I just received my December issue of Birding World, a monthly birding magazine originally devoted to UK birding but that expanded to become on a par with the best periodicals of its kind. In an understated way the editorial board announced that the magazine was wrapping up – not because of lack of demand, but because the producers, all of whom had been involved since its inception, were ready for a change.
In the olden days birders in the UK had a choice of magazines that reflected their interests, well it was a choice of one really and it was called British Birds (BB). Although BB is an excellent magazine it was always limited in that it had to strike a balance between those who liked to chase rarities and those who thought a good day out was counting the number of times Eurasian Coots participated in cloaca pecking! Usually the balance went heavily in favour of what some might regard as ‘serious’ ornithology and that meant that a large swathe of what I will call ‘new attitude’ birders were being under represented.
In the mid to late 1980s this situation changed when some of the UKs most active birders started a premium rate service called Birdline. The service brought rare bird information into the mainstream and the income generated by this service spawned the magazine ‘Twitching’. After one volume the name changed to become ‘Birding World’, it was just the monthly fix that many birders in the UK needed.
I got on board by volume three of Birding World which meant that I had to play catch up and seek out the first three volumes on the used market. Such was the quality of the magazine that they were very hard to come by but eventually I got them and now I have the full sweep. The magazine could sometimes seem to just be a collection of photographs but, having been involved in things like newsletters and a low circulation magazine myself, I know how hard it can be to find suitable material sometimes. Besides, you simply cannot have enough photographic reference for some species.
There was also the requirement for the rest of the birding World to buy in to the concept of a new birding magazine. Some, mostly establishment types, never did, often referring to Birding World as a comic, not serious, of low value. For all its readers this was clearly not the case. What it did was to part challenge and part supplement the establishment. The establishment didn’t much like this new kid on the block because they’d had had it all their own way until then and “they don’t like it up em”, to quote the redoubtable Corporal Jones*.
Over the years, Birding World became a valuable birding reference and as valid as any field guide or more lauded tomes. The contents are now out there in both print and as a multi-media reference and the very good they did for us birders will remain ever available. It would be good if, one day, all of the ground-breaking identification papers Birding World publised were collated into a book. While I may have them in magazine form, I’d buy them again as a book.
So farewell Birding World – you were my monthly connection to the UK birding scene and even the Internet will not replace that connection, not in such a readily accessible format. I still pick out volumes for reference or just to browse and, just recently, I came across a piece I wrote for you about taking photographs through a spotting scope. I’d forgotten that I’d even written it but there were my words and photographs telling fellow birders just how good that form of photography could be, just look at us now!
If you don’t have Birding World on your shelves and are serious about the accumulation of birding knowledge then you have a serious gap. Fortunately, with the placing of the entire magazines contents on CD-Rom, you can fill that gap cheaply and save space too, visit http://www.birdingworld.co.uk/ for details.
I stopped taking BB about in 2008 despite my collection going back to the early 1950s. It looks like I’ll be going back but to a changed BB and why changed Because they had to change to compete with Birding World and a whole new generation of demanding birders.
*Dad’s Army – BBC TV UK comedy show about WW2 and a semi-fictitious unit of the Home Guard.