This morning’s ‘gentle’ post managed to encourage a number of people to respond to my rambling thoughts, which were, after all, just a stream of consciousness that had emanated from a tired and hot mind. The bottom line is, if I were being blunt about it, natural historians do not like to believe that those among their number are capable of phasing or becoming indifferent to the rigours of recording in the field. There was a time when I would have been in that camp. But, as admitted today, not necessarily now.
Let’s take myself as a case study.
Started birding at 15 in 1974. Dead, dead keen, obsessional even, until 1983. Watershed moment? Choosing to go and see a Siouxsie and the Banshees gig in preference to a weekend Scilly twitch (I think it was Scarlet Tanager and/or Northern Waterthrush.) And I had seen the Banshees before.
Started to dabble in plants and moths in a very loose way from 1979 onwards, finally making a real effort when purchasing a moth trap in 1987 and starting to go out primarily looking for plants in 1998. Sometime - in 2010 ? - became an advocate of pan-listing and started to have a go at everything I came across.
Family, career and long-term serious illness obviously took precedence over time in the field. I know that those things (especially the first two) are not barriers for everybody! And I enjoyed a social life. Music. Sport. Reading. As much as birding and natural history were my main interests, I would not let them dominate. So much so that on lengthy stays at Dungeness I would ensure the odd afternoon or day off - spend the time reading or going to look around the local churches, lounging in a marsh pub or walking along the beach to Dymchurch where a bacon bap preceded the 8-mile journey back.
I used to devour any identification papers that were printed in British Birds, avidly read the bird guides and found my fair share of good birds. It mattered to me then that I did, and that my standing amongst my birding peers was a good one. And now? I have no interest in trying to keep up, fell by the wayside some time ago and live off the scraps of what reputation I once had. I doff my cap willingly to a number of young birders locally who are streets ahead of me in the field. They work at it, and I don’t.
Diving headfirst into moths and plants in sudden bursts of enthusiasm got me so far along the knowledge line, but from early doors I was aware of my shortcomings. I’ve tried to bone-up on grasses, sedges, rushes and micro moths, tried to come to terms with hybrid docks and the hundreds of brambles, but settled on a middle-ground where I can name most of what I see - although I will never remember the names of the micro moths!!
When I retired a few years ago there was a self-acceptance that my ‘knowledge’ would push on and grow. It’s gone backwards. In all honesty I have tried and found myself not exactly wanting, more like not wanting to put in the yards to get there. My horizons are contracting. I have more interest in the natural history locally and trying to find and watch migration flight-lines, roosts, the arable and downland flora on my doorstep and anything else that passively comes my way. I’m out in the field just as much, but the drive to achieve, to find quality, to be a ‘player‘ has been swapped for one that relaxes, enjoys and takes what comes along however parochial or menial it is. To me this is not a lessening but a spiritual growing.
It amazes me how questioning the ability or commitment of a natural historian takes on the equivalent of questioning how good a lover or driver they are. To some it’s 100% commitment or bust! Maybe I’ve been a fraud all this time, putting a Cup Final or Test Match before a bird; to be rather reading Thomas Hardy than a paper on gull identification; or putting a pint of 6X ahead of a sea-watch.
The experience is what I crave now. The sky full of migrating birds. The meadow full of orchids. The walk when I feel at one. That’s where I am at now, and if I can share that with others through the medium of this blog, then job done.