Twitching is synonymous with bird watching, which can often involve long trips in search of rare species. But now a new breed of climate-conscious bird watchers are trying to persuade other enthusiasts to keep it local instead.
A group of young birders created a challenge for watchers to find birds in their own patch near their homes rather than regularly trekking long distances to spot particular birds, a practice known as “shaking.”
The Green Patch Challenge, created by Joe Parham, a 22-year-old bird watcher from the Midlands, invites those under 25 to attempt to travel only on foot or by bike to see birds.
“We all need to make changes in our lives to deal with the climate crisis, and the goal of the challenge is to capture that while encouraging young birders to explore and enjoy the nature near them,” said said Parham.
“It’s not about stopping everything. It’s about making positive changes, traveling a lot less and when you do, try to do it low carbon. “
Bird watching is increasingly popular in the UK and there was a foreclosure boom last year when the number of participants in the RSPB’s annual garden survey, where people report which birds they can see in their gardens, jumped 85%. About three million people watch the birds every year.
The Green Patch Challenge was attended by Bird watching magazine, which issued its readers with a #LocalBigYear challenge for 2022, inviting bird watchers to find species in plots within 10 km of their homes. The challenges harness the passion that most bird watchers – whether they are ticklers or patchers – have for making lists of birds they have seen. Many have overlapping bird lists in their backyard, county, UK, or the rest of the world.
Lists can be quite competitive – on New Years Day, many bird watchers started their list of the year trying to see as many birds as possible on their plot.
During peak migration times, some twitchers travel almost weekly to see rare birds, a practice that is increasingly criticized by parts of the birding community.
In November, around 100 bird watchers traveled to Papa Westray, one of the smaller Orkney Islands, to see a variegated thrush – a bird typically seen only in North America and last seen in the UK in 1982. A few chartered planes and boats to reach the island for observation.
Javier Caletrío, a researcher based in the North West of England, started the Low Carbon Birding blog in 2018 to try to persuade bird watchers to travel less.
He said it was important for bird watchers to lead by example. “If people see us acting like there is a crisis requiring immediate action, it is more likely that others will also demand urgent and radical action from politicians.”
Bird watching was often dominated by stories about “the excitement of traveling to remote places and seeing rare and exotic birds,” he said. “These kids are telling other kids that they can be good bird watchers and have fun without going to far off places burning fossil fuels. And obviously, low-carbon birding is not the end of the journey. It’s about doing things differently, planning your vacations differently, and making the most of public transportation.
Matthew Broadbent, 20, who helps organize the Green Patch Challenge, said: “I know what it feels like to see a beautiful and rare bird, and it’s fantastic. It’s a buzz, and makes you want more. But we have to learn to walk shorter distances to see the birds, we have to do what we can to protect our planet. “
Keir Chauhan, 19, started birding in earnest in 2020 and said joining the Green Patch Challenge in north London was life changing during the lockdowns.
“It provided an outlet,” he said. “If I had had a bad day, I would go looking for a new bird around Ally Pally.” A pair of peregrine falcons haunt the BBC signal tower on Alexandra Palace. “It’s amazing to see them hunting in the morning, chasing crows,” he said.
“There is a reservoir near there and most of the time there are no birds. But once I saw a kestrel land and it turned out it was nesting there. Even in a place as devoid of birds as this – it’s not a foreign country, it’s not a nature reserve – you can see some interesting birds.
Stephen Moss, a longtime birdwatcher and author, whose book, Alouettes with Rosie, traces the birdwatching during the lockdown he made in the patch near his Somerset home, said the local sightings had an important ecological purpose as they enabled research into the prevalence of bird species.
“Low carbon birding is clearly a good idea,” Moss said, “but some people argue we shouldn’t be on long distance trips – Chris Packham said he would never do it again. .
“But there are places like Costa Rica, Gambia, Trinidad and Tobago or Kenya where a large part of its economy comes from wildlife tourism. We have to find the right balance between the local and the global.