Grumpy Old Birder

Bo finds it’s a case of mixed for­tunes when com­par­ing his past and present bird­ing

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

Bo Be­olens re­flects on his bird­watch­ing both past and present

Watch­ing the Great Crested Grebes danc­ing across the mir­ror-smooth lake sur­face was a sem­i­nal mo­ment; it didn’t turn me into a birder, but it rather ce­mented the like­li­hood of me be­ing hooked for life. Hooked be­ing the oper­a­tive word, as I came to bird­ing through fish­ing. A play­ground ac­ci­dent aged nine robbed me of mo­bil­ity un­til well into my eleventh year and a three-month hos­pi­tal stay left me weak and wan. I couldn’t wan­der the fields and woods with my mates, play ‘he’ on the red rec nor spend long sum­mer evenings play­ing rounders on the school play­ing field or ‘French’ cricket in my back yard. So, dad found a way for me to be seden­tary, but out in the fresh air. When he ‘knocked off’ after an early shift he would throw the fish­ing gear into the trusty Hill­man, (drop the first ‘t’ to get closer to the truth) drive to the gravel pits and carry me to the wa­ter’s edge where we would drown worms long into the sum­mer evenings. Catch­ing fish oc­cu­pied an ex­cit­ing few min­utes’ in­ter­lude be­tween many hours of gaz­ing at the sky, wa­ter and wa­ter­side herbage. Wa­ter Voles doggy-pad­dled by, Reed and Sedge War­blers chat­tered their mad­house songs then flit­ted be­tween reeds to feed their young. Swal­lows dipped in to drink and skimmed the sur­face inches while Swifts screamed by vacuuming up aerial in­sects. King­fish­ers flashed by, Tree Spar­rows crowded the Hawthorns, Tur­tle Doves purred in the Crab-ap­ple tree and as the night closed in, a Spot­ted Fly­catcher con­stantly looped back and forth from the dead tree, dec­i­mat­ing the midges. They say that what goes around, comes around. Fast for­ward to last Mon­day. I am once again sta­tion­ary by the wa­ter’s edge. Maybe it was that child­hood ac­ci­dent that let the arthri­tis into my bones, but what­ever the rea­son, well into my sev­enth decade my mo­bil­ity is again min­i­malised. Luck­ily, there is a ter­rific re­serve where I can pull off the pub­lic road into a view­ing lay-by lit­er­ally a few feet from the flood. The scrapes are packed with birds. Black-tailed God­wits pre­dom­i­nate, with Av­o­cets com­ing a close sec­ond. I’m here to tick the stilt fam­ily that bred around the cor­ner and is now tak­ing ad­van­tage of this rich re­serve. I raise my bins to find the adult Black-winged Stilt is next to a vir­tu­ally black Spot­ted Red­shank. Some­where on the re­serve are a pair of Gar­ganey that elude me, as does the long-stay­ing Bon­a­parte’s Gull. I swing my bins back and forth un­til I find the stilt young­sters among the ju­ve­nile Av­o­cets. As I en­joy th­ese slen­der beau­ties no fewer than seven Lit­tle Egrets strut through my field of view. Star­lings sud­denly quit the mud spit as a male Marsh Har­rier drifts over them. Sev­eral pairs of Great Crested Grebes are among the Shov­el­ers and Mal­lards. It’s then it hits me. The grebe ‘rar­i­ties’ of my youth are mere wall­pa­per now; the cur­rent com­mon­place Av­o­cets and egrets were beyond my wildest teenage dreams. The first Col­lared Doves bred here in 1955 and now a mil­lion do. I re­call in the 1990s the ex­cite­ment of see­ing an amaz­ing six Lit­tle Egrets fly to their roost in Dorset. Yet now, ev­ery beach, es­tu­ary and lake holds that many on each visit. It would be hard to give up the egrets and Av­o­cets, Marsh Har­ri­ers and Hob­bies but I’d swap ev­ery Col­lared Dove in the king­dom to make Spot­ted Fly­catch­ers com­mon again. Cli­mate change pushes more birds north for us Bri­tish bird­ers but it, pol­lu­tion, pop­u­la­tion growth and chem­i­cal farm­ing robs us of much more.

I’d swap ev­ery Col­lared Dove in the king­dom to make Spot­ted Fly­catch­ers com­mon again

Spot­ted Fly­catcher

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