The things that we ‘collect’

As a resident of inner-Melbourne I confess to having fallen for the incidental pastime of ‘collecting’ UooUoos. You may well be wondering what a UooUoo is at this point, which is quite understandable. In case you’re unaware of the existence of these, they are a collection of 100 fictional fibreglass quadrupeds, each decorated. The official description of a UooUoo is ‘an imaginary Australian creature whose shape is loosely drawn from the wombat and dugong’.

Whatever your initial thoughts are, the existence of UooUoos has prompted people to ‘collect’ them around Melbourne and surrounds in this post-lockdown era. People ‘hunt’ the creations and cross them off on the official App. The UooUoo concept is not new and has been conducted in various guises in cities across the world for many years; as far back as 1999 Chicago started Cow Parade, which has inspired several thousand cows across 80 cities around the world.

Nintendo, the originator of Pokémon Go is doing quite well out of people searching for virtual creatures. as of November 2020 people around the world had spent $US 4 billion since it came into non-existence back in July 2016; in the first ten months of 2020 alone revenue for Pokémon Go was $1US billion. At its peak in 2016 45 million people around the world were playing Pokémon Go per day. That figure has bounced up and down since, but there’s still a healthy number that play the game each day – the lowest it ever dipped to was 5 million people after the initial hype died off in 2016.

turned on iphone displaying pokemon go charizard application
Photo by Anton on Pexels.com

Perhaps the most famous and most successful example of such ‘collecting’ is that of the Pokémon phenomenon. In this format there are no fibreglass statues to visit and record however. The Pokémon are ‘virtual’ creatures. To many of us that may seem like an abstract concept to get our head around. But millions of people around the world push on regardless, searching for creatures that don’t exist.

People have collected many different type of things throughout history: shells, stamps, coins, swap cards, shoes… As a child I dabbled in stamp collecting as many did. In my early twenties I started collecting beer bottles of the brews that I had tasted. But that wasn’t very practical in a townhouse with limited space. So the natural alternative was beer glasses…but that likewise grew faster than the specimens were dropping on the floor.

My interests evolved into a different direction after getting my first digital SLR camera. Through the lens I had noticed something that I hadn’t before. Birds. I soon became fascinated by the diversity of them, watching them and finding them. I began ‘collecting’ bird species that I had sighted or photographed. While photography initially drew me in, I wanted to find out more about these living individuals that I hadn’t noticed before: what were their names? How common are they? What is making that call? Is that a species that I have seen before or one that looks similar?

Birdwatching became my new obsession. Not just ‘collecting’ birds, but being interested in everything about them. There are of course levels of obsession when it comes to this pastime. One might be a birdwatcher, a birder or a twitcher. A birdwatcher can be classified as a more casual of these categories, while a birder is someone who is fairly active in their activities. A Twitcher, however, is the more extreme of the categories. Lately there has been a rare bird attracting people from all over Australia to Cairns in North Queensland. The possibility of seeing this one individual bird (a Nordmann’s Greenshank for those of you interested) is enough for people to book a trip to add one more to their ‘life list’.

The term ‘Twitcher’ originates from Britain in a time long before the internet and even mobile phones existed. These extremists would communicate via landline to inform of an unusual or rare bird. Some reports say that people would drop everything, even in winter, travelling across the country and shivering – or twitching – from the cold. Another story details two men in particular who would fuel themselves on so much coffee that they would be uncontrollably ‘twitching’ as they got to the destination. There is never a guarantee that the bird being ‘twitched’ is going to be there by the way.

While I’m not a twitcher I do enjoy the discovery of new species and it’s a nice bonus if I get a good photo to add to my collection. I have also become much more aware of the natural world and the impact that we’re having on it and the birds and other living things. I think that most bird watchers are good people who believe in making the planet better. As for my collection, I don’t need to ‘catch them all’ as is the case in the Pokemon world, but I enjoy the ones I do find.

I was curious about the Pokémon phenomenon and what causes people to be so engaged with it, so I asked some of the local people who participate in it. There were similarities with birdwatching, such as getting out and being around nature while sharing the experience with family or friends. I can’t help but wonder if we can convince some of the world’s massive Pokémon fanbase to try birdwatching. Then we may end up with people who are more tuned to the state of the natural world around them and the challenges it is increasingly facing

If you would like to try ‘collecting’ birds why not consider joining me on a Birdwatching Tour? https://wildramblings.com.au/birdwatching-tours/