As someone who has been a birder throughout my teenage years and now into my twenties I would be the first to admit that in a bird hide I stick out a bit. At a very brief first glance, which seems to be all that people give it, birding is a hobby that looks a little dull and for gentlemen over a certain age; I do hope that this blog thus far has shown that there is much more to it than that. Yet I do not kid myself; most young people are not very interested in this pastime even after some explanation and as a ‘youth’ myself I am more than acutely aware of the situation.
It has been only a few years since I crawled blinking into the sunlight from out of the claggy, twisted depths of teenager-hood, I still recall the sense of dizzying confusion and fear as the world revealed its true nature after the innocence of childhood began to fall away. There was a feeling that you are so very insignificant with no real sway over what happens in this world, that so much is expected of you with so little time to prepare and there has been nowhere near enough explanation. Then after a while you begin to be aware of what an awful state your predecessors have left this Earth in; that your inheritance is quite frankly a dirty mess so overwhelming that rather than try to change it you go for the easier option of just carrying on where they left off. My somewhat simple point is that you are not insignificant and you can make a noticeable difference – and birding, believe it or not, is one way to achieve that.
Birders are important to conservation; I can say now from experience that the sense of being useful and important in the protection of birdlife, either through volunteering or recording or being a member of a bird conservation charity is wholesomely satisfying for a young person. Under 25’s (as some people classify them) tend to be quite social, this is mostly because they are looking for a mate and unfortunately birding does not really offer them anything in that line; largely because of the strange absence of females in this hobby. Yet there is still a social element; you can join a local bird group who will run group trips to reserves and meetings, there are social media groups too for those who want to discuss birds when they should be doing work. Just being in a hide with people who have the same interest is fun, especially if something exciting turns up – I never get bored of seeing the same expression on a birders face when a good bird appears – it is exactly the same as their normal face, minus the frown. All young people want to feel as though they belong, even if that involves pretending to like some weed-smoking goons. So once you know the birding lingo and can tell the difference between a black-tailed and bar-tailed Godwit, you do get a sense of being in a group – and it’s always fun to know more about something than other people so that you can show off.
In response to birding being dull; need I say more than watching Gannets fold their body inwards and backwards to form the shape of a ragged needle which then slices into the ocean at over sixty miles-an-hour to spear a hapless fish on the end of their specially-structured porcelain bills? How about having beautiful but dastardly Arctic Terns strike down upon your poor bonce with their blood-red beaks with painful accuracy as they protect their nests on some isolated northern isle? What about seeing the East Anglian lekking grounds of that orange-legged wader the ‘Ruff’ – as the ridiculous-looking males prance and jump around each other while quivering their fancy multi-coloured manes of feathers? Is a flock of Eider duck moaning their weird song (that sounds uncannily like Kenneth Williams) whilst sporting their extraordinarily beautiful plumage of Turkish-delight pink, sharp black-and-white, a touch of yellow and a flush of moss-green dull?