Seeing It All – How Birding is Scratching My Travel Itch

I’ve always had a latent yet surprisingly strong desire to become a wandering vagrant. It’s something I’ve heard many other people express, too. I want to see the entire world and everything in it, but that desire quickly becomes prohibitively expensive.

With other obstacles to pure vagrancy like visa/entry requirements, family obligations (and wanting to see them regularly), and only having so much time off every year, it becomes next-to-impossible to achieve. At least for me.

And obviously with COVID-19 it has become actually impossible for most of us to travel internationally or even nationally.

But, interestingly, the desire to travel constantly has begun expressing itself in a different way.

At the end of 2019, my partner gifted me an old DSLR for Christmas. I’d always wanted one, but I had no idea how to use it. It came with a 300-millimetre telephoto lens. In other words, a lens that makes little things in the distance become bigger (it zooms).

I instantly got hooked on photography – and bird photography the most. I think this was because there are so many kinds of birds that you can always take a shot of something new.

Bird photography quickly became a full-on birding addiction. This in turn led me to become a “twitcher” as well.

A twitcher, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is someone who attempts to see as many rare bird species as possible. There is a fundamental difference (according to twitchers at least) between a birder and a twitcher. While both birders and twitchers enjoy finding, listing, and observing bird species (especially previously unseen ones), it’s twitchers who travel long distances specifically to “tick” that bird off on their list.

So, I guess I’m more a birder than a twitcher, but I’m definitely a heterogenous hobbyist. But, under no circumstances will I allow someone to call me a birdwatcher.

According to Birding magazine (Volume 1, No. 2, 1969) a birdwatcher is just someone who watches birds for any given reason. They recommend that it should never be used to refer to the serious birder.

I therefore employ it as a derogatory term.

Either way, this addiction has led me to extensively explore my local nature reserves, as well as to travel up and down my state (here in Western Australia we have been lucky in avoiding a major outbreak of COVID-19 – probably because we’re so backwater and smelly).

I never realised just how much wildlife can be seen in urban areas – let alone in basically completely wild bushland that’s only a 30-minute drive away.

So, that original camera was my gateway drug into compulsive birding, which was a bridge into full-on wildlife dependency, which in turn has led to thousands of dollars spent on photography gear and travelling my state. This experience has been horrifically enjoyable, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

While my compulsive birding addiction has led me to twitching, it hasn’t led me to actually twitching (like the common side-effect of many illicit drugs, ha; or like Howard Medhurst, the timorous birder after whom twitching was named).

In fact, there have been no downsides to this addiction. I’m more active, I get outside more, I’ve traveled my local area more than most, and I’ve developed a fairly decent knowledge of local flora and fauna – perhaps the next step of my addiction pathway.

Who knows, maybe I’ll end up an ecologist.

My point is, especially during COVID-19, you can’t always get what you want. The world is built a certain way and sometimes it can be extremely limiting. But there are decent analogues that can be found for most things if you just open yourself up to new experiences.

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