The Secret of a Long & Happy Relationship

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Gavin Haig

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Gavin Haigh

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Looking back over roughly 40 years of birding (more, if you include youthful dabbling) I have learned many lessons. The purpose of this post is to share one or two. Maybe you'll read this through to the end, scratch your head and wonder what the NQS bloke was going on about. Maybe you are one of those fortunate souls who are able to maintain a steady, consistent level of enthusiasm for birding, day in, day out. Maybe you have never been blighted by the urge to pack it in, even temporarily. Maybe you never will. Maybe...

If you google 'hobby definition', this is what you get...

Hobby (noun): 'an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure'

Today I'd like to focus on one word in that sentence: 'pleasure'. Because that is the key to a long and happy relationship with your hobby. We're talking birding here, but the principle obviously has broader application.

So, here are some mistakes I've made...

I have many fond memories from twitching. Fantastic birds with good friends in incredible places. In hindsight, on many occasions the bird played second fiddle to everything else though. And when you find yourself gunning up the A1 because it's a tick and it, and not because you want to, well... Eventually twitching was frequently a chore, not a pleasure.

Patch Birding
Patch birding is all the rage right now, isn't it? There are a couple of ways I've mucked it up though. One way is by being too rigid in what is my 'patch'. The moment I start drawing lines on a map, I am doomed. It took me until very recently to realise that, but it is definitely true. I find it too constraining and get bored. Feeling I ought to be visiting somewhere is not the same as wanting to.

Chasing a patch list, or just a patch year list, is also a bad idea for me. Making special efforts to see some bird I'm not all that bothered about, simply because I need it for the list... I hate it.

I've barely scratched the surface here, but even so I expect you've probably sussed what my problem is. I get bored easily. And yet in this very strange year of 2020 I have managed to maintain a high level of enthusiasm for my birding right through June and July - something I haven't managed for many years. How? Well, I've touched on it before, but the key has been simply to do what I want to do. Not what some silly list, or geographical boundary, suggests I ought to do. Here's the recipe...

Local Birding, not Patch Birding
All my birding is close by, mostly to where I live, but also to where I work (think Axe Estuary, and gulls, for example). Travelling is minimal and cheap, and relatively low-carbon. If I fancy a walk at West Bexington I go there. And if I cross the border into East Bexington, that's fine. Or I might try Burton Cliffs. I feel no call of duty to grind away at some 'patch' in all weathers. I keep a tally if I fancy it, but often don't. I have no idea how many species I've seen this year, and don't care. This is the first year for a long time that I've actually written a few county rarity descriptions, but if it becomes a dreadful chore I won't force myself and I won't feel guilty either...

I expect I come over as a selfish whatsit, but all this pleasure I'm getting from birding right now, well, I don't want to jeapordise that...

When my alarm went off this morning, I opened my eyes and thought a walk at Cogden Beach would be nice. A short one, then off to work.

Early. And...empty. Bliss.

When the scenery is so gorgeous, and the wash of light surf on shingle is the dominant sound, it's hard to be worried that there are few birds. And who could possibly grumble when one of these pulls the perfect fencepost pose...

My third Wheatear of the 'autumn'. Local and lovely.

So there we are, just a few lessons gleaned from my woefully up-and-down relationship with birding. Thankfully not all of us are so high-maintenance!