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 gentle ribbing.
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 pillocks?
To be continued....
Trouble is many people, as I've found to my cost, appear to have lost, or perhaps never owned, a sense of humour.ReplyDelete
Is it because people are so conditioned to seeing a smiley face, or a wink or whatever, that when they don't see it they can't make the link? I very very rarely use them, because when I read it I know what I mean. Perhaps I should help readers out more? In my reply to Owen I have just used one in fact!Delete
I read the original blog, and must admit, I found an air of elitism and narcissism to it. One line in particular struck me. You mentioned something about "no one noticed my camera being off" or sonesomet along these lines.ReplyDelete
Should they have?
In this post you identify Twitter as an echo chamber. Why? Because a post criticising you happened to gain more likes than your own? If that ratio had gone the other way would it still be an echo chamber? Can it still be an echo chamber if opposing opinions are expressed? It's a bit of a weird notion.
Hi Owen, I should have been more clear, it was because most of the comments were "well said" or variations of that, so just jumping on the bandwagon and adding nothing - literally echos. The comments on my original post are of course nothing of the sort ;-)Delete
And on that line, on reflection I agreed with you actually, it didn't read well, and on the edit where I added the lady listening to music I had forgotten about I changed it.
Hi as a general follow up to hide etiquette and especially the photographing of animals and birds from hides the use of a flash is a no no. It was unfortunate that this has to often be pointed out along with little noise and pointing through the hide's windows, etc all of which I have had to endure fairly recently.ReplyDelete
I'm told that the following week that is exactly what happened in that hide. Flashes!Delete
Yes and I told them to turn the flash off!!Delete
Your Hide post was not only extremely amusing but very much hit the nail on head about birding and wildlife photographing these days. Camotwats abound unfortunately.ReplyDelete
Thanks Mike. Many many people disagree however. What I want to explore is how those of us that know a little better can change that behaviour.Delete
Unfortunately Jono, brain transplants aren't yet available.ReplyDelete
I found your original post spot on. Hides are designed to ...hide... the viewers and that applies to noise. I also subscribe to the view that the more people interested the better. Don’t really know what the answer is really, but hide etiquette does need to be gently explained. Trouble is that people get their knowledge online instead of growing up throughYOC RSPB local groups etc. As to use of flash I was in Norway recentlyand people were photographing the northern lights by flash!ReplyDelete
Oh dear. Thank goodness you accept the lot of a social media poster with good grace, good humour and objectivity. Your camotwat post resonated so much with me and made me smile. I do think, however, that it is worth always trying to educate and not to give up on people in hides, at least as far as bird identification goes - I daren't try and gently educate on hide etiquette, for fear of being on the end of a tirade of abuse or worse. But if someone clearly does not know their Ruff from their Shoveler (or indeed perhaps less obvious misidentifications), I usually try and gently set them right and at the same time point out another, perhaps less common, bird sitting right in view that they inexplicably haven't spotted, or perhaps they have but to be fair to them, they don't know what it is and are afraid of getting it wrong (again).ReplyDelete
Your Snipe comment made me laugh, it happens almost every time I'm in that particular hide (if it's the one I think it is). I confess I do usually point out the 10-20 Snipe all asleep in a line, before I made a run for the outside and a bit of peace.
Keep at the blog, they're going out of fashion a bit but you're a natural blogger and a bloody good raconteur to boot.
Like water off a wader's back Matt......Delete
Etiquette is now old fashioned. It has been replaced by the words "Me first"! The world is a noisy mess and no-one seems to notice the antidote - peace and quiet. My sigh of relief when a hide empties probably scares the birds off.ReplyDelete