Wednesday, 24 August 2011


As a simple way of filling dead 'cyber space' and out of sheer personal indulgence, 1974 launches a series of 'years in the natural history life of one S W Gale'. I won't be surprised, or offended, if you stop reading right now and go off in search of something far more worthwhile.

It all began during an art lesson at Sutton Grammar School, Surrey, in the spring of 1974. We had been given the subject of 'Conflict' to illustrate. Most of us were up to our elbows in poster paint trying to work up life-like images of warfare. However, a  fellow pupil's work had caught my eye as he had been far more original than the rest of us and was painting a garden scene of a cat pouncing at an improbably coloured bird that was flying just out of paw's reach. I asked him if the bird was a parrot. No, he replied, it was a Jay. He also told me that I could see one in my back garden if I kept a look out. Nonsense, I said, sheer bloody nonsense...

Maybe two weeks later I was dreamily looking out of a backroom window at home, most probably wondering whether or not Martin Chivers would score for Tottenham that coming weekend, when a large, colourful bird hopped onto the lawn. I knew what it was at once. It was a Jay.

Within days, at the age of 15, I had purchased a Hamlyn field guide and was looking out of my bedroom window to see what other birds might be there. The Jay had put hooks in me without any doubt. My small suburban garden mustered up a simple list - Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Great Tit, Blue Tit - and did include my first stringy sighting, that of Tree Sparrow. At least my embryo garden list was not populated by such foolish fancies as Rock Bunting, Ptarmigan and Tengmalm's Owl.

My dad had a pair of binoculars that he never used. I don't know why he owned them, although the box suggested that maybe watching boats at sea was a worthwhile pasttime. I soon 'borrowed' these and took them into the local park. My first experience of birdwatching away from suburbia was on a family camping holiday to the New Forest. One bird from that trip still stands out, a bird that I never thought I would ever see, a species that had looked so good in the field guide that I could scarcely believe my eyes when I actually saw it- a Green Woodpecker.

Until the years end I visited local parks, scoured local downland, haunted local commons and went on a proper birding trip with a man that 'lived over the road' who had a vague interest in wildlife. He took his son and myself to Beddington Sewage Farm. It was a disappointing day, with no flocks of waders or any of the hoped for rarities that John Gooders had promised in his book, 'Where to Watch Birds'. I had also come across a book that I still hold dear to this very day - '70 Years of Birdwatching' by H G Alexander.  By December 31st I had seen 55 species of bird. I had bought a diary for the coming year to enter my sightings in. I had purchased my own cheap binoculars. And modelling myself on HGA, I was ready for the coming year...

1 comment:

  1. You could do a lot worse than having Horace as your mentor Steve...