Number 1

My Top 10 UK natural history moments
Number 1 - 7 August 1979 - Little Gull at the Oppen Pits

Warning! The following post might be considered pretentious and the work of a limp-wristed, arty-farty tree hugger. However, in its (and my) defence, I can only offer the explanation that what I experienced on this day - no, this moment - had never happened to me before and has not happened since. I've longed after replicating it but you cannot place an order and have such moments delivered to you. What elevated this 'ordinary' experience into an extraordinary one is a mystery. Maybe it's best left that way.

The summer of 1979 was already a special time in my life. I had been acting as Dungeness Bird Observatory's assistant warden since mid-June and was having a ball. Days of birding, ringing, the freedom to roam over the shingle and keeping company with like-minded souls was something that was utterly restful, even if I were up at 04.30hrs each morning and rarely in bed before midnight.

I did in fact allude to this 'moment' several posts ago. This is what I wrote at the time:

Calm, sunny, warm and I don’t have a care in the world. I have been over to the Oppen Pits and am meandering back over the shingle towards the bird observatory, very much content and lost in aimless thought. You really are on your own out here, private land with no public access. I look into the sky and in my vision hangs an adult Little Gull that is slowly drifting by only feet above me. The thick warm air is silent. I don’t know why but for those few seconds everything in my world is perfect and at peace and during this special interlude I am not only totally aware of it but fully appreciative too. A birding aquaintence, Bob Smith, has confessed that he is always searching for those rare moments in the field when it doesn’t matter where he is and what he is watching, what is more important is feeling as if he has blended into his surroundings to the point that he is at one with nature. With this Little Gull I understand what he means.

35 years later I can still see that Little Gull with an unnatural clarity. I can still bathe in the moment and feel the emotions that I felt at the time. For that short period of time all of my universe had been distilled down to me, a Little Gull, the warm air and the shingle. Nothing else existed or mattered. We were in a comforting bubble that did not allow in sound nor thought (sorry, told you it was pretentious, didn't I). I cannot explain why it happened and hasn't been repeated since. There have been times when I have felt equally mellow and I have certainly seen more striking birds. As I suggested earlier, maybe I don't need to know why - it just was...

So, my top 10 were made up of events from 1974, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1984, 1989, 2006, 2008 and 2009. They were moments that involved birds (7), plants (1), butterflies (1) and dragonflies (1). Only one of these events was driven by pure rarity.

I now have to start posting about current events - my recent mania for notebook mining will come to an end. Trouble is, that means I need to get back out in the field. Let's hope there are another 10 such moments to come...


Factor said…
How appropriate - your number one was on my birthday!
Steve Gale said…
If I'd have known at the time Neil I would have raised a glass to you.
Kingsdowner said…
Yup, my first little gull would certainly be in my top 3..... floating like a butterfly over the sea just off Kingsdown rifle range, unlike anything I'd seen before. Beautiful.
Steve Gale said…
Hello Steve! Shame our paths didn't cross this year. Hope all is well.

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