I've never met Steve Gale (North Downs & Beyond blogger) but am sure that, if we ever did, we'd have an awful lot in common despite my opinion of "Pan-Listing League Tables". Shame that the demise of my "Non-conformist" blog was almost entirely due to the reaction from one of his posts - shit happens and we move on! He has made a superb post - basically asking "why" we go birding. Neil Randon had triggered this with a nice posting; Stewart - The Boulmer Birder - has put the "cherry on the cake" with a brilliantly worded response. If only I had the nous to directly link to their sites.
I have been toying with this post since I first read Steve's original posting - delaying the effort because I feel inadequate in both intellect and eloquence, I start off with the best of intent, yet get distracted by my emotions and thoroughly miss the point, thus it was Stewart who was catalyst to my reaction.
Why? A brilliant and very simple question. My initial reaction was "why not?" but when I thought about it - this couldn't be my response if it had been religious, racial or sexual intolerance/abuse - I had to give it more thought. I don't think I have the ability to give a simple answer, because I don't see myself as a "birder". My formative years were spent in the countryside that was Hemel Hempstead. I was 8 years old during the winter of 1963, I'd received my first "real" bird book (Collins Field Guide - Peterson. Mountfort & Hollom) and had been able to see my first Great Crested Grebe when a neighbour had rescued one from the snow out on the Warner's End playing fields. My childhood was spent in blissful ignorance of rarity - we watched the local natural history with all the innocence of childhood. I found a Snowy Owl in Scotland before I was 11 years old - it meant absolutely nothing (still doesn't) My mum, dad and brothers all witness to this event. I knew it was a Snowy Owl, I could id it from the only bird book I owned.
I progressed to secondary school and came into contact with other kids, the majority of whom were "eggers" - yet some also had airguns. My first introduction into "country sports" - fishing rods quickly followed, as my circle of friends grew. In the 1960's and early 70's it was possible for a young boy to wander freely across vast tracts of Hertfordshire without my parents being unduly worried about the prospects of a "nutter" dragging us off into some underworld of sexual depravity.
We fished the Grand Union Canal, collected birds eggs (Blackbird, Song Thrush, Starling & House Sparrow being my limit), shot Water Rats (Voles) and Grey Squirrels, yet were always aware of the birds that came into our consciousness. We knew Kestrel and Tawny Owl, we could id Tree Sparrow on call - they really were that common. The countryside was our playground, the wildlife that shared it was why we went out. Quite a few of my school mates took up shooting as their way into the countryside - no less able as naturalists/observers because of this choice. I chose angling, but birds were never far away, as my avenue into the enjoyment of our natural world. I find myself wondering if it's not the guys who went straight into birding that have missed a trick? Pan-listing? Isn't that what I've always been doing, just without the banner? I really don't want to open up old wounds - yet I don't care what it's called as long as I enjoyed my time looking at it.
I've progressed through several stages of intensity - birding becoming as important as life itself - in 1999 I set new record figures for the Kent Year List - it cost me my 20 year old marriage! I have had plenty of time to re-assess this and find myself coming to terms with the fact that there are many facets to this hobby - it just takes time to accept that it is possible to be different yet still get the same amount of pleasure.
I thank Steve Gale for posing the question and Stewart for his robust response - so very welcomed in this period of "nothingness" whilst I await my mum's funeral.