If you’re bored enough to have checked out the “about” section of this blog, you may have noticed that I referred to myself as a bad birdwatcher. I suspect that many of my friends would object to my applying that moniker to myself. After all, at times I certainly can be quite good at birdwatching, and my non-birding friends are always impressed at my birdy knowledge. Compared to the big boys, though, I am just a novice. But the term “bad birdwatcher” needs a bit of explanation. It’s not about where I fit on some heirarchy of skills. Bad birdwatching is a state of mind.
The term was coined by Simon Barnes in his excellent book How to be a Bad Birdwatcher. It’s been a while since I read the book, so forgive me if my memory of its contents is a bit fuzzy, but what has stuck with me was Barnes’s approach to birdwatching, which truly can be applied to most aspects of life. It can be summed up in these simple sentences from the book:
“Look out of the window.
See a bird.
Congratulations. You are a bad birdwatcher.”
In other words, you don’t have to be an expert, or even necessarily very good at something, to do it and enjoy it.
As someone who has often been paralyzed by her own need for perfectionism, I found this a truly refreshing approach. I don’t have to be a twitcher with an impressive life list and the ability to recognize every LBJ on sight. I can take joy in just observing birds, learning about them in my own way and my own time. I don’t have to go out in search of rarities. I can enjoy the antics of the Long-tailed tits in the trees out back, and it still counts as birdwatching. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in seeing new birds or adding to my list. (I’m very excited to have seen my first Black terns on Tuesday.) It’s just not my priority, and I find that just taking it step by step – first learning to recognize the everyday birds around me, then starting to pay attention to their songs, then adding to my knowledge of different species as I come across them – I’m becoming a better birdwatcher than I ever thought I’d be.
Yet I still proudly wear the moniker “bad birdwatcher”. For me, birdwatching is not about ticking a name off a list and moving on. It’s about enjoying the beauty of everyday things. It’s about appreciating nature in the middle of a crowded city. It’s about marveling at the biodiversity in the life that surrounds us. And it’s about taking a step back and really being in the moment.
And all without a PhD in ornithology.