‘Twitching’ divides opinion more than almost anything else in the wildlife world. Some birders hate being considered a twitcher, while those in the ‘fraternity’ are proud of their pursuit. Meanwhile, the media label anyone with an interest in birds as a twitcher. So what is twitching, and is it something you want to get involved in?
Twitching is the pursuit and observation of rare birds, and for many people it becomes a total obsession. It is a largely male pursuit and can be expensive – some twitchers even charter aircraft at short notice to reach far-flung destinations in the hope of crossing a species off their list. It can take over lives and ruin marriages, friendships, work prospects and wallets.
Twitching frequently involves standing around, often for hours, sometimes in bad weather, anxiously wondering whether a bird will show or not. Don’t expect to see every individual you go twitching for – if you arrive the morning after it was last seen, and the night was moonlit, it will probably have gone.
If you want to become a twitcher, look at sites such as BirdGuides and register for news to be sent to your mobile phone. You’ll soon find your heart in your mouth each time you receive a message alert, and things will get worse if you discover that the UK’s first eskimo curlew in 130 years has just landed on Fair Isle.
Then, find some like-minded buddies to share transport costs, and a sympathetic partner who will not be upset when you abandon them on their sickbed to tick some Siberian waif.
A good knowledge of birds is not initially essential because you can learn from more experienced twitchers, but it does pay to ‘gen up’ on the species you are chasing so that you recognise the Philadelphia vireo when it sticks its tiny head out of a bush.
Finally, twitchers can get a bad name, so always put the welfare of the bird first. Never flush it incessantly because it will probably be tired after a long flight, and don’t stress it by getting too close. And respect the land you are on, and local residents too.
Always ask yourself the question: would I have recognised this bird if I had discovered it myself? Work out why the bird you are twitching is the bird the experts say it is.