Mealworms – food for thought

Mixed feelings after witnessing the Pied Wheatear’s enforced diet at Meols, even if it was a fun morning.
I’d coaxed two of the more senior members of the old unit out from under their tartan rugs today, eliminated Pied Wagtail as a confusion species and reassured ’em that even though we were going over the water, we were actually driving under it….
When I pulled up on the Wirral a semi-circle of 50-odd folk were staring at an empty pavement, but about ten minutes later the Pied Wheatear materialised on the seawall, then dropped down to feed at our feet – on mealworms.
The things seem to be used everywhere now – the wheatear was occasionally gagging (how many mealworms can one Pied Wheatear eat?) just like the Stinky Pink did in St Helens before it was totally sprawked.
Was the starling a sitting duck as it was drawn to the top of the alley wall by a pile of the wrigglers dumped there?
I wasn’t surprised when the wheatear started to drink from a puddle at our feet, the bird looked so plump it needed something to wash the mealworms down with.
It was so full it had to take a deep breath every time it tried to flick back up onto the seawall.

It all felt a bit crap to be honest – I certainly enjoyed seeing the rare so close and it has been a long while since my last encounter with Pied Wheatear, and I understand folk want to take pictures (even if they are all the same as everyone else’s), but do you really need to bait a bird that was apparently very approachable in the first place?
I’m not a photographer – any halfwit can get images like these with a point and press when a bird is this close – but sometimes a twitch just doesn’t feel much like birding anymore.

It could of course be argued that twitching isn’t the same thing as birding anyway, but that’s a whole new can of mealworms.
One scan around the crowd revealed 48 people taking photographs of the bird and just one watching it through bins.
Hmm…
Thing is though, the garden at Dempsey Towers is filled with fatballs, sunflower hearts, nyger seed, peanuts etc etc so is this artificial feeding just as perilous to passing passerines if predators take advantage?
Maybe, maybe not.
So what’s the problem with baiting a rare?
For me its probably about altering a bird’s behaviour just to get a photograph, which is not really the same thing as feeding birds in a garden.
It doesn’t feel right, but I’m not sure I can explain why it feels so wrong…
Is it more to do with the changing nature of birding now?
Why do images on social media seem as important as being able to actually separate first winter Black Eared and Pied Wheatears…?
And yet there I was blatting away with my P900…
I once fed a spicy sausage to a Siberian Jay up on Valtavaara Ridge – was that wrong?
And many visitors to Mindo in Ecuador (myself included) happily join the Paz brothers for an antpitta tick-fest fuelled by regular feeding…

I thought I would discuss these weighty matters with m’learned friend Trops (there he is, third from left), but as the horde encircled the wheatear like the Lakota and Cheyenne closed in on Custer at the Little Big Horn, he was too busy searching for vismig round the Rings of Saturn…
It was time to go home.
Let he or she who is without sin cast the first mealworm.

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