I started taking notes of what I saw in 1974, but it was not until the following year that I got a bit more serious about it and bought hard-backed notebooks to give my teenage observations the impression of permanence and importance. I still have them all and they can make for an entertaining and nostalgic read. In one such book I had ruled out a number of columns across a double-page spread on which to record my birding year lists. Each column is one centimetre wide and the first year entered is 1975. I can clearly remember looking across the empty pages, the years stretching ahead into the future. It promised of a whole life of birding that was yet to be realised and thoughts of reaching the far end of those two pages was not something that I thought about. But in the year 2000 I did indeed reach that far end, and it was quite sobering. There were 26 year lists completed and nowhere (apart from another two-page spread) to go. I couldn't bring myself to start another one as it seemed to be tempting fate to think that I would reach the far end of that one (in 2026 to be precise).
I've always made a note of my earliest and latest dates for migrants, being especially fond of the first dates for our summer migrants. Most birders will see the first Wheatear as the one that stands out from the rest, the 'gold standard' of our incoming African migrants. Each year sees the chance to beat the previous earliest date recorded, and each year that it was missed would result in a shrug of the shoulders and a thought that there would be plenty more attempts to come. But I'm not so gung-ho about that any more. Don't get me wrong, I'm not being maudlin or depressive about it, but even if I reach the 'three score years and ten' that we've been conditioned to accept as our lifespan, that only gives me another 14 attempts to do so. And this train of thought gets me to look at why I bird and what is it that I want from it. The answers can be quite surprising and reassuring - I'm increasingly not driven by scarcity, more moved by migration and the weather. The way a field is lit by sunlight. A pearly-grey curtain of rain in the distance. A flock of Meadow Pipits falling out of the sky. A Swallow following the contours of the earth only inches from the ground. Screaming Swifts so high in the sky that you can barely see them. The stuff of life in whatever form it takes - and we are a part of that.
North Downs and beyond - affiliated for the day to Pseud's Corner