Thursday, 10 February 2011

Birding epiphanies

How many times have you had a moment of epiphany whilst you have been birding? I don't mean a manifestation of a religious being, but "a moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation" (OED). I think that I can claim two:

July 1979 Dungeness
I'm walking across the open shingle between the bird observatory and the RSPB reserve. The day is hot and still and I am in a mellow, calm mood. As I make my way over the pebbles, a bird appears in the corner of my vision. It is an adult Little Gull, not twenty feet above me, its purity of whiteness contrasting with a black underwing and hood. It positively floats over me, an apparition. I am at one with it and my surroundings. 32 years later I can still see this bird as if it were with me now. I have never - and I mean never - felt so at ease and peace. As it flew away I stood for a while and took in all that was happening to me.

March 1983 Dungeness
A still sunny evening, one of those cherished warm early spring days. As I look out over the shingle my senses are hit on two fronts - a strong waft of coconut and almond gorse blossom, and the call of a Grey Partridge. Both merge to become something very special. As with the Little Gull, I at once realise that this is a special moment. I almost want to burst into tears.

I have had other moments, with landscapes, when I have felt elated. But these two examples are my birding equivalent of nirvana. You cannot go out and look for them, they will just come along, very rarely, when you least expect it.

4 comments:

  1. One such moment Steve, was at the shingle ridge at the end of the East Bank at Cley. I arrived there in the dark and waited for the sun to rise - just me, the calls from skeins of geese flying over and the sound of the waves gently hitting the beach. Not a car in sight, no humans either, just me and nature. I felt more aware of my surroundings than I have ever felt and it was like I was the only person on the planet and a truly magical experience which I have yet to repeat.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes Steve,they do occur. Times when everything conspires to raise your mood. Too many times to recall all, but I remember one very cold snowy day in the 1985 at Druridge pools. The sky was very dark, payne's grey colour and the snow was lit by the low sunshine as I walked north along the coast road. All of a sudden a duck and drake Smew, in tight formation flew low over the dunes from the sea and circled, up-lit from the snow glare against the navy sky. Fantastic.

    On another late May day, myself and Nigel (Abbey Meadows)drove up to Holy Island late in the afternoon, after work, to look for a Little Bunting that had been reported.

    There was no one around, it was clear, calm and sunny after a stormy couple of days. It was quiet as we wandered a large dune slack checking small bushes for the bunting. We were out of luck with it, but just as we were standing around soaking up the silence a full male Bluethroat hopped and ran out from under a stunted willow onto the short rabbit cropped turf. Not 10 yards away. We sat down and watched it like a garden robin, in the evening sun for ages...Life at its best.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Six years ago, when I was at uni in Liverpool I had a similar moment.

    It was spring, I'd been birding "properly" for a year or so and only just discovered the places I could get to by public transport from the city centre. I'd taken a pre-dawn train out to Hoylake and then walked inland.

    The sun wasn't long up and it was starting to burn through the early morning mist. I was happy enough just to be out of the city, but the moment came an hour or so in when I rounded the end of a hedge and there, on an ant mound not ten metres from me was a stunning male wheatear - my first ever. It didn't flush, and I just stood and watched. The whole world was that single bird, and me. There was nothing else.

    I'd not been happy in Liverpool for quite a while, but for those few tens of seconds, in a non-descript field behind a housing estate on the Wirral, all was right with the world. It stretched out into an what seemed like an age, and it was the first time I'd been truly happy, at peace, or whatever slightly pithy phrase you'd prefer in a long time.

    Eventually it flew, the moment was gone in a white-arsed flash. My senses returned in a rush; I became suddenly re-aware of my surroundings. Over the rest of the morning I counted no fewer than 30 wheatears on those fields, but none came close to the first and I suspect no bird ever will.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Chaps, thanks for sharing those personal moments. Some people will not understand how grown men can get all 'soft' over such things, but if you are lucky enough to experience it, nobody need ask why. I just hope I don't have to wait too long for the next one.

    ReplyDelete