This quote is from Mark Cocker’s book Birders: Tales of a Tribe. The book as a whole is a bit of a journal of personal experiences, and largely I found the it unremarkable, but this passage captures the spirit of birdwatching fairly well. No, not that passive watch-the-birdfeeder thing that most people do, but the active pursuit of seeking and knowing the uncommon birds in their natural habitats.
Birding was simply a case of carefree foraging through the fields and woods around our house. Its pleasures were threefold. There was the essential joy of escape, which is so fundamental to my own birding and so enduring it’s one reason I question the frequent claim people make that they watch birds because alternative branches of natural history are more limited. Birding was for me a bid for freedom. Prior to setting off each evening I can recall that the change of dress from school uniform to my old clothes felt like shedding a more restricted identity for the unlimited spaces of the Derbyshire countryside.
The second great source of happiness was a chance to go hunting. As a child my favorite forms of play were always war games, creeping around bushes with a plastic gun or stick and trying to outwit an enemy by sneaking up behind him. I’m convinced that birding at the age of twelve was a way of continuing the pleasures of an eight-year-old without appearing too ridiculous. The principle applies even thirty years later. Birding involves exactly those physical military skills of seeing and not being seen. For me this explains why so many male birders dress in paramilitary fashion — it’s a subconscious expression of the boyhood soldier present in us all.
The third great pleasure was the amateur sleuthing and mental challenge involved in putting names to birds I saw. In this activity I had two basic props, a pair of cheap binoculars borrowed from my brother and my copy of The Observer’s Book of Birds.