IWATCHED A TV programme about steam trains the other day. This, I must stress, is a subject I have exceedingly little interest in. In fact, as a child, I nurtured something of a negative attitude toward steam and engines, and particularly beam engines, now I come to think about it. This is because we always seemed to be being dragged around some beam engine museum or other and I found them excruciatingly dull. After all, there were other things I could have been doing, preferably outside and well away from these lumps of dreary metal. Of course, it really didn’t help that I always seemed to feel that I was being forced to go and see these (to me) uninteresting man-made objects. Anyhow, on the TV programme, we were shown clips of youngsters from yesteryear thronging on platforms in swarms, drooling over steam trains en masse. The world of trainspotting conveyed in those black-and-white clips was a world away from how I had always seen the hobby. Rather than the ‘lonely’, anoraky occupation I had always thought, it almost seemed fashionable. This was a mass social and sociable gathering of youngsters, enjoying the rich diversity of steam trains of the day. There was genuine love of their subject and love of the good times, the escape, the day out. Some of the youthful enthusiasts were interviewed and with great eloquence told how they also liked other stuff, even including ‘girls’. I was amazed. It is easy to knock trainspotters and their ilk and brand them with the nerd tag. But, surely having an enthusiasm for anything is a great thing, as long as it does no harm. Part of the argument about why ‘trainspotting’ was so popular back in the days of steam and black-andwhite, was that, in a grey age of war and post-war austerity, there was little else for youngsters to do. Fast forward to nowadays and there is almost too much to tickle the fancy of the youth of today. It is strange how they still can look like bored zombies, while staring dead-eyed at their phones, typing in a shameless LOL… My two teens are the same (though not really phone addicts, yet, I hope). They have their fingers in pies I could only have dreamed about when I was a kid; from musical instruments through art and photography to computer games, ballet and the odd sport (playing, not watching). I have always tried to encourage them both to love nature and, of course, birds. And there is no doubt they both do. But, there is considerable doubt that I will make actual specialist birders out of either of them, I am afraid. They just One of four Sparrowhawks, undertail coverts spread, displaying above Mike and his son Eddie have too many other things going on. Fourteen-year-old Ed, for instance, willingly comes out birdwatching with me, but much more willingly will join me on an expedition in search of reptiles and/or mammals. And that is great. If I have learned any wisdom in my 50-plus years, it is that you can’t force people to be keen on and excited by the same things you are. In this modern era of choice and diverse activities and in this God-forsaken epoch of the phone, we can’t simply create a new generation of birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts. They must discover their interest for themselves. The good news, though, is wildlife in general and birds in particular are endlessly fascinating, endlessly superb and endlessly exciting. With all due respect to the highly motivated train enthusiasts of yesteryear and even today, whether you say your steaming engine is like a living creature, give it a girl’s name and nurture it like a child, it can’t compete with the glory of a wild bird in the field. Doing stuff. While Eddie and I were watching Adders over Easter weekend, a screech revealed two pairs of Sparrowhawks having a sky-dance-off, like minigoshawks, to claim territory over the trees around us. Two soared up to become minuscule dots ‘rowing’ on the edge of the fluffy clouds. Two more folded their wings to become skittles and undulated, dived and swept upwards like rockets. All four had their undertail coverts spread like white skirts to show how excited they were by the dance. They couldn’t care less that we were there below, marvelling at the drama, the beauty of the performance. This was pure, gob-smacking magic.
If I have learned any wisdom... it is that you can’t force people to be keen on and excited by the same things you are
Mike is an obsessive patch lister and keen wildlife photographer in his home city of Peterborough, where he lives with his wife, Jo, and children, Jasmine and Eddie. You can see his photos at weedworld.blogspot.com