What we do about the birds

Yesterday I had a chat with various people who are interested in doing a 'big year' in Namibia this year. I'll be posting more about that later because one of the ideas is that each person who wants to do it can blog about their year and post a list.

But one really good question came up which often comes up in this kind of arrangement..."is there any ornithological benefit to this activity?"

Well, sometimes it is tempting to try to say something to the effect that we could contribute our sightings to some database or towards someone's research. The reality, of course, is that there is no such database (unless we actually see a bird not previously found in Namibia).

I have some clear feelings about this. I see three branches of interaction with birds that birders can get involved in. Ornithology..for sure there are opportunities to get involved in ornithology. Any zoologist studying avian populations or various other aspects of bird life in an are would often be interested in the help of a knowledgeable local. Bird, probably by a long way, have a huge contribution to the body of knowledge from non-scientists.

That's true, but on the whole there isn't really that much meaning in your daily birding activities to ornithology. When this question is asked, I often think that people actually mean to ask a related question, namely 'is there any conservation benefit to our activities?'

Here again I would say that just potting around looking at birds around the whole country has little real contribution to ornithology. Mad twitching is actually bad for the environment in a way...a big contribution to global warming with all the fuel used up doing all that travel.

Of course there is a meaningful contribution made to conservation and population monitoring by birders...a huge contribution. If you have been following my blog for a year you would know that last year this time I was really involved in counting birds down at the coast at this time.

This leaves the third, just birding for pure fun. I don't personally have any dilemma with doing birding for pleasure. Writing up my life list (which I am busy with at the moment) has reminded me of a time when I was borderline crazy with all my birding. Actually, one of the reasons for doing a bit of a big year is to re-capture that madness. It didn't matter to me if I was conserving, ornithology..ing, or even if I was any good at it. I just wanted to add birds to my life list, enjoy getting out an about, and enjoyed doing something that was a little different from the norm. I loved (and still do) birds, but it was nature more than the birds that was so compelling. I was somewhat of a 'twitcher' (depending on how you want to define that term). I was having fun, and that was important to me.

In recent times that has gone one step further. I am now really interested in people who want to bird for fun, because I earn some of my living from taking people out birding.

If you got through all my jabbering on till here, I would love to have your thoughts about birding. Why do you bird. Is there some compelling reason, just because birding is done in nature that it should contribute to ornithology. How much does cricket, rugby, soccer, drama and Disney have to contribute to ornithology?

I LOVE contributing to conservation. I have a set of personal goals or more a sort of core of focus that I want my life to be about, and one of the things clear on there is that I want to make some contribution to conservation throughout my life. I feel I have had some contribution in the past, be it counting birds or just having a chat to the conservation officials in the Namib Naukluft Park. I've picked up lots of rubbish in my life. I've given a little money to some conservation organizations either directly, through magazine or club subscriptions, or through organizations I have worked with. I haven't saved the world, but I have done a bit. And I feel a little bit chuffed about that.

I have contributed to science a little. Very little. I don't have much feeling that any old contribution to science is meaningful in a moral way. I don't pat myself on the back for any involvement I may have had in that way, even if it had been bigger. But science is fun. I am interested. Most of the jabbering on about nature I am able to do today is because of the access that I have had to a lot of information about nature.

I am also not a very good birder and don't feel to bad about that. Sometimes a Warber that you can barely see through the reeds, or a Cisticolla that will not sing or perform makes me feel like looking the other way for brighter, easier stuff. That's a poor claim for a birding guide to make, but it is true. I promise that a birding trip in Namibia with me will be interesting, I am certainly no beginner. I do 'know my birds' for the most part. I know where to find many of the countries specials. I do an okay job with a number of hard birds. But I would be really lying to claim that I was a hotshot, top-notch birder.

But when I go out to bird, none of the above affect my thinking at all. I just plain simple get a kick out of going to watch birds.
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