Monday, 7 January 2013

Birders and cryptids

WaxwingIt is a Waxwing winter here in the UK. That means that the Bohemian Waxwing (pictured right), to give it its formal title, has arrived in good numbers for the winter. Every few years, at irregular intervals, large numbers descend on this country due to a lack of food in their usual wintering grounds in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. It is an colourful, exotic-looking bird by British standards. Most years there are very few found in the UK so Waxwing winters are a rare treat.

When 'out of place' birds (properly known as vagrants or accidentals) turn up in places like the UK, it is usually not long before they are noted by birders. The news is usually spread rapidly these days, electronically, and other birders can arrive within hours or even minutes to share the find. The bird will often stay around for hours or even days, allowing many interested people to see it.

It is a source of disappointment to me that the UK's thousands of active birders never report seeing a cryptid. Or, at least, I've never come across any such report despite studying birders literature for many years. It is a pity because they would make superb witnesses! Birders go round equipped with excellent optical equipment, like binoculars and telescopes, and often including cameras and, most importantly, have a detailed knowledge of natural history.

One reason why birders never report cryptids could be because of their extreme rarity. Set against that, birders routinely find birds that have only been known to reach the UK less than a dozen times! They actually go looking for the rare and find it with astonishing regularity. Another possible reason for the lack of birder cryptid reports may be that, with their detailed knowledge of natural history (not just birds but often mammals, insects, rodents, amphibians and many other animals), they are unlikely to misidentify any known animal as a cryptid. I'm quite sure that many cryptid reports are misidentifications made by people without the relevant experience required to correctly identify rarer animals.

If a birder ever does report a cryptid, I think we'd have to take it seriously. Many birders carry excellent camera equipment these days which could make the evidence widely available. But given the lack of reports so far, I'm not holding my breath!

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