Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Working From Home.

Sue. “You call that work?”. 

“I am at my place of work with a cup of coffee. Blogging, replying to emails or reading the latest news. It keeps my mind active, enquiring and less likely to putrefy with old age". 

No PR spin, no advertising and no corporate agenda - there are Internet sites that uphold the lost art of journalism. Fake news, PR spin and post-truth politics; we live in a world where the information we digest cannot be relied upon; where the manipulation of news for political, corporate or personal agendas is rife; where journalists are vilified, threatened or silenced for exposing corruption, crimes, injustice or for airing non-woke views. 

So how do we, as readers, get closer to the truth? While no reporting is entirely without bias, there are still, thankfully, some sources of news and information that work against the grain by undermining traditional media and attempting to reveal hidden truths. 

”When you’ve finished festering and looking for the truth, the outside windows need a clean and the grass needs cutting”. 

“Yes Dear”. 

However, after a skim over with the reluctant to start Mountfield, the grass, or “lawn” as we Brits prefer to call it, looks just fine. And the damson tree is in full blossom even if the autumn fruit is inevitably full of grubs. 

Today I’m working from home so looked for an archived piece to delight readers; it’s where I found this item about how other people see the legend that is The British Twitcher . 

From Another Bird Blog of December 15 2013. A well written, partly satirical, but ultimately truthful read about birding, guaranteed to make us laugh again during these dispiriting days. 

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From The Washington Post 15th December 2013. 

GREAT YARMOUTH, England — Garry Bagnell is cruising down an English country road when his beeper lights up with a bulletin. A Shorelark - a distinctive bird with yellow and black markings took a wrong turn somewhere over Norway and is getting its bearings on a beach an hour’s drive north. Time to step on the gas. 

Shorelark

Britain’s wild world of competitive bird-watching can be a truly savage domain, a nest of intrigue, fierce rivalries and legal disputes. 

“I need that bird, I need it,” said Bagnell, a 46-year-old accountant and hard-core practitioner of British twitching, or extreme and extremely competitive bird-watching. 

“When a bird you haven’t seen drops, you’ve got to chase it. That’s going to bring me up to 300 different species spotted for the year.  You don’t understand how competitive this is. For some people, this is life and death.” 

Beyond these shores, the world of bird-watching may be a largely gentle place ruled by calm, binocular-toting souls who patiently wait for their reward. But in Britain, it can be a truly savage domain, a nest of intrigue, fierce rivalries and legal disputes. Fluttering somewhere between sport and passion, it can leave in its path a grim tableau of ruined marriages, traffic chaos and pride, both wounded and stoked. This is the wild, wild world of British twitching. 

Britain isn’t the only place that has hatched a culture of fierce bird-watching. In the United States, book-turned-Hollywood-film “The Big Year” chronicled the quest of three men vying in long-held American competitions to spot the most number of species in a single year. Nevertheless, observers say the intensity of the rivalries and the relative size of the twitching community here, numbering in the thousands, singled out British birders as some of the most relentless in the world. 

One of the fiercest rivalries, for instance, pits Bagnell’s former mentor and now nemesis, Lee Evans, against 41-year-old grocer Adrian Webb. Evans, 53, dubs himself the “judge, jury and executioner” of British bird-watching and keeps his own twitcher rankings. To take on the master, Webb took 12 months off from work in 2000, spending $22,000 and driving 88,000 miles to break Evans’s record of 386 species of birds seen on the British Isles in one year. They trash-talk on the birding circuit like prize fighters. 

“Evans is a bit of a strange bloke,” said Webb, who is known to drop his grocer’s apron and turn on a dime to chase a rare bird, and claims to have broken Evans’s record in 2000. “He doesn’t like people who he thinks are a threat to him. If someone has seen more birds than him, he doesn’t like it. If someone sees a bird that he hasn’t, he doesn’t like that, either.”

Evans - a figure so polarising on the birding circuit that his name is routinely smeared on rivals’ blogs and in online forums, does not recognise Webb’s claim to the title.

Over the years, Evans has racked up big legal bills defending himself against allegations of slander for allegedly under-counting the tallies of rivals and questioning whether they’ve actually seen all the birds they claim.

He dismissively calls Webb a “chequebook birder”- one who will spend any sum to reach birds spotted even on distant islands miles off the British coast. Evans also insists that he has been the victim of underhanded tricks, citing an incident when he was racing to see a rare bird in Scotland. He had lined up a plane to take him to a sighting on a remote island only to find that a group of rival birders had stuffed the palm of his pilot “with a few extra quid” to take them instead. 

“In America, bird-watching is still mostly a pastime,” said Evans, who is on his fourth marriage and blames his divorces partly on his obsession with twitching. “But in Britain, bird-watching can be bitter. It can be real nasty business.” 

A term coined in the 1960s to describe the jaw-rattling sound of chasing after rare birds on rumbling motorbikes, “twitchers” are narrowly defined as bird-watchers willing to drop everything to chase a sighting.  More broadly, it includes those who make their way to see a bird within a few minutes of an urgent bulletin.

