Today I am 50: I am birder

Ob birds
“The Observer’s Book of Birds”

Today I am 50 years old. I am going birdwatching. I started birding (a term we use for birdwatching) in the late 70’s and I have always been an aspiring amateur naturalist.

So what’s that got to do with this blog?

My birding kit in the 70’s was a notebook (the paper kind), an Observer’s Book of Birds, a pair of cheap 10×50 binoculars and my bike.

Today I still have a notebook, although to be honest that is more for nostalgia I think than anything else.


When this post goes live I will be in the field, and I will have, at least;

"Going equipped"
“Going equipped”
  • Binoculars and telescope (the basics never change – the cost does)
  • Several Cameras (digital, I have always been into photography)
  • Video Camera (another story, but related to time in Malta)
  • Smart phone with apps including
    • Bird Guide (a digital version of the book, but with songs and video)
    • Warblr – an app that recognises bird song
    • Bird Track – an app that records my sightings, and adds them to the British Trust for Ornithology database
    • Twitter! (see below)
  • Mifi device for linking cameras and tablets
  • Tablet


Why Twitter?

To find out where birds were, especially the rarer ones, before the internet was not easy. Birders were amazing at communication, networks of telephones calls, and noticeboards in certain cafes were just the visible ways of communicating in that time. The noticeboard still persists, visit any bird reserve and there will usually be a “today’s sightings”–it is one of the first things I look at. But things really started to change when with the rarebird “paging” services, this gave the real keen birders and twitchers (there is a whole language around watching birds) a heads up on any rare bird, I remember being in a meeting in 2000 when a pager went off, I looked around and it was the Head of Geography he stood up and said “Sora at Stover Country Park.” There were blank looks. “It’s a rail. A bird. From America.” Then he left. So did I.

It was around this time that bird watching internet sites really took off too. Birders have always been at the forefront, the real early adopters, of any technology that is about communication, optics or photography. With Web 2.0 it changed again. Twitter is the latest and most open way of communicating for birders – check the twitter stream of Rare Bird Alert or follow Rare Bird Network and their great use of hashtags.

The Sora at Stover
“The Sora at Stover”

So what?

When we want to look at how technology is adopted and used in education, we can do a lot worse than looking at what other communities are doing. I have only scratched the surface here of what birders are doing with technology, how they connect, how they communicate. There are many other things that they (as amateurs) are doing using the internet. But the really important thing to note about birders and technology is motivation. Birders use technology to do what they do. All of the equipment, the use of the internet, the communication, all of it, it is used to remove barriers to the birding, to get the birder in the field, in front of the birds. This is my motivation. To be in nature, to experience the bird, to be with other people who feel the same way.

At some point I may revisit this,look at it in more depth, explore the motivations and the technology – but it is my birthday. So, below is a live Twitter stream of how the day unfolded, how two old birders tried to see 100 species of birds in Yorkshire in 1 day. And if you’re not a birder and don’t get the size of the task, try sitting down with a piece of paper and writing down 100 species of UK birds 😉


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