Thursday, September 12, 2013


If you had a year to do whatever you liked, no constraints, no places you had to be, how would you spend it? If you had complete freedom to go where you wanted, when you wanted, would you really take that opportunity? And if you'd spent your life thinking I'd really like to be doing X, and you got the chance, would you do it? And then the next question no-one can really answer; would it have been just what you wanted? Or would it turn out that really, it didn't hit the spot. That it was okay for a while, but it turns out you'd have been happier doing something else?

I've always been a birdwatcher, from getting an Observer's Book of Birds almost as soon as I could read, and looking up Oystercatchers and finding that yes they did occur in the Yorkshire Dales and I had just seen one, and then finding Waxwings on the way to school and just being blown away that such an amazing bird from such a distant part of the world could be here, now, on my street, outside my house. Then holidays in Northumberland with screeching terns, skuas, gannets plunging into the sea and a Bar-Tailed Godwit with surely the deepest brick red colour in all nature. School trips to Minsmere, Leighton Moss, with Bitterns creeping out of reeds, Marsh Harriers quartering reed beds and passing food in mid-air, then camping at Spurn Head in a freezing October and seeing a flock of Snow Buntings swirling and tumbling down a windswept beach like huge snow flakes. So I've always thought if I got the opportunity then I'd head off and do some proper birdwatching, maybe twitch a rarity or too.

But now I'm at an age when that opportunity might come, I'm not so sure. I've been increasingly aware that the best moments in wildlife watching aren't the moments you think will be the best, not the things on your list you are heading out to see, they are the ones you don't expect. That moment when boom! something drops into view, or a moment when a common bird stops right next to you. Seeing wildlife there and then, enjoying the spectacle, the colours, the sounds, the drama and then trying to understand what I'm watching, understanding what piece of the jigsaw puzzle of nature is in front of me. This, increasingly is what makes stepping out the front door, binoculars round my neck, something to look forward to.

So if that opportunity comes, how will I spend it? Would I want to spend hours on the road going to distant places to see rare birds, and then a few hours more waiting for it to pop out of a bush? Would I want to learn bird ringing or get involved in some other such activity to be part of expanding our knowledge? Would I want to spend it mainly in the company of others enjoying being in nature, or by myself? Or would it be easier and hence more realistic to just focus on all the wildlife that's around me here in East Herts with its valley, its Forests, and its gravel pits? And just birds,or butterflies, bats, dragonflies, plants, fish, ants, the lot?

I don't know the answers to these questions, so I'm going to send some time finding out. And when that opportunity comes I'll be ready for My Big Year of Wildlife!

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