and then, and whilst I am deeply envious of the jet-setting life of the Azorean founder (!), I also recognise the hard graft that putting together a publication must have been over many years. And as you know, I am a big believer in hard work. Nonetheless, in this instance my personal view is that they have got it wrong, and will lose more in credibility than the extra sales might be worth. Journalism may be all about sensationalism, but surely birding is bigger than that?
I probably just need to wake up and smell the coffee. Birding, or parts of birding, whether I like it or not, are dominated by money. Rarity news, optics, clothing, tours, you name it, and it isn't going to change. But now exclusives? Really? I wasn't ever involved in the halcyon days, but is this the way birding is going? Is this a case of one-upmanship versus the other competing publications, or is this simply red-top advertising to boost sales? I don't know, but I do know I don't like it. I think there are certain aspects of birding, certain moments, that should remain free and accessible, and this is one of those instances. For all its faults, at least BirdForum is free. Of course the finder of this amazing bird is free to choose what he wants to do, I've already discussed that, and I haven't a clue if a bidding war ensued once he'd made his mind up, but it irked me to see what should have been a great tale in UK birding reduced to a business venture. And that's the bottom line really. No, really, it is.
The good news is I was joking about blog readers needing to blow the dust from their creaking wallets and cough up. I write this because I enjoy writing it, and I post photos up because I'm a bit of a show off. Maybe I'm missing a trick? I'd love to be able to bird for a living, but I can't. Am I bitter about that? Not really, I quite like my life, or at least most of it.
PS don't look at the photo below unless you want to be charged.