Such bulletins are typically sent out by services such as the Rare Bird Alert, which obtains its information in real time from a vast network of bird-watchers across Britain. Once notified of a sighting, the service issues urgent messages to its 21,000 subscribers via pay-by-the-month pagers and smartphone apps. 

In one of dozens of similar scenes of “twitcher madness” here, local police were forced to cordon off streets after hundreds of desperate bird-watchers descended on a suburban home in Hampshire last year when a rare Spanish Sparrow fluttered into somebody’s garden. 

Spanish Sparrow 

For a mostly male sport with an average age over 50, however, twitching can also tempt fate. In October, a top British twitcher, Tim Lawman, had a heart attack while on the trail of a Radde’s Warbler in Hampshire. “It was a new bird for him, and in all the excitement of rushing to see it, he just keeled over and died,” Evans said. 

A popular smartphone app to help British birders is being advertised as an essential tool when “there have even been recent cases of violent clashes between bird watchers as people desperately try to get the very best spots.” In 2009, Bagnell said, he and other twitchers were aghast when two elderly rivals on the circuit went for each other’s throats. “One was saying he’d seen a bird, and the other said he didn’t believe him,” Bagnell said.

Though most twitchers are bird-lovers, the sport is mostly about the chase.  Bagnell, for instance, drove 90 minutes and searched the ground for a half-hour before he spotted the coy Shorelark in beach scrub. He eyed it for a few moments before tweeting his find, then moved on. “I’ve got another bird to get three hours away,” he said.

The most unfortunate twitchers race many miles to spot a bird only to find that their flighty subjects have flown off - a bummer known in the twitching world as a “dip.” One of the most infamous dips came as Webb pursued a long-tailed shrike in the Outer Hebrides off mainland Scotland. The boat he and 12 others had hired died in choppy waters, forcing a daring rescue by Her Majesty’s Coastguard. “We were worried for our lives for a bit, but we were more worried about not seeing this bird,” he said. 

Within the world of twitching, there are countless rankings; lifetime lists, annual lists, semiofficial lists, slightly more official lists. Such rankings are partly predicated on evidence. When you saw that Velvet Scoter in Wales, were there witnesses? How about photographs? If not, claims all come down to trust. 

Velvet Scoter

Many see twitching as an outcrop of the British fascination with “spotting” things - most notoriously, trainspotting, a hobby that involves the obsessive pursuit of seeing as many locomotives with your own eyes as humanly possible. But others say it may simply be a case of boys who refuse to grow up.

Twitchers 

“Years ago, British boys used to spend their childhoods collecting birds’ eggs or stamps - now you wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing,” said Brian Egan, manager of the Rare Bird Alert. “But what they can do as adults is chase sightings of rare birds. So that’s what they do.” 

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Dear Reader. In 2020 the scene is as mad if not more insane than ever.  Following the decline in even once common birds, almost every species becomes a target for the year lister.  More so for those with little interest in birds but drawn to the British obsession with collecting.

And just like me, here's someone else working from home. Wilson, The Border Collie.

Border Collie

There's more bird watching madness from Another Bird Blog soon. Don't be late.



4 comments:

Wally Jones said...

" ... a case of boys who refuse to grow up."

That sums it up nicely.

I can't say I'm "working" from home, as I gave up "work" as a bad habit several years ago. However, us "elderly/infirm" folk have been urged to remain at home until the end of the month. Sigh. The yard birds feel sorry for us.

Terrific article, Phil! Fortunately, we have for the most part been able to avoid bird watching's dark side.

During our "down time" will be a good opportunity to re-watch "The Big Year". Fun movie.

We trust you and Sue are well and look forward to whatever the "new normal" shall become.

Mike Attwood said...

Wonderous words Phil. Stay safe. Mike.

Rhodesia said...

I enjoyed this article of you working from home. This time of the year is always busy for us. The grass starts growing too fast as do the edges. The vegetable garden has to have all the weeds removed and dug over, planting is in progress as well. Spring cleaning, especially after the wood stove has been burning all winter and deposits 'volcanic ash' all over the place. Now with lockdown, more time is spent in the kitchen inventing meals with what is available. It is great we are slowly emptying the 3 freezers and getting through bottled fruit and veg dated back to 2015, it is all in great condition and very tasty still. Loved Wilson working from home 😊
Heard the cuckoo and the hoopoe today and watched the owl watching me from the nest
Take care and stay safe. Diane

Stevenson Que said...

Phil this is such an amazing work, this article! I very much agree with your words about post-truth politics because as crazy (or I can actually use the word cheap) things can get here in the Philippines, I tend to get myself swimming in a lot of fake news that are swirling around all media outlets here. What fuels them are the blind supporters who will live by those fake news and make them their own choices for truth, no matter if they prove it as a fact or not ugh!

But thanks to these beautiful birds you shared, especially the sparrow which is one of the very few wild birds species on our side of the islands. Oh and that border collie photo killed it for me! HAHA

Greetings from the Philippines Phil! Wishing you a meaningful Easter weekend!

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