My name is Ken Cross and I’m a birder.
I wanted to get that confession out of the way early. Not that I’m embarrassed about it but I know some who are.
It’s strange that some are ashamed of their hobby but in Australia, and perhaps everywhere, to claim that you are a birdwatcher is to lose some serious credibility. Explaining that you are a birder or a bird watcher is not going to open too many doors socially. Even I would admit that walking around with binoculars is not cool. Birding is not something that many aspire to, like say, watching televised motor sports. And all of that is quite sad.
Because Birding is not only defence-able, it is sellable. It is a great hobby and interest that one can rationally defend.
First, before I explain its appeals, I need to quickly describe what it is. Birdwatching, I’m sure many would surmise, is watching birds. Birding is something different, something more. Birding involves actively seeking birds, identifying them by sight and song, savouring them, recording them, listing them, enjoying them and their habitats and then later, learning, reading and perhaps writing about them.
The way I see it there are seven joys of birding. And I admit being impressed by the explanation of these seven by New York City birder, Chris Cooper.
The first joy is the beauty of the birds.
Think of common beautiful birds; the pink and grey Galah, impossibly coloured and well named Rainbow Lorikeets, Scarlet Honeyeaters – the males appearing as if they’d just been dipped head first in bright red paint. Imagine the less seen but no less attractive Emerald Dove, a small jade ground loving pigeon with a faded pink head and chest. Picture, if you can, a silently sitting male Regent Bowerbird, an impressive mix of black and orange and, as it takes flight, another explosion of colour through its orange wings. Even the abundant Magpie, when studied, is a handsome bird decorated traditionally in its black and white. Birders tap in commonly to these common beauties that many, sadly, walk blindly past.
The second joy is the pleasure of being in natural places. As a recent advertisement implored, “Get outside, Get outside, Get outside”. To a birder, at least, this is good advice, for to see the birds you have to see the country. And in Australia generally and the Sunshine Coast, in particular, we have some sublime country to see.
The third pleasure is hunting, albeit without the bloodshed. To see birds well, patience, stealth and alert senses are needed. These are the skills of good hunters and these are the skills of good birders. We share, too, the satisfaction of claiming our targeted prize. Where we differ is that we leave our quarry alive and in peace; the hunt rather than the kill the source of satisfaction.
Joy number four is the pleasure of collecting. Perhaps the ultimate aim for an Australian birder is to sight and record that sighting of every bird species within our continent. There are some in Australia who have a list of over 800 bird species, seen within Australia and its island territories and the seas between. My collection is more modest; some 650 species. You can also collect lists for your yard - a yard list, this year – your year list, or your entire life – naturally a life list.
Stick with me – Joy number five is the pleasure of problem solving. The main aim for a birder is to identify every species that they see. To answer the obvious question, “What is that?” Now some birds don’t cooperate. They hide among the leaves and the foliage such that you only see part of them at any one time – demanding that a mental game of jigsaw puzzle. Still other birds are very similar to other birds, that is, the differences between them are, to say the least, subtle. Like any puzzles arriving at the correct solution is a pleasure.
Joy number six is the satisfaction of making scientific discovery. There are lots of birds and very few scientists and subsequently many, many unanswered questions. Every birder, at least, can contribute to helping answer the basic question of “Where are the birds?” Information about bird distribution and numbers is, of course, essential for conservation science.
Lastly, joy number seven, what I call the Lifer Effect. This pleasure needs a little explaining. When you begin birding you read the bird books and see pictures of birds. The picture creates the idea of a bird which is very different from the real thing. One day though you see the real bird – the myth suddenly becomes reality and you are having an experience that you know that you have never had in your life before. You have just seen a Life bird, and experienced the Lifer Effect and it is thrilling. [For a non-birder try to imagine the pleasure that could be gained by seeing a wild tiger in the wild, knowing that this experience may never happen again and has never happened before.]
So there are the seven joys but there are other reasons. It is cheap – one pair of binoculars and one field guide [an illustrated book describing all of the birds of Australia] and you are ready to go. It is inclusive - birding can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone of every generation and it is a hobby that can last a lifetime. Further it can be done at almost every single place on our planet.
So try birding. Many of you will be glad that you did.
For more information see Birdlife Australia’s website.