some friends and colleagues of mine are teaching a rather interesting MSc course at the local university at the moment about online branding. it sounded interesting so i joined in yesterday's class. one of the things we touched on was LAN Parties. For the uninformed, a LAN party is where a whole bunch of people get together - all with their own computers - and play games with each other. they sit right next to each other, play with each other, but only through the semi-isolated realm of their computers.
Why, might I ask would groups of people drag large, cumbersome computer equipment around so that they can be in the same room when the same could be done quite adequately using a high-speed internet connection? Something of a mystery.
But it did get me thinking, that even though many of our hobbies are well practiced alone (and might even be more productive and enjoyable alone), there is a collective enthusiasm and - dare I say - acceptance that comes from meeting with other like-minded and equally weird enthusiasts.
I was reminded of this last weekend when I got the opportunity to spend some time with some international birders (incl the super-digiscoper Clay Taylor). To put it in to context, birding in Tirol in not such a popular past-time. Granted, there are a good number of ornithologists about, and the locals love spending time in the mountains, but birding (and to a lesser extent, its more laid-back sibling, birdwatching) is rather unknown here. So, I tend to wander the mountains, forests and streams, all kitted out with tons of optical equipment, books, cameras (and sometimes the wife) with only a smattering of company from other bird enthusiasts. And it is sooo much harder to learn about the local avifauna alone than if one is surrounded by other crazed birders (my lovely wife is reading over my shoulder and told me that she can tell me where all the birds are. if ever I want to see a sparrow, she can help me out).
Birders: that group of mildly deranged individuals that will ignore a broken leg and infected wounds if they know that a new twitch has - some time in the possibly distant past - been seen in the area. Who of us would not swim across a crocodile infested river for a rare Pitta?
(and we tell ourselves things like: well, the only ones I've seen are less than 3m long and the locals say that it is only the bigger ones that eat people).
And so we all went out to a beautiful valley off of the Sellraintal (behind Haggen) to look for late Autumn Alpine remnants ... and saw almost nothing. But how great it was to go out with enthusiasts again - I left the weekend with tons of creative birding energy and an enthusiasm that is likely to stay with me well in to Winter. A couple of things that we did happen to see were: Alpine Chough (Alpendohle), Golden Eagle (Steinadler), Nutcracker (Tannenhäher) common here, but something interesting for the British and Dutch guys) and lots of very fat Chamoix (Gamsbok).
So, I guess my take home message is that being alone in the wilderness is awesome, but the enthusiasm and shared experiences and learning make trips with other birders priceless.
btw, the beautiful pitta image is of a Blue-winged Pitta taken by the talented photographer Myron Tay. Click on the image to link to his Flickr photostream.