Slugs Are For The Birds

In his latest essay in New English Review, Dalrymple marvels at the interest some people show in collecting and studying the most picayune items and objects, but especially animals:

Birders, at least in Britain, have a sub-culture all their own, a scale of values and a system of ethics. So important for them is seeing a new species of bird that they are quite prepared to risk their lives to do so, and the author gives several examples of birders who have lost their lives in pursuit of a sighting, including one who was mauled to death by a tiger for the sake of birds. Practically nothing, short of death, will come between a birder and the birds he wants to see, and there is one hilarious incident in the book in which young birders are driving up to Scotland in order to see a rare bird that has been reported there. They crash (and wreck) their car, and are very nearly killed, but all they can think in the hospital to which they are taken afterwards of is getting up to Scotland to see the bird. They care nothing about the car, as most young men would; neither does the pain of their injuries deter them; they care only for seeing the bird and adding it to their list of species seen. There is something magnificent in this disregard of normal everyday concerns for the sake of a non-monetary reward, and it seems that this kind of enthusiasm is by no means dead or dying; on the contrary, every generation brings forth new birders, and I find it reassuring that such eccentricity should continue in a time that I think is characterised by a horrible uniformity of taste and interest among the young. How nice it is (sometimes) to be wrong!

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