Catching ‘the early birds’



Staying on the subject of finding humour in every situation, I came across this piece I wrote probably around 20 years ago, and it still makes me smile. Although I’m taking the Mickey out of bird watching and birdwatchers, I only wrote it after I became a member myself! I ventured out on birding expeditions everywhere and whenever possible, rising at impossibly early hours to catch ‘the early birds’ – literally. Like any group of people, there are no particular generalities, so yes, you do get all kinds from the completely down-to-earth to downright snobs, but it is a wonderful hobby, which allows you to not only learn so much about birds and their habits and habitats, but also get into natural surroundings.

The premise of this piece is that if you want to be uber cool, you need to find an uber cool, stylish hobby, that gives you a certain je ne sais quoi – and I go on to suggest why bird watching does so…

Need to find an escape from the daily vice-like grind of work and stress? Lack the imagination to find a decent hobby that will do the trick, but at the same time deliver the right degree of ‘cool’?  Tired of contemplating those depressingly icky, nerdy alternatives like macramé, decoupage or God-forbid, ballroom dancing?  Well, look no further because the answer lies in a little ‘trend-tracking’ – that’s the latest buzz phrase for following what the coolest people in the world are doing. It therefore follows once you do the same, well, you’re well on your way to solving your original problem, and what’s more, become much, much cooler in the process.

Now if you’ve been paying even the slightest bit of attention to what is going on in your global village, you will know that everybody is doing something to do with wildlife, whether its watching them, filming them, raising funds to save them, or even painting them. The problem is, because everyone is ‘doing wildlife’, to set yourself apart, you need to find a niche wildlife hobby that will set you apart from the riff raff, while producing the right combination of eccentricity, snob-appeal and uber coolness. Well take from me, I’ve been there, done that and have the bird crap on my cap to prove it – the ultimate in snob appeal coolness is, yes…bird watching!  Don’t laugh! On the face of it, I’ll agree, it may appear a super-nerdy hobby, but in truth you’ll have to go a long way to find another hobby that answers all the right criteria. Let’s me say it plain and simply: bird watching attracts snobs, yes it does. It also guarantees that you will be classed by others, even your friends, as slightly eccentric, or even mysterious, and once you are considered eccentric, take my word for it, no one will ever dare to class you as boring!

OK, now you’re convinced and itching to get into the long grass with your binoculars, but wait – to break into this already strong contingent of eccentric human beings requires that you adopt certain dress codes, character traits and birding linguistics to create the desired pose. Most of the time you will find them clambering around in the dank undergrowth of a nature reserve, clad in baggy jeans and T-shirts all designer I might add, so you won’t have t eschew your Tommy Hilfigers or Guess jeans, but old floppy fishing hats (or even pith helmets is you really want to make a seriously eccentric statement) are an absolute must. This is what psychologists term as “imprinting”, and very importance in for your new image.

Painfully, you will have to learn to set your alarm for some God-forsaken hour to pitch up in time at the preferred birding venue. Then you will have to practice and learn to utter a strange collection of whistles and clicks, which are designed to fool the hapless birds into believing you are one of their kind. But there is no need to panic – help is at hand in the form of birdcall recordings that can be purchased from the club itself or from other members. You will need to set aside time on your own to listen to these calls and become familiar with them, or you could end up being scorned by your fellow bird watchers by making an incorrect call on a bird song. The upside of course is, by leaving the birdcall CD’s lying casually around in your home, as others would leave their favourite music artists’ CD’s, you up your eccentricity stakes by massive bounds.

And if you’re the type that needs a good argument every now and then to relieve the agro of the concrete jungle, you need to look no further for this stimulation than a seemingly quiet get-together with fellow birders. The Brixton riots have nothing on the havoc you can wreak by disputing the authenticity of a bird identification one of your comrades has made. The thrill of raised voices and bitter squabbling that you have provoked, will fill you with a satisfying glow, like a kid who’s managed to throw a stink bomb into a crowd without being noticed.  And just as the fists begin to fly, you can slip away unnoticed to enjoy the bird song in your own garden.

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