To Bird or Not to Bird

"Why do people become birders?" I guess this is the age-old dilemma that so bothered Hamlet ... "To bird or not to bird, that is the question". The truth is people 'bird' for a variety of reasons and in a plethora of forms.

Admiration of their ability to fly - a fascination with their diversity of size, shape, colour and habits - a desire to collect sightings like some collect stamps - the fact that they are found almost anywhere - a by-product of a passion for getting out into the outdoors.

But not all birders are the same or driven by similar motivations. One gets tickers, listers, birdwatchers, twitchers, garden birders, habitat specialists, area specialists, atlassers, guides, hunters, photographers, ringers, stringers and many more, and of course a combination of many of these birding attractions. They are certainly not a homogenous group.

Some birders may be purists, ethical and honourable in pursuit of their pastime - wanting to find species unaided and in a completely wild and natural state. Some are casual in their approach to the discipline and do it as a supplementary by-product of being in a park or reserve. Others are totally obsessive even bordering on the unscrupulous in their pursuit of adding additional species to their life-list (a personal log of all the birds a person has seen in a designated area, country or continent).

Most are probably a combination of several different motivations. I can only speak from personal terms. I don't know why I developed a love for watching wild birds. I was born and spent the first 11 years of my life in Northern Ireland, which has a relatively impoverished bird diversity in comparison to this great country of ours.

My earliest memory of a focused birding trip was when my Dad took me to cliffs on the northwest coast of Ireland to look at puffins, fulmars, razorbills and guillemots. But even before that I think it started with putting food out on a bird table in our garden and watching the different kinds come and squabble for food or demonstrate different feeding techniques and food supply preferences.

Then we arrived in South Africa and everything was new. My first bird on South African soil was a Cape glossy starling as we drove from the then Jan Smuts International Airport. That afternoon I was blown away by seeing my first crested barbet with its brilliant patchwork of colour, its bustling movements and its attractive trilling call that changes in pitch and intensity (it still remains one of my favourite birds).

I'm even ashamed to admit I was excited about waking up on my first morning in the country and looking out the window and seeing a pair of exotic Indian mynas across the complex. And then I started at my new school and soon found a close friend who shared my attraction to birds and with whom I was able to share many childhood experiences and foster a healthy competitive rivalry.

He still remains one of my closest friends. We were both lucky to have another classmate whose father was a bird enthusiast and who regularly took us to destinations a little further afield and outside the confines of our local suburb. So for me it is an affection and interest that simply evolved at an early age and continues to appeal to me to this day.

Everyone else surely has their own unique feeling towards birds and many I'm sure get a similar enjoyment to my own when seeing them go about their daily existences. In future we will look to publish profiles of certain localities within SANParks - write about some enigmatic species or interesting birding relationships. But if as readers you have any requests on the content you would like to read on birds and birding in this publication please drop the editor a line.

By Chris Patton

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