GRUMPY OLD BIRDER
THE THING ABOUT aging is that you tend to look backward at things with more than a hint of roseate tern to your specs. ‘The Good Old Days’ of birding are no exception. The ‘blue remembered hills’ of youth were full of Redstarts’ song, hunting Red-backed Shrikes and Red Squirrels, red skies blessed every evening and every birding day was a red-letter day. The other thing about aging is, of course, an ever-declining memory. We tend to remember the good times and consign the bad to a cobwebbed corner of our minds. Anyone of pensionable age who grew up in the countryside probably collected birds’ eggs. Most of us were half-hearted and after an unlucky few Blackbirds had to re-count their clutch, we moved on to building dams across streams or playing endless games of marbles, or whatever fad was in vogue. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, gamekeepers still set pole traps galore and farmers would think nothing of discharging their shotguns at the retreating backsides of us scrumping lads. So it was not all a bed of roses. Nevertheless, one thing is certain, habitat was under less pressure from all of today’s ills, whether it be too many people tramping over it, too many chemicals polluting it, too much of it under concrete or too much agribusiness degrading it with monoculture and mixed flora- and fauna-cide. Another aspect of aging is that time changes pace. When you are nine years old, one summer break from school seems an endless age of freedom. When you get as grey as me, years slip by quicker than a Peregrine can stoop. Now just a bird of Bo’s rose-tinted memories I moved to my current house 17 years ago. I was overjoyed by the new birding opportunities afforded by a seaside patch. I found myself within half an hour of every habitat, bar mountains. Reedbeds, marshland, seashore, woodland, scrubby hillsides and duck-filled lakes were all on my doorstep. Now the houses have moved ever closer and that which is not deliberately managed for wildlife is impoverished. My right to roam has not only been curtailed by increasingly annoying arthritis, but by my birding nooks and crannies fast disappearing. Where once I could pull my car off the road to look over saltmarsh to the sea there are concrete barriers and ‘residents parking only’. The woodland car parks, where I used to need to wander no more than a few yards to see woodpeckers and hear Nightjars, are now litter-strewn. Fifty or 60 years ago, we roamed across the British countryside and watched birds in its rich, quiet corners. Now the corners are ploughed up and fenced off and we are strongly discouraged from entering these agribusiness units.
The ‘blue remembered hills’ of youth were full of Redstarts’ song, hunting Red-backed Shrikes and Red Squirrels, red skies blessed every evening and every birding day was a red-letter day