As a "blogger" the cyber world, in which we ply our trade, exchange our thoughts and opinions, takes on a reality that, to outsiders, cannot be seen to be of any worth. Like all other forms of social media; it has a role which serves a purpose. In this respect I see "blogs and blogging" as a positive -a venue to communicate thoughts on subjects, many and various, via this amazing technology. My own opinions are of no great importance, beyond a personal level, yet the ability to instantly share them with an unknown audience is a privilege which wasn't available to previous generations - so I'll happily have a bowl full of that!
Two fellow "bloggers", of similar vintage and, scarily, parallel life stories, have been instrumental in sowing the seeds for this post. Steve Gale (North Downs and Beyond) started the ball rolling with his wonderfully descriptive post entitled "Utter Bollocks" a phrase I used to summarise my thoughts on "Channel Wagtails" way back in my "Non-conformist" days.
Paul Trodd is a fellow QPR supporter, ex Dunstable SF birder (I saw my first Black-winged Stilt there way back in the mists of time) and is also now a resident of Kent. He has paid a superb tribute to the memory of P.A.D. Hollom and the contribution that a revolutionary book (Collins - A field guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe) played in his formative years as a birdwatcher. http://ploversblog.blogspot.com/
|My original 8th edition alongside a 10th edition which Bev discovered in a local charity shop|
I do own a copy of the 10th edition, yet I received my first copy (the 8th edition) of this ground breaking book on my 8th birthday - 1963. Before this date, my bird identification library consisted of two Ladybird books by Brian Vessey-Fitzgerald; illustrated by Allen W. Seaby. Just like Paul describes, the Collins book was an inspirational gift which started me on a journey which I am still on; half a century later. Birds and natural history/enjoyment of being outdoors is a fundamental part of my being and there have been many experiences that have left indelible marks on my memory as I have meandered along life's pathway. It was Steve's post that attempted to describe the various phases we pass through - I'd like to attempt to give an insight into my own journey and the key moments that have gotten me to where I am today (within a natural history context)
|An original (above) and a facsimile copy of my original bird id library|
As a very young boy, growing up in the "New Town" of Hemel Hempstead I was fortunate to enjoy the sight of a Barn Owl on our garden fence (No. 27 Cole's Hill - Gadebridge) to be able to wander freely down to the River Gade (Gadebridge Park) and fish for Minnows and Bullheads. Water Voles were common, the river teemed with life and Kingfishers were exciting, yet expected, whenever we visited. My first roach was a magical gift from the angling gods - bright red fins on a silver plated work of art; 2oz of perfection. The Grand Union Canal was to provide me with some further encounters as perch, gudgeon, bream and tench fell to my rods. They were happy, carefree, times which were a period of blissful innocence. Birds were always there, in the background, by the age of nine I'd already found my first "BB" rarity - a Snowy Owl during a family holiday to the Scottish highlands. It wasn't reported, but I had mum, dad and my two brothers as witnesses - and in the wider scheme of things it's not that much of a big deal!
|A super little male Zebra Finch - Bev and I called him "Beck's"|
As I grew up the family relocated to Warners End, via Leverstock Green, and my interest in birds took on a new guise as I started to keep foreign finches. It was well before the import legislation and wild birds were being trapped, particularly in Asia and Africa, in their millions, to provide goods for the pet trade. I knew no better, so supported this regime by purchasing these creatures(various Waxbills, Silverbills, Cordon Bleus and Cut-throat Finches) for a few shillings