It seems like the recent TV programme has raised the debate on twitchers and twitching on every internet forum and blog you can find. Some of the stuff is highly vitriolic and downright unnecessary and I will not get to that level but the whole subject is complex and worth some discussion.
The media seem to love calling anyone interested in birds a twitcher. I know Bill Oddie resented being called Britain's most famous twitcher. The truth is there is a bit of a twitcher in all of us. I know I did a fair bit in the 1970's until I calculated how much money I was spending just to see an immature or winter plumage waif way off course, and often in unnatural habitat. It was more cost effective to travel and see the birds in all plumages and where they should be.
Indeed on bird watching trips the participants would not like to be labelled twitchers but it is noticeable that everyone wants to come home with the biggest species list possible. Also I have met one or two ladies who have been thrilled to have a rare bird visiting their feeders. The truth is we all like to see a new bird and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
What is more troubling is the minority, a band of obsessive listers who care little for the bird, peoples' property or really anything at all except getting their quarry on their list. I should add that nowadays some photographers are included in this minority. Not content with their own lists they are constantly attacking other people's lists accusing them at best of stringing and at worst cheating or even being liars. This highly competitive attitude is more akin to modern day Premiership soccer. Some of the behaviour of this group is entirely unnacceptable and they should be taken to task by their peers as often as is necessary.
These people seem to be headed up by the notorious Lee Evans (pictured at the BirdFair) ) self appointed and self proclaimed Judge, Jury and Executioner and founder of the UK400 club. I have known Lee for years - it is hard to believe he is now actually middle-aged. I wouldn't say he is entirely harmless but he does not deserve some of the stuff that is written about him. He is I believe deluded about where he sees himself in British birding. We do have two respected bodies in the British Ornithologists' Union and the British Birds Rarities Committee to sensibly adjudicate on the occurrence of rare birds. Lee and his UK400 club are ostensibly surplus to requirements. They are entitled to exist though and are doing nothing illegal.
What is important is to ignore the fanatics and not feel some sort of stigma when being fortunate enough to find or be shown a rare bird. They are the icing on the cake for all the effort to record birds which goes on all over the UK. There are 12 million people apparently feeding birds in gardens in the UK and probably in excess of a million people interested enough to own optics, go out birding and join clubs and societies to further their knowledge. Many of them will be the same people turning up to see a rare bird in their area. Surely that puts Lee and his band into perspective.
There is no better feeling than finding a rare bird. My last experience was finding a Laughing Gull and a Franklin's Gull within twenty minutes of each other in the Tywi valley close to my home. The excitement was such that I forgot to go home for lunch. People who know me well will realise just how remarkable that was.
I can imagine the feeling of the observer who found the American Robin in Devon this week trembling inside and wanting to share the experience with others. I can forgive them too if they live off the experience for months to come. I have been fortunate to see many American Robins including this year and I would not consider going so far to see one in the UK. Many will make the trip I am sure but not all will misbehave and they will be far from the TV image of twitchers.
The fact is that twitching is irrelevant in the big picture as are many of the pathetic vagrants they chase all over the UK. The more important issues are concerned with recording ALL birds and assisting where possible with their protection and conservation. I suspect that many of the vociferous minority do not support the RSPB etc..
So we continue to do everything we can for birds and enjoy the rarities when they turn up. Remember the bird comes first as well as the reputation of all birders in the eyes of the public.