Twitching -from the other side


Twitching From The Other Side –A Visit From A Rose-Coloured Starling


From the outset let me say that this is not written to make a list of complaints about twitchers. I fully understand the wish to see and record a bird that rarely shows up. I love it when I see a new bird, even one that other people get round all the time and take for granted. It’s only in the past couple of years that I saw my first long-tailed tits, and this year saw my first bullfinches. So yeah, I do understand the attraction. The birds do not belong to us, just because they are regularly on our feeders. If someone really wanted to see a recent rare one, then we hoped they would at least catch a glimpse of it.


What I’m really hoping to do, is give some pointers that would make it a better experience for all concerned.


We were fortunate enough to find an unusual bird making the most of our feeders. My sister saw it first, catching glimpses of something different for several days before she was able to take some close-up photographs of it on the feeder right outside our living room window. It looked rather like the basic shape of a starling, but not like any I had ever seen so I asked advice from a friendly expert on Twitter (thank you, David S!). A juvenile rose-coloured starling. At that point I didn’t even know how few there were to be seen around the UK. The species had not been on my radar at all.


Although I never gave the address online, only mentioning a village in the general area, people must have done some sleuthing, looking up our names on the electoral register or something, because quite quickly they started turning up at the gate. This in itself gives an odd feeling, something akin to Big Brother. As a painter and designer I have to give out my contact details quite often, but this was different. That complete strangers have been researching you, tracking down your home address already makes you feel a bit defensive. That they then invite themselves to turn up at your home could be seen as a gross invasion of privacy. It certainly altered our lives for ten days, as even going to the bathroom seemed weird when you looked out the window to see people staring at you.


Normally, we’d sit in the garden for our coffees in fine days. Suddenly, with binoculars and HUGE zoom lenses pointed in our direction the coffee did not taste the same. Okay, so it was not us they were hoping to see, but it does feel very intrusive because the lenses so often appeared to be aimed right at us. This was the case too, when I pegged the washing out on the line, and other normally simple chores like that. This is someone’s home after all. Our lives and routines had to go on as much as possible in the usual way, just that now we had an audience. Mowing the grass takes a number of hours each week, and I had to get it done, twitchers or not. If I was doing jobs like grass mowing or putting the washing out, the bird was unlikely to show at all. Why not go for a little walk, sit in your car, do something other than lean on the gate, watching the action?


Having said that, blatantly standing at the gate or fence is preferable to the ones that tried to sneakily point cameras round the end of the hedge or under it, or through the branches of bushes, then quickly duck down or dodge behind when we happen to turn in your direction. We know you are there. We’ve seen you from every window. You are not the first, and probably not the last. Instead of being furtive, making it seem like someone is LURKING, give a little wave, if only to say, I’m here and we both know it -but I’m friendly –I’m only here because I hope to see the bird. Do it first because YOU are the unknown quantity. I tried waving first, but there’s a problem with that. It gives the impression that it’s an invitation to cross the boundary.


You might have done some research on us, know a bit about me from Twitter, but it’s not a two way thing. Unless you introduce yourself in any conversation you try to strike up, you remain an uninvited guest. Even at the outset, on Twitter I had this message from someone I’d never heard of, who had never engaged in any form of conversation with me on there, was not one of my ‘followers’…


‘Is this bird accessible?’


No hint of common courtesy in it. No introduction, no ‘Hi Andy’, no ‘I’d love to see this’. Basically, nothing that would make me feel like saying yes, come round and see it. I mean, from my point of view, the politest answer to ‘Is this bird accessible’ is ‘Who the heck would like to know?’ I did not reply, and the questioner probably thought I was rude not to.


The most disappointing thing though, was that neighbours informed us that birders had been looking into their windows, and had even stolen fruit from their trees. Which of course would not make them, or us, very popular.


A number of people have pointed out how lucky we were to have this visitor. And I’m sure luck was a big part of it. It had to find us. But I’m also sure that it was also partly down to us having built up a healthy bird population, including quite a large flock of tree sparrows who the visitor liked to hang around with (it didn’t seem to think much of the starlings who tried to bully it –without success though as it was able to hold it’s own). Ten years ago we started with just one friendly robin greeting us when we moved in. Our feeding regime has been relentless for those ten years and every year has seen one or two new species passing through or even deciding to stay. Even on Christmas morning the first thing we do, before dawn and before thinking of coffee is sort out the feeders. The birds have never gone a day without, and here, if the patrolling raptors don’t get them, the birds even have a chance to die of old age. We’ve seen that demonstrated because some birds have clearly identifiable features, and we know them by sight. In the worst winter some years ago, when the knee-deep snow stretched on for many weeks, we literally had thousands to feed because they headed to us from all directions, and it became very difficult to provide enough. The cost of building up this population with a constantly varied diet has been high. Even though we buy in bulk, and shop around for the best prices, our food bill is still around £2,000 per year. If anyone knows of any way we could get help with that it would be hugely appreciated!


I know that if just one of the people who’d been round and enjoyed a glimpse of the visitor to our feeders had left us a small bag of seed at the gate, I would have felt that all the intrusion had been worthwhile. Ahem.. Just a hint there, for any future times you might visit someone else’s feeders..


Apart from what I learned about people (and I could have started a new hobby if I’d wanted –photographing twitchers), I got to know a bit about our feathered visitor’s character. It was much less aggressive than the other starlings. They chase off the smaller birds, wanting to hog all the food, but the rosy one shared without any problem. As I said, it particularly liked to hang around with the tree sparrows. It was willing to share with the starlings too, until they showed tetchy behaviour. It was not having that. It didn’t start anything, but could end it quickly. And it did.


Now that, I really should try to learn from.



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