From ovenbird to white-throated needletail - 25 glorious years of twitching

A FEATURE of today’s nature-publishing scene is that an abundance of new titles are either preoccupied with mental health or have a green-and-leafy eco-agenda.

They are mostly very readable and highly worthy in their own ways, but there are so many of them that a certain staleness has set in. The market has become saturated.

How refreshing, therefore, to come across Twitching By Numbers - a birder's account of his hectic life as he chases rare species across Britain and Ireland.

There is no brooding self-absorption from Sussex-based author Garry Bagnell, nor any preachy 'agenda' of any sort - just a celebration of the excitement of travelling the length and breadth of Britain for the thrill (and privilege) of seeing rare birds, some of which may never previously have occurred more than once or a few times on our shores.

The pace of his fascinating narrative races on with barely a pause for breath, and, by the end of the book (which comes all too quickly), he has covered 25 glorious and super-eventful twitch-filled years.

Somehow in that quarter-of-a-century, he has managed to catch up with more than 550 bird species in Britain and Ireland while simultaneously holding down a happy family life, a full-time job in finance with a series of bluechip employers plus a range of sporting interests including playing chess (to county standard) and darts, not to mention following the fortunes of Arsenal FC.

The fellow is clearly some kind of time-management genius!

What further marks out his book as special is that the illustrations are all by Garry himself - not photographs but exquisite colour artwork which beautifully captures the spirit as well as the plumage of such species as varied thrush, indigo bunting, American redstart, common nighthawk and song sparrow.

Credit also to the author for having enough self-belief to produce, finance and market the finished project purely on his own initiative and thus minus the faffing about with agents and publishers. That takes a lot of bottle, but he has been rewarded with the satisfaction of standing, unsupported, on his own two feet.

What is more, any profit - post printing and postage - are ending up in own wallet and his alone. Just reward! After all, he did it his way.

Twitching by Numbers is available in paperback, price £18.95, from Amazon UK.

* A further, more comprehensive review of Garry's book is at: https://thewryneck.blogspot.com

  • I will say straight away I’ve never been a twitcher and never will be! I’ve got very strong feelings about twitching and twitchers in general. Such as the numbers of twitchers travelling to se sometimes one rare bird! That is not my idea of birdwatching. Some new members of my local RSPB Group are twitchers and I never tell any of them of any new rare bird that has started nesting locally in North East England of which I know about. The legendary warden from the 1960’s and 1970’s at Minsmere, Bert Axel had the same strong feeling as well about this subject. If I’m visiting a bird reserve and a rare bird is there on my visit. That’s ok. But in no way do I get excited. When I visit Washington Wetlands or Saltholme I know straight away when a rare bird is around. The clue! Long Queue to get in before opening time and the mad rush to see that one bird. Well that’s not me and never will. That’s my reply. Maybe you should read this book by Bert Axel abd published in the  1970’s when I bought this book. Long out of print. But can often be bough second hand, online on some websites.

  • I fully respect your perfectly valid point of view. Everyone seems to come at birding in a different way. For some twitchers, travelling many miles to see a rare bird seems to lift their spirits to new levels of exhilaration. Other birdwatchers regard twitching as almost beneath contempt. I think the majority of us somewhere in between - on various points of a very long scale.
  • Jim Wright said:
    I fully respect your perfectly valid point of view. Everyone seems to come at birding in a different way. For some twitchers, travelling many miles to see a rare bird seems to lift their spirits to new levels of exhilaration. Other birdwatchers regard twitching as almost beneath contempt. I think the majority of us somewhere in between - on various points of a very long scale.

    Also there is the problem of disturbance of rare birds often with twitchers in there hundreds at least. I’ve heard of trespassing by some twitchers onto private land. If I’m at one of the local reserve when a rare bird is around. I don’t bother going to that hide or hides as you can’t get in to that hide. Also I’ve noticed at times some twitchers boast about the number of birds they’ve seen. I’ve been birdwatching since 1958. No doubt some twitchers who started birdwatching long after me will have seen more different birds than myself and of course I’ve noticed the boasting by some and it’s not just me that’s noticed. But that doesn't bother me. But you do notice that. And there are some like that of who I know in my RSPB Local Group!

  • Since 1958! Wow, that’s impressive. In that time, you must have seen numerous changes in attitudes to how we approach birdwatching, habitat protection/creation and conservation. You could obviously write a book about it, and I hope you will.
  • I wouldn't write a book! But there on this forum been membets longer than me! Bert Axcel was the long time head warden at Minsmere! And that book Minsmere Portrait of a Bird Reserve is worth reading. Permits where  needed for lots of RSPB reserves of which where only open a few days a week and not all year and even those RSPB reserves that didn't need advance permits, some of thos RSPB reserves onluy open a few days a week. There where some RSPB reserves open every day as well. No RSPB Shop’s. RSPB Cafe’s or Toilet’s at any RSPB reserve’s. The first RSPB reserve to have a cafe, shop and Toilets in the early 1980’s was Leighton Mosd and the early 1980’s a simple few lines in the old RSPB Birds magazine again in the early 1980’s the council of the RSPB have decided that all or nearly all RSPB reserve will be open 7 days a weeks with some reserves open from dusk till dawn and no permits needed.

  • Fascinating - I wonder how much permits cost, if you had to buy them from the RSPB by post and for how long they were valid. If any have survived, they must almost be collectors' items.
  • Fascinating - I wonder how much permits cost, if you had to buy them from the RSPB by post and for how long they were valid. If any have survived, they must almost be collectors' items.


    Hi-

    yes we had to book by post- and you couldnt book for more than one day a week to Minsmere;

    S
  • Minsmere was just open 4 days a week from 11.00am-5..00pm and only from April-September no Autumn or winter visiting allowed. Members had to pay as well at a reduced level to non-members. That would shock a lot of members if that was the case today. Also lots of reserves where no permits where needed such as the Inch marshes in Scotland was only open a few days a week and only for part of the year. But everyone including members had to an entrance but again at a reduced level. There were some reserves of course that were open every day such as the RSPB’s headquarters The Lodge Reserve but closed around 5.00pm including Spring and Summer . But today The Lodge reserve is open from Dusk to Dawn

  • Found this blog from the year Leighton had a big anniversary year And this blog shows how you had to apply for permits. Luckily at Leighton Moss no charge for permits for members, but member had for admission at lots of reserves. Here we go!

  • Hi-

    interesting review of the Gary Bagnell book in BB this month :)

    S