Lucy McRobert: type cast


I tried to find a topic not related to coronavirus; I failed. My apologies. If you can't handle the 'C-word' anymore, then you have my permission to skip ahead.

Lockdown was a fascinating time. We were deprived of local patches (if more than a walk away), trips to migration hot-spots, twitching and even bird news. This had an interesting effect on the birding community. Lots of birders and wildlife watchers were already active online, particularly on Twitter, and lockdown extended this. Different archetypes shone through, so just for fun, here are a few I identified …

The lockdown listers: admirable for their endearing enthusiasm for commonplace species, lockdown listers became very attached to their gardens and windows. Many were drinking by lunchtime (no judgement here). Strategic to the point of obsession, they planned potential garden ticks and got irrationally excited at fly-over Reed Buntings and Yellow Wagtails.

Some scored big with White-tailed Eagles, White Storks and a Bearded Vulture. Others were a touch sanctimonious: why hadn't they just sat at home their whole lives and waited for birds to come to them? I challenge you to stare at the same Leicestershire field for 12 weeks, searching desperately for Common Pheasants and Song Thrushes.

Many birders turned to their gardens to get their birding fix during lockdown, with some lucky enough to record exciting migrants such as Ring Ouzel (Josh Jones).

The noc-miggers: a dedicated bunch, these birders camped out under the stars – techy ones set up microphones and went to bed – listening night after night for migrating Common Scoter, while trying to turn distant grunts and calls into some rare wader or grebe. Sonograms and recordings were examined in detail, learning a whole new birding language. Inevitably, many of the chips, squeaks and squawks were identified as Common Moorhens, Tawny Owls or the neighbour's cat.

The smug ones: with their ridiculous local patches and rather exaggerated daily exercise they racked up some great birds and enjoyed a sunny spring without the inconvenience of the rest of us crowding the scene. The Lesser Kestrel on Scilly was nothing short of painful.

The Twitter police: these birders followed a spectrum, from more casual observers ready to jump on you for not including the phrase 'socially distanced' in your posts, to the hardcore ranters hovering over their keyboards, lecturing anyone they felt was misbehaving. Several self-appointed WhatsApp admins had their own sub-group, censoring what bird news we received in case we couldn't resist the temptation to twitch.

As lockdown lifted and we could move around England, many birders were condemned for crossing county boundaries, even though it was perfectly legal to do so. Many were nervous to venture further afield for fear of the Twitter police telling them off.

While I disagree with approximately 94% of the government's decisions, I do recognise that rules are rules; if you choose to stay self-isolating that's a personal choice, but you can't just make up your own laws and shout at people when they don't follow them.

The anarchists: these guys must really love their terns. Or Guinness. Or both. I'm sure they regretted their bad behaviour and learned a valuable lesson, though; the Twitter police were on to them straightaway.

The optimists: these birders were my favourites. They have earned our collective thanks and respect tenfold. This endlessly fun-loving group brought laughs to our evenings through online birding quizzes, polls and challenges. They set up welcoming Facebook groups. They joined in cheerily on threads, restoring peace and order much more effectively than the Twitter police.

They kept our buzzing community smiling, reminded us of more sociable times and, I am sure, offered company, friendship and support to many who needed it more than ever. What's more, they inspired many amateurs to pick up their granddad's old binoculars for the first time and identify common garden species. You were reassuring when others were frightened. You kept us together when we were forced apart. In short, you were the best.


Written by: Lucy McRobert

Lucy McRobert is a wildlife author and communications professional, as well as a Birdwatch columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @LucyMcRobert1