I am fairly keen on bird watching (the feathered variety I mean, though I admire women too, but that is a topic for another post). I have been reading Sean Dooley's Anoraks to Zitting Cisticola which is a fun introduction to birding. I also recently read Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel. These two are part of a theme as I start thinking about a piece I am writing for Zadok Perspectives on Eco-pilgrimage. Bear with me.
There are birders who love to tick. Their goal is to see as many birds as they can before they die (in fact I seem to recall a book with a similar title). Sean Dooley identifies some of these as egotistical people. It isn't about the bird but the 'power' it gives the individual. Some tours cater for this sort of thing. A bird guide like Chris Dahlberg who has a boat on the Daintree River is excellent for the tickers. He is extremely knowledgeable, knows the Daintree really well and has an amazing ear for calls. I've been out a few times with him and come back with a list with a lot of ticks. However, as still a fairly inexperienced birder I can hardly claim to have identified all of these myself. Still, I highly recommend him.
Given my current inexperience, I am not a ticker. In fact, even if I were my main goals are rarely to maximize my sightings. Although I enjoy trips with people like Chris, I also spend far more time pursuing a small number of birds. I have often stayed at Chamber's Wildlife Lodge because I know I can see male Riflebirds displaying. I go back often to get the right photo. I also spent half a morning watching a Golden Bowerbird with Alan Gillanders (an excellent guide to the Atherton Tablelands.
What's the connection with de Botton? He refers to John Ruskin, who thought that photography took away from our appreciation of nature because it gave the illusion that we somehow captured it on film and didn't need to really look attentively the water someone who sketched or painted would. Possibly so. However, I spend a lot of time watching birds from behind my camera, admiring their plumage. I wait patently for them to appear. I am no ticker, satisfied with one or two quick sightings and a couple of photos. The image never quite captures the reality (after all, there is no movement or sound, but taking video would still not do it, that's missing the point). My point is that Ruskin isn't necessarily right.
I'm not claiming superiority over those able to identify lots of birds (they have better birding skills than me). However, for me this will never be enough, even though I hope to acquire better skills in spotting, call identification. In the end though, I'd much rather spend a lot of time observing interesting behaviour of a a few than identifying many.
What's the connection to eco-pilgrimage? Well, I claim that observing something really special (not necessarily beautiful, but then that is a fairly subjective concept) can be an act of praise and worship (if appreciated in the right manner) and a 'religious experience'. Religious experiences aren't well captured on film (or digitally in my case), but such medium do not necessarily attempt to do so nor ruin the experience.
At some point I hope to discuss this further, as well as show off some of my pics here.