Well well. Two weeks I wrote what I thought was quite an
amusing take on what it is like to spend time in a bird hide in 2018. A bird
hide with other people in it. I had spent quite a few hours in a hide not
observing a Bittern, but I did see and hear many other things, and I am not
talking about birds. I am talking about people. Five hours as a fly on the wall
at a popular bird reserve in a well-populated area provided almost endless blog
material. This was not a social experiment, I had genuinely wanted to see
the Bittern and I still do. Staring at a birdless reed bed for hours on end however
and you cannot help but pick up on the other things going on around you, and in
that particular hide on that particular day the sideshow became the main
attraction. I condensed it into one post centred around a number of the
characters that were in there, left out all the boring bits about people sitting
quietly observing birds (not many let me tell you!), and gleefully pressed 'Publish'.
To say the post generated some reaction is an understatement.
I was not alone. Many people it seemed had experienced something similar and
had the same frustrations. The “camotwat” in particular was a clearly defined
person that people recognised from their own birding experiences. More
generally poor behaviour – loud behaviour – in a place where it is expected and
indeed beneficial to remain still and quiet, was something that struck a
definite chord. My blog has no censorship, but the comments there – more
numerous in response to anything I have previously written – indicated that
people felt the same way and had enjoyed my rant. Well, I very much enjoyed
writing it! I named nobody, posted no photos, indeed I did not even mention the
location. It didn’t need any of that. Just a few present tense snippets of the
odd few minutes here and there and it almost wrote itself.
But not everyone found it amusing. I suppose this is to be
expected, we are a diverse lot. As I followed the spread of the post and its
reaction on Twitter I chanced upon a separate thread with a completely opposing
view. I was not amusing. Not in the slightest. In fact it was very sad that I
had chosen to publicly criticise other people out enjoying nature, and of course
Twitter being the echo-chamber that it is, many people agreed. At the time of
writing this rejection of my point of view has nearly 1000 likes, far more than anything I posted about it! In
the spirit of fairness I retweeted this thread and kept an eye on it. There were
a few attempts from contributors to prop up one of my key points, which was that
hides are supposed to be places from which to quietly watch birds, and that if
you want to chat, discuss camera gear, listen to music etc there are probably
more appropriate places, but overall I was firmly labelled an elitist snob. Hah!
Better even than that though, one reader felt the need to declare me a
sanctimonious pillock! This got a retweet from me as well, as a near perfect example of
everything that is wrong with social media. With zero irony my judgemental
stereotyping was used to blithely categorise me. Amazing.
There are varying levels of excellence on the internet, and
although this Twitter user clearly wasn’t much of a fan, he has done very well.
Personally I fail to see how anyone wouldn’t find my post amusing, but then I
would say that wouldn’t I? I write it and read it as me, and my sense of humour
is not necessarily easy to translate, especially not on a first read. Regular
readers, a gratifying number of whom came out in support, knew exactly where I
was coming from. Some - indeed most - have not met me, but having read my output
for many years feel that they do, and they are probably more or less right. It would be
difficult to read what somebody writes for close to ten years and still be in
the dark as to the author’s general outlook. However this post has had around
2300 hits, which is roughly 10x the normal amount. A whole new set of people
have happily been introduced to “WansteadBirder”, and whilst it is too early
to say whether they are destined to become acolytes, evidently quite a number
failed to read it as I intended and have taken offence.
Offence is of course very easily taken on the internet, and
especially on social media platforms. It is almost de rigeur in many instances,
and my experience is that people are very quick to jump on the bandwagon. Dare I
say it but some revel in it. It is just too easy to bash out an ill-considered
and quick-fire response to whatever it may be, keyboards do funny things to
people. Type first, engage brain later. Or perhaps not at all. I am a limited
user of these places, but I try not to take any of it too seriously. I’d also
encourage my blog readers, especially new ones, to take the same stance. I am
sure I have said this before but rarely do I take myself seriously. And neither
should you. Nonetheless, and cutting through the manner in which I chose to
express myself, I wanted to say two things. One, I wanted to make the point that
some people actually want to watch birds from hides, which is after all why bird
hides exist. Two, I wanted to point out the reason why number one is rather hard
if not impossible is because many people that spend time in hides appear to have rather
lost sight of that, or more likely have never been aware of that at all. Personally I find tooled-up wannabe wildlife
photographers to be the most egregious of these, hence why my blog post featured
them front and centre. People who think I highlighted the toggers purely out of
some arrogance stemming from my own interest in bird photography are for the most part mistaken.
It was primarily all about behaviour and hide-etiquette, wrapped up in some
I do not want to start the whole birder vs photographer
argument all over again. I am a bird photographer and I am a birder, and I am
beginning to understand what each of those disciplines means. One thing I can definitely tell you is that one hobby is not more noble than the other, no matter what some may think, or may think I think. What I can also
tell you is that bird photographers should make an effort to know their subjects
just as they should make an effort to know their art. The people I singled out
in that hide knew neither.
But I digress. Reading huge number of contrary responses I
realised that the issue could be summed up as follows. In order to encourage
more people to connect with wildlife, and with birds in particular, should
existing and dare I say competent birders turn a blind eye to bad behaviour in hides, put
it down to life’s rich pageant, it takes all sorts etc. And going one step
further, should they nonetheless seek to encourage and indeed possibly educate
these new entrants?
And if they don’t are they sanctimonious
To be continued....