It has become one of my favourite images of the year. A tight gaggle of birders on the causeway of Staines Reservoir, hoping to see the Horned Lark. It is a grey day. Few of them are looking through their optics. Most of them are of advancing years. They appear morose to a man (they are all men). They are hemmed in by two high fences. They look caged. My first thought was to poke fun at the scene. But then I thought better of it...
As I have been actively birdwatching since 1974 it has been my pleasure to meet and befriend many people, some of whom I have known for almost all of the intervening 43 years. They have mostly stuck at it, birding through the years in a variety of ways - working patches, twitching, birding the world, ringing, taking part in census work, sea watching - the variation of studies are almost as numerous as the people who have carried them out. All of these hundreds of people: the creators of notebooks, the originators of observations, the discoverers of rarities and the pioneers of patches. Each one of them authors of their own little histories, some of these histories more well-known than others but all equally worthy of celebration.
We may all start with nothing greater than a curiosity about birds, but the deeper that this curiosity goes the more we become involved in the many facets of ornithological study. There is no such thing as a meaningless observation, or a poor day in the field. With each look through a lens we gain experience and knowledge. And all of this - these many hours spent birding - when combined with those of others, form a mountain of priceless information. Information that is used to understand migration, identification, habitat requirement and behaviour. On such foundations can we begin to help protect species from the remorseless march of man's activities.
Not everyone will make their data available. But as much as that might deprive the public record of more useful information, there is no obligation to do so. It is enough that a person should grow spiritually through watching birds, maybe pass on their interest to others and possibly support ornithological causes. We are all part of the ornithological family, whether we just feed the birds in the garden, jump on a plane for the latest far-flung rarity or study the birds of a small defined area. We can concentrate on just one species or try and see every last one of them. There really is little difference. We are all watchers of birds.
Our reasons for being birdwatchers, or birders, or twitchers, or ringers, or ornithologists differ. But whatever they are, we are all part of the same family. We might not totally get why some of us have taken a differing path, but we should all accept that we have done so and celebrate our shared wonder of the natural world. Those Staines 'prisoners' may have looked miserable, but a frozen moment in time can be misleading. A couple of seconds later they could all have been laughing. The angle of the camera or a change of lens could have opened up the space around them. Perception changes. It can turn a scene of 'misery' into one of 'joy'. No doubt most, if not all of them, left the reservoir with a warm feeling of having caught up with the lark. Job done. More histories written. More lives to celebrate in the fullness of time.