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Rare Birds and the Media

October 26, 2009
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Our British birding friends overseas have been enjoying the recent report of a vagrant Eastern Crowned Warbler in county Durham.  It’s the first record of the species in Great Britain and as such, has resulted in predictable excitement among the famed birderati in the country and even more predictable tongue in cheek reporting from local and national media outlets.

The attention that the hard-core birder set gets from the media in Great Britain seems odd to this American birder, especially since there are times that we would do most anything for the kind of publicity they seem to receive simply in response to a big twitch. That the birding cultural differences are often as vast as the ocean that separates us is well established,  but I suspect that the big chases have more to do with the fact that Great Britain is a relatively small nation with nearly 60 million people.  Most of the nation’s serious birders lie within an relatively easily accessible distance from any rare bird reported on the mainland.  Similarly rare birds in the US have drawn similar crowds when they appear near metro areas, but I’ll be the first to admit that the carnival-like atmosphere that accompanies attempts to see birds like this wayward warbler is unlike any similar situation here in the US that I know of.

Is that a good thing though?  Twitchers are seen as an eccentric lot, and as much as we may try to deny it, we are too.  One only has to read the comments on the article (admittedly, hardly a representative example) to see that there’s still something of a schoolyard mentality with regard to accepting interests that are seen as odd.  The article itself doesn’t go out of its way to treat the birders with much more than the literary version of twirling your finger around your ear and rolling your eyes.  Perhaps we American birders should be thankful for the relative ignorance of the media about our hobby.  I’d much rather have the attention go towards conservation issues anyway, and we can just go on quietly looking at the birds.

photo from wikipedia

3 Comments
  1. Thornius permalink
    October 26, 2009 11:46 am

    I’m in the U.S. and am an avid birder but am also a member of a British Astronomy group many of whose members are avid birders, too. We exchange lots of photos and information about our respective birds and I’ve just kearned that an AMerican Rough-Wiged Swallow has been discovered in Ireland and is causing quite a stir over there. So, I let them all know about the Swallow and what to look for.

  2. October 26, 2009 4:03 pm

    Schoolyard mentality is far too complimentary for Daily Mail readers: they’re almost pre-verbal. I expect they got their mums to type for them. Still, as you say: the publicity is to die for. There was a time when not smoking seemed odd.

  3. Nate permalink*
    October 26, 2009 4:22 pm

    @Thonius- There’s undoubtedly more in common between birders of different nationalities than differences. The spectacle of a big twitch in the UK is pretty amazing. But I should talk, I’d be right there with them.

    @Andy- That’s sort of the impression I got, not knowing much about the british press. It seems nice, though, that the entire birding scene is seen as a harmless, if eccentric, hobby rather than the province of oddballs and nerds as it so often seems to be in the US. I suppose the holy grail would be to have the gawking translate into real publicity for conservation issues.

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