Last week I did go and treat myself to a new pair of binoculars from The Birder's Store in Worcester town centre. Brian was as helpful as ever and I ended up leaving with a brand spanking new pair of Opticron's Discovery 10x42. My technical know-how when it comes to optics is non-existent (I couldn't for the life of me tell you what the '42' in '10x42' means) so I won't even attempt to review them, but these look and feel fantastic for the modest price tag, and the compact design is perfect for the 'sling-over-your-shoulder' way I want to use them.
I never really got on much with binoculars, this being only the second pair I've owned. Wearing them around your neck gives you away as a bit of an anorak - or so 16-year old me thought - and that wasn't the type of self-image I wanted to promote. In the same vein as other people growing up with a passion for natural history, it felt as though no one in my school shared my interests, and I was afraid I might be seen as uncool if people caught wind of it. As a result, for most of secondary school, very few of my friends knew that I liked birds, and even fewer of them knew that I went birding around the local area on a daily basis - it was something I tried to keep secret; hiding away my binoculars whilst walking to my local park until I was sure there was no chance of bumping into someone I knew.
It hasn't been hard to notice a heartening change in young people's attitudes towards the hobby, as various platforms of social media (Twitter in particular) have helped link up like-minded people across the country. When I was school aged, only six or seven years ago, I'd come home and share my sightings to a tiny handful of other 'young' birders through the now dormant Young Birders blog. Fast forward to 2016 and the Next Generation Birders crowd now has almost 650 Facebook members and 4,000 Twitter followers; regularly organising field trips and socials for members. Every other post on my Twitter news feed seems to celebrate the actions of teenagers promoting wildlife within their school or wider community, and it's welcoming to see that they don't identify a passion for wildlife as something to be reserved about in the way that I did. It's fair to say that birding has never been so popular amongst youngsters.
On an unrelated note, I've noticed several other bloggers subtly drop-in links to songs at the end of their posts, and it works well - so much so that I might start adding more music to this blog in 2016. This week's artist was inevitable.