The First Ever Twitch

As I mentioned in a previous article, there is a difference between a birdwatcher and a twitcher. A birdwatcher will sit, as I am doing now, and watch whatever birds come to the feeders on the patio. He may go for a walk in his local wood and just see what he can find:

A5 blue tit

Or take a stroll along the beach, taking care to have his binoculars, and probably his telescope and tripod, to hand. He will have a rough idea of what he is going to see, but nothing is pre-planned:


A twitcher is somebody who finds out where a rare bird has been seen and then sets off in an effort to see it. In previous articles, I have revealed how I used to be a twitcher. As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, I used to be a “twitcher”, the sort of birdwatcher who might travel hundreds of miles to see a species which is rare in whichever country he lives.I have already published articles about a trip to Dorset for a Terek Sandpiper:

another terekxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

I told you about going to Norfolk for a River Warbler:

River best shot (1024x721)
Twitching was a very popular pursuit when I used to do it, back in the 1980s and 1990s. Here is a Golden-winged Warbler:

gol wing

And here are the crowds that went to see it in Kent, myself included:


Even now, a very rare vagrant may attract several thousand twitchers over the course of the bird’s stay.
Twitching first began, on a very limited scale, in the 1960s, when news of a long staying bird, such as the Dusky Thrush in Hartlepool during the winter of 1959-1960, were circulated by letter and postcard:


How long has twitching been going on? What bird was the subject of the first twitch? I thought about this for a long while and my eventual conclusion was that it was possibly the Houbara Bustard present in Suffolk from November 21st to December 29th 1962.
Here is a Houbara Bustard. They are very rare birds:


And they will get even rarer if the Pakistani hunters in Baluchistan continue to think that this is sustainable hunting:

Pakistanis-last-year-in-Baluchistan-Province- xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Even if the Houbara Bustard wasn’t the first ever twitch, the photographs reveal that this was very much an event in the distant past:

telescpope (2)

Just look at the clothes.
Just look at the car.
Just look at the telescope!
The bird was about the size of a turkey. It fed in a mustard field and could also be found in a stubble field:

hounbars 2

Here is another view:

bustrde (2)

The Suffolk Houbara of 1962  was a rather eccentric creature and it often seemed to prefer to walk rather than fly. It could frequently be observed very easily by parking the old Morris Oxford at the side of the lane between its two favourite fields, and waiting for it to saunter past:


The full story of this bird, in much more mature and scientific prose can be found here.








Filed under History, Personal, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

11 responses to “The First Ever Twitch

  1. Interesting. I’ve heard the term “twitcher” on British TV shows, but never really know what they were talking about.

  2. Thank you, I did not know the difference between twitchers and bird watchers. Birds are so beautiful, thank you for the photos:)

    • I suspect, though, judging by Salim Ali’s beautiful old books, that you may get the brightest and best birds in India

      • We have a book by Salim Ali, birds anywhere are beautiful. There is a very active bird watcher’s club in our place. every Sunday morning they trek to different places. We are not able to join because we visit my father in law on Sundays.

  3. I never knew this about twitchers. I enjoy seeing wildlife of any kind when I go out (especially our wetlands) and have taken many a picture of different birds and their antics – I suppose that makes me a bird watcher.

    • Yes, I think it does. There are though, a lot of twitchers in the USA. Their favourite spot is sunny Attu, which, given its geographical position, tends to attract waifs and strays from eastern Asia which would never be seen in the 48. Personally, I think twitching is a young man’s game and we more mature nature watchers are better suited to gentle appreciation of the countryside.

  4. Tha all for clearing that up John. It must be a frustrating hobby to do, did you ever drive a long way only to find the bird had moved on?

    • Overall, I found that my success rate was quite good. I was limited by money, so I tended always to go for birds that seemed settled. My longest successful trip in a day was the 633 miles return to see an American Black Duck just south of Glasgow. My longest unsuccessful trip was the 520 miles return to an island off St.Davids in Pembrokeshire, not to see an American Yellow-rumped Warbler. There weren’t too many like that though. It’s rather like going to see your team play in the FA Cup Final. There is always the possibility that they will lose, and if you can’t accept that, take up a more predictable hobby!

      • Wow that’s dedication for you. I like the analogy you use, it really puts it into perspective nicely. I guess you have to be prepared to travel, often at a moments notice, long distances on the off chance that you might just catch that one chance. Good luck to all twitchers!

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