Some of us venture into unchartered country and forego peace & quiet until the geography’s mapped. We go where angels fear to tread…
At a recent twitch for rare birds; & in the company of lunatics, an inappropriate utterance clattered across the crumbling Bridge of Decency & resonated on the souls of all who heard it. I’ve been on it, ever since. Here it is:
Who is South Africa’s best birder?
There is, at last look, no authoritative information; & at face value, this is an unanswerable question.
Even so, instead of banishing the idea to a dark place from which there is no hope of return, I’ll give it a try. What follows is a spit at the devil, but these are riotous times – & I stand accused, apparently, of insensitivity; hurtful in itself. I have feelings too.
So where to begin?
If ‘to bird‘ is a verb, it follows that he / she who birds is a birder; a gender-neutral term – praise be! Prone to bursts of asocial behaviour & resplendent in cryptic garb, a trait common to both sexes – separating birda from birdo would be subjective at best. ‘To bird‘ or ‘birding‘ is, therefore, an activity pursued by birders looking for birds in a manner which can only be described as resolute. This radical approach to watching birds therefore excludes the charlatan who occasionally ventures outdoors to look-at-birds. These are bird-watchers – simple folk. Simple folk have been known to allocate free-time (even occasionally) to activities not considered birding ie: not conducive to advancing our understanding of ‘why we exist‘.
A birder is a general practitioner, always. He / she who starts a fanatical affair with a single species & / or who confines his / her time to a specific category / family of birds, is a specialist & whilst endearing, he / she is a charlatan. He / she who does not keep ‘a list’ / ie: ‘a written record of birds seen‘, will be defeated by the confusion of time – it’s a flawed plan – ie: charlatan.
He / she who identifies him / herself by the number on his / her list is a tin-pot dictator. The onus is on the tin-pot to present a compelling raison d’etre against the claim. A tin-pot = quack [charlatan].
He / she who writes books & / or who wastes time scribbling in general, unless he / she is adding to ‘the list’ [see above], is expending energy on pursuits away from the field and is less proficient by definition & in practice. A proficient birder is not a charlatan. He / she who keeps ‘a list’ must produce, on demand, verifiable & irrefutable proof of a claimed sighting; preferably in the form of a full-frame photograph. Where ‘a list’ is not accompanied by supplementary proof – ‘the list’ is subjective & open to interpretation. “We are not animals; we live in a society” [JJ]. Charlatans, alone, open themselves to scrutiny.
A birder cannot rely on reputation or a hitherto clean slate for free beer. He / she is only as good as his / her last call. One bad call = charlatan. Apology accepted – trust denied!
A birder is expected to know the Pantone Matching System; the Hex colour code & the Full British Standard colour fan. How else will he / she be considered colour-competent? Colour-competency & birding-proficiency are bacon & eggs ie: of the same pan.
An encyclopaedic knowledge of vocalised & mechanical sound ie: call / song & the other monosyllabic notes recorded or suspected; is a universal skill & the only concession to ‘encyclopaedia’ – knowledge is gleaned in the field. See proficiency [above].
So much for the theory…
Practically, if ‘best’ defines rarified air, rather than the goon in a paper-bag of clowns, then the answer to ‘Best birder in South Africa’ is fairly straightforward; elementary even.
Who spends the majority of his / her time outdoors or in the field exclusively in pursuit of birding immortality? Who is regionally competent in all habitats – air, land & sea? Who understands the minutia that separate species which, prima facie, are inseparable? Who takes sound by the scruff & observes unseen; and finally, who has an irrefutable track-record; is possessed of humility, honesty and has a compelling claim on ‘beyond reproach’?
A birder is sharp-eyed – that’s trite. He / she is a cast of vision & foresight. Vision & foresight are crafted in the field. Field-craft is a gift forged on the anvil of graft – hard work mostly. Practitioners are intelligent, immune to the paralysis of ordinary and like pigs on an Alba truffle – consistent & talented. Consistency, dirty nails and the nuance of giss [jizz] are the keys to the avian stars.
Who is South Africa’s best birder?
If I’m honest – I don’t know but I have my suspicions…