Two weeks ago I was in West Sussex, on a beautiful sunny day in which I met up with a couple of friendly faces from my birding past (you can read about it here). I took a detour on my way home, to Shoreham, to see plant that I have long lusted after, Starry Clover (pictured above). The drive was a lengthy one considering the short distance, and the traffic seemed to be back to pre-Covid levels, with plenty of queues, hold-ups and busy junctions. I crawled into Shoreham - the clover's home - and parked up by the fort, to be greeted by hundreds of people flopping about the beach, strolling the paths and enjoying ice-creams, drinks and the sun. My clover quest was a rushed affair, due to the species being by a busy footpath, with my self-conscious attempts to photograph the flowers drawing plenty of bemused attention. I then, rather reluctantly, walked some 500m to check on a site for Childing Pink, at a small cordoned off area of sandy ground, along the harbour's edge. It was heaving with people, bikes, dogs and balls. I couldn't wait to get away, and barely checked for the plant.
Driving home, along busy roads, I wondered as to whether or not my trip to Shoreham had been worthwhile. Admittedly, I had seen the clover, but it was not the enjoyable experience that I envisaged. What did that say about my apparent success in seeing my clover lifer? Surely having seen it was the reason, the purpose of the visit, so it would suggest that it must be classed as mission accomplished, job done, thumb's-up all round? Clearly not.
What was the fly in the ointment then?
The older I get, the more my natural history experience needs to be one of solitude, 'quietness', spirituality and contemplation. These are reasons why I didn't go and visit the River Warbler in Somerset, drive up to Northumberland for the stint or even go down to the shingle Kingdom of Dungeness to watch the 'three pratincole' show. I don't know whether I am an 'anti-social, social' person, or a 'social, anti-social' member of society - whatever it is, they are the traits of somebody who feels happy in their own company up to a point. Losing myself in the landscape - be that a vast panorama with accompanying big sky, or a hogweed choked footpath brim full of insects - is my safety valve, my comfort blanket, my safe place. A time to switch off from normal life, divorcing yourself from the long list of negatives that blight our lives in 2021.
I have a list of 'summer' targets - butterflies, moths, plants and other inverts - all written in a book, with timings, locations and other information just waiting to be accessed and acted upon. The Starry Clover entry has been dealt with, its presence on the list removed. But as for the others? I doubt that I’ll move on any of them in 2021…