Monday, January 07, 2019

On being a stupid birdwatcher.

My name is Dorset Dipper and I'm a stupid birdwatcher.

I don't mean the mis-ID's last week at Abberton. There was a Spoonbill somewhere around, and when I saw a large white bird flapping over a distant shore I called out "is that the Spoonbill?" and no it was just another GWE. Then a large raptor over the same shore - "Is that a Marsh Harrier" but before I could get on it someone else had confirmed it as a Buzzard. and then a flock of Dunlin and one with a massive curved bill. "Hang on everyone - is that a Curlew Sandpiper?" and after a while watching, on the ground and in the air, we decided it was probably an Alpini race. But what a bill! No. I'm not talking about those, all of which I think fall into the category of calling out first and then ID'ing later. Better to risk public mistake than announce after the fact you saw something noteworthy.

I mean the what-on-earth was I thinking? Why exactly did I fail to go back and have a proper look at that larger-than-a-stint-smaller-than-a-Dunlin wader, which may well have been the White-Rumped Sandpiper that appeared shortly afterwards? Why did I not listen to the inner voice saying "are you sure that's not just a juvenile ruff?" before announcing to the local RSPB warden I had rediscovered the Pectoral Sandpiper? I mean the ones where in retrospect all the evidence was available and I just ignored it.

Well now I have the answer as to why, on occasion I am a stupid Birdwatcher. It is here in the article suitably titled "How not to be stupid".

Stupidity is defined as "overlooking or dismissing conspicuously crucial information". The article lists seven reasons why one might do this, and quite a few are relevant to birding. Being in a rush would explain the WRS above, or that feeling that I had a lot of ground to cover and not much time to do it.

Others also pertain to birding. Being outside your normal environment. Information overload. Being in the presence of a group with an expert, or being an expert. Doing any task that requires intense focus. Being tired.

I'm not sure where List Fever occurs in that list, that feeling that you have made an emotional commitment, not to say financial and time commitment, and have already rehearsed the excitement of seeing a particular bird, so the emotional cost of admitting that it isn't the bird in you were hoping to see is considerable.

From work experience, the issues that trip you up are the ones that come from left field. The projects that come through the usual route and fall into the standard processes get done; the ones that come in by circuitous routes don't fall into the usual process and get screwed up. Well, birding is full of birds that don't come when, where, and how you were expecting them.

So this year, I'm going to try and exercise a bit more proper process, to relax and do the due diligence, to be, well, just less stupid.

1 comment:

David said...

I reckon it's always best to call out straight away and amend (if necessary!) later: I expect we've all been frustrated by having someone belatedly report something you'd've loved to have seen.
And, anyway, it's 'only' birdwatching: your blog is fascinating and entertaining, so what does it matter if you mis-i/d the odd bird?