This afternoon I took myself off to Juniper Bottom, looking for H*********. I positioned myself on a cleared slope above the footpath, which gave a fine view across to the far canopy. Sound travels along this valley with ease - you can hear a Goldcrest sneeze at several hundred yards. I could certainly hear the three young hikers who were noisily making their way towards me. As they got closer they started to look at me, obviously unsure as to why I would possibly sitting on a log staring at trees. Then, as they drew level, one of them lowered his voice and said "Must be a bird watcher. Fucking weirdo".
It reminded me of a couple of birder/non-birder encounters that I have had over the years. The first took place at 03.30hrs one May morning when I was taking part in a Holmethorpe Sand Pits 24-hour bird race. I had parked up in a lay-by to listen out for Tawny Owl when a police car drew up alongside.
"Morning sir, can we be of assistance?"
"No thank you, everything's OK"
"Can I ask why you are parked here?"
"Well, as funny as it might sound, I'm birdwatching"
(Officer looks up into pitch black sky)
"Not going to be seeing much at the moment, are we now"
"I'm listening for owls"
(Officer turns to his colleague, shakes his head, looks back at me, shrugs)
"Each to their own sir, each to their own..."
My most memorable was when standing on Amberley Brooks one glorious winter afternoon, scope on tripod, scanning for the reported Short-eared and Barn Owls. A middle-aged couple came up to me and the woman asked:
"What are you waiting for?"
She physically started, her eyes widened, her mouth broke out into a beaming smile, her bottom lip was quivering. She looked at her husband with unbridled excitement, then back at me.
"ELVES! There are elves here??!!!"
When I explained that, no, I had said "Owls" and not "Elves" her expression crumpled into one of mass disappointment. I have rarely felt such a heel.