WEE­DON’S WORLD

Bird Watching (UK) - - Your Birding Month -

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

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