Saturday, 30 January 2016
When I was recently asked why I go birdwatching, my response was lengthier than I had expected. I gave a few reasons why I did, and then I added some more...
Our 'hunter-gatherer' instincts are still buried deep within us. It will take more than a few thousand years to completely lose them, so it can come as no surprise that modern man invents situations and scenarios in which to still exercise them. Birding scratches this 'memory itch' very well indeed. Every foray into the field is a hunt, a test of our ability to track down what is there.
The ability to seek out and retain information is practiced every time we lift our binoculars. What is that species? What age and sex is it? Where best to go and look next? And what time of day is it best to do so? That we hone this ability into an immediate diagnosis in our minds - reflex reactions - is the reward to be gained from putting in the time in the field and the hours spent poring over guides.
Go on, admit it. It might not be the 'be-all and end-all' of why we do it, but when rarity comes along (and that rarity might be subjective), we feel rewarded, blessed and happy.
A murmuration of Starlings, in their tens of thousands, wheeling and wrapping into ever more confusing and gyrating smoky shapes; low-flying hirundines, sweeping inches above the ground on frantic migration, arrowing, scything, feathered bullets of urgency; geese and waders coming into roost, jostling for position, restless for sleep, hungry for company. Go out and seek, and you shall find such things. Scenarios that are played out each and every day. And they are all free.
When you least expect it, the unexpected happens. It might be born of rarity but it could just as easily be the everyday that is seen from a different perspective.
Unlike botanising, (when we walk head-down and with eyes just a few inches in front of our feet), birding invites us to look long - it demands it! So we take in all that is around us. The more open the panorama, the further we look. We see the estuary, we observe the seascape, we take in the sweep of downland, we lose ourselves in the canopy of woods. We become at one with the landscape, are consumed into it.
Our time in the field is entwined with the weather. It dictates not only what we do and where we go, but also what species will be present and how many of them there will be. But on a more basic level is our own experience of, and our reaction to, the conditions. Be it wrapped in waterproofs; liberated in t-shirt and shorts; protected from the cold by hat and gloves - our birding time is coloured by these conditions. We don't just physically feel the weather, we are visually stimulated by it as well. To be out in a wild and open vista and see an approaching storm is as invigorating as the birding itself.
Put all of the above together and you have got wonder. You have seen life-affirming sights. You will have found joy.
So ask me again. Why do I go birding?