We are staying at Mountain Valley Cabins, hidden deep in the mountains of north central Tasmania. This is a hotspot for serious wildlife enthusiasts because it’s one of the few places in Tassie where you are likely to see a wild Tasmanian Devil. Tonight there are six of us here, all Brits, but sadly the other four are twitchers, and they spend an hour over dinner comparing notes on the rare birds they’ve seen over the years, how much they’ve paid to travel to the far flung corners of the world where these unfortunate specimens can be found and how much they’ve suffered in the process.
How unutterably depressing! When friends and acquaintances refer to us as twitchers, Julie and I will correct them sternly. Twitchers, it seems to me, care little for the bird itself, but are obsessed by the chase. For them it’s all about the quarry. Once a particular species has been seen and ticked off in the appropriate book or list they quickly lose interest and move on to the next challenge. It’s as if by seeing the bird it becomes their property, theirs to log and then ignore as they immediately consign it to history in favour of the next target.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see a rarity, to get the chance to study in the flesh a bird that most birders have only read about. But it gives me just as much pleasure to spend a quiet hour watching an everyday bird, like a starling in the UK or a Superb Fairy Wren here in Tassie, to marvel at its existence and enjoy its antics as it goes about the everyday business of living.
Twitchers, it seems to me, are doomed to a life of unhappiness: they have never seen enough birds, or the right birds, to bring them satisfaction. Julie and I, however, live in the moment, enjoying the starling or the sea eagle or whatever else comes our way, taking our pleasures in the wonders of nature and evolution. This to me is what birding should be about, not pursuing a quarry species to the ends of the Earth and then all but forgetting it once it is seen. There’s a book in here somewhere, Zen and the Art of Birding Contentment perhaps? My next project, maybe?