Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Those paths less travelled

I've come to realise that, as far as my birding is concerned, I am always trying to look beyond the next hedge, to search that distant wood, to check out the nearby hill top. The lure of 'what comes next'  is strong, but it is also a case of taking on ground that others do not check. My time spent birding is mostly a solitary thing - that isn't necessarily down to being anti-social, just a byproduct of wanting to bird 'unbirdy' places, where few others will gamble on wasting their time. But having said that, if I do see a birder checking out an area ahead of me I will turn the other way and look somewhere else - a mixture of spreading the effort and wanting to experience quiet. Solitude is all a part of the game in my book.

Any patch that I have adopted, for however short a time, will have an accompanying band of players, from the daily obsessives to those that pop in once every few weeks. And once an area is receiving moderate coverage from others, that is when I generally go searching for somewhere else. The fanciful take on this is to see myself as a trailblazer, out to unearth another parcel of land in which, if lucky, good birds will be present and correct, but not yet known about. Very few places are truly unknown, but there are plenty that do not have a binocular lifted in earnest on them from one week to the next. Of course, for a place on the edge of London to be 'un' or 'under' watched in 2016 is going to be mostly down to the fact that it possesses no obvious water. That immediately suggests hard work. Fortunately neither puts me off. This year has seen me shift from Canons Farm to Epsom and Walton Downs (that were both well watched in the 1970s) and Priest Hill (with a far more recent history). My stay at each could be for a year or two, maybe even more. I've already ear-marked hedges for shrikes, fields for quails and open skies for rare raptors. Time will now tell.

These traits of mine were even obvious when I spent most of October at Dungeness. Most of the time was spent with my birding friends in the obvious places, but this was balanced by my deliberately seeking out those 'paths less travelled'. Places that, apart from a handful of the regulars, are not checked. Even at such a heavily birded place as this you can still play at being the pioneer. The locals are still forensically examining why and where the migrants turn up, as it is a shifting phenomena due to big habitat changes. To tread the old well worn paths is to miss out.

And maybe therein lies the reason behind such behaviour - to try and bring a freshness to what I do. To attempt to coat the act of birding in purity. And without trying to sound too precious, even attach some spirituality to it. Is it an age thing? A rejection of conformity? The actions of a loner? Or just the workings of a mind that has a habit of overthinking?


Derek Faulkner said...

My kind of bird watching Steve, can't beat a bit of loneliness. Tell me though, in the event that you find something rare at one of these sites, would you immediately announce it publicly and attract the world at large to the site.

Steve Gale said...

Yes Derek, I would in most cases, but there is one site that would be difficult to 'police' and would need a bit of thought before any news was released. Funny that, isn't it - I love the solitude but am prepared to destroy it!