Learning  team effort

I know I will sound incredibly old now, but when I was growing up there was one easy way of learning about birds and their identification. It was by getting out and talking to birdwatchers. Whenever I came across one, I walked up to him – it was usually a male – and asked if he had seen anything of interest. Quite often, this was the start of an instructive conversation and sometimes even a friendship. Asking and listening really was the method of learning that worked for me. It was about birds and people. That was before Google.

Nowadays, information is much faster and more accurate. It is usually only a few clicks away. It is even hard to imagine a world without internet, digital cameras and recorders, online maps, smart phones and social media. Although the world wide web has made getting into contact with birders a whole lot easier, I sometimes feel that birding has become less of an adventure. I now often have real-time information on who is birding where and what has just been seen. Photographs and sound-recordings of interesting birds are often shared at the very same moment. In the old days, you would be happy to see a photograph at all.

Studying the variation shown by a single species and comparing it with related species requires, in many cases, data from around the world. No wonder that learning about birds is essentially a team effort. Someone who knew that like no other was Martin Garner, who started the well-known ‘Birding Frontiers’ as a place to share what he was learning and inspire others to do the same. Surrounded by a team of well-known birdwatchers from various countries, Martin was – as he put it – always discovering. Over the years, he wrote countless inspiring posts on bird identification on his website. His ‘Frontiers in Birding’ (Garner & friends 2008), ‘Challenge Series: Autumn’ (Garner 2014) and ‘Challenge Series: Winter’ (Garner 2015) are all very popular books. I am sure Martin would not have minded me citing from his recipe for being a great birder: “never lose the wonder that captivated your interest in the first place; draw out your own innate creativity and skills; expect to learn new things every time you go out birding; cultivate an enquiring mind; set small goals; make mistakes and know that everybody does; and above all enjoy it!” Martin died on 29 January 2016.  


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Published 6 March 2018