An interesting study into the motivations of birdwatchers categorised ‘wildlife enthusiasts’ into different specialisations, one of which is to be ‘affiliation oriented’. This category identifies those who engage with wildlife recreation in order to accompany or spend time with another person or people, enjoy their company and strengthen personal relationships. When I first started birding I was definitely trying to connect with others in this way, hence researching local groups and joining various social media platforms. This may have also been due to the social void in my life as a result of my lifestyle changes but I certainly was looking for a form of connection and interaction on some level.
Earlier in the chapter I mentioned the birder who had messaged me on Bird Forum enquiring about whether I was ‘another young birder in Norfolk’. The individual in question is now one of my close friends who I am comfortable talking to about my mental health and the majority of my standout birding experiences have been in his company. I find it inspiring that a foray into a new hobby and a shared interest can serve as the foundation of a strong friendship. From the random 100 survey respondents, 10 people mentioned words pertaining to friendship, friends and socialising when sharing what they felt they had gained from birding. One respondent shared a wonderful anecdote which I am including here.
“You can do it on your own or with other people, but when I do it with others the pressure to interact in a social way feels much less to me than it does in some other less-structured social situations. When birding there’s no pressure to maintain conversation because if you do you’re likely to see far fewer birds! Also, I find it easier to converse (when appropriate) because I know the people I am with are interested in and passionate about the same thing as me, birds, so it’s much easier than having to try to think of what to say to a new person – even if I’m birding with people.”
It was also recommended to me that I should set up a Twitter account for birding. I promptly took on this advice and followed a few organisations and local birders whose names I had heard mentioned. In fact, a survey respondent wrote that “a chance remark made me open a Twitter account to follow local birders. This in-turn led to me meeting some of them and widening my circle of friends and acquaintances.” This proved to be a very shrewd move as Twitter is used very constructively by local birders and I was able to find out much more about local bird sightings and talk to people about local birding sites. I mentioned in the previous chapter that I find patterns in birding very useful in helping to manage my mental health. I find researching trends and patterns in local bird migration very interesting and love using this to try and pinpoint where migrant species may turn up. The use of Twitter has given me a great platform for finding out more and I in turn would thoroughly recommend using it as a way of connecting with like-minded birders.