I read recently, in one of my dog training books, about the four recognised levels of competence. The author supplied examples from a particular competitive dog sport to illustrate the four levels. I amuse myself by looking for examples among my fellow birders. Perhaps you might recognise some of these?
1. The first level is when birders are subconsciously incompetent. Birders at this level are unaware of their incompetence, can be heard making wildly inaccurate identifications and often hold forth loudly on subjects of which they have but a superficial understanding. They also tend to get the birds’ names wrong, and will talk about “pea-eaters” and “secret ibises”, for example.
2. Birders who attain the second level are consciously incompetent. This means they are now aware of how limited their knowledge is and that their identification skills need much improvement. Second Level birders are characterised by their reluctance to offer information during club outings. They shy away from any discussion of a bird’s species, and will generally volunteer to scribe at outings so as to avoid having to identify anything.
3. The third level of competence is when a birder is consciously competent. These birders have good identification skills, and are the most likely to want to help Level One birders. Having attained this stage, the Third Level birders are able to pass on useful formulae for the identification of similar species, or for separating the boys from the girls. For example: “The male giant kingfisher wears the waistcoat, while the female has an apron.” With a lot more practice, these birders can become:
4. Subconsciously competent. At this level, the learning process has reached its peak. Now a birder is identifying birds effortlessly. Only the briefest glimpse or teeniest squawk is sufficient to accurately name any species in any location. The subconsciously competent birder has no need of formulae or manuals, but can ID birds without conscious thought. Level Four birders are regarded with awe by all other levels. This can sometimes result in these birders adopting a rather stuck-up approach, and they will usually try to avoid First Level birders at all costs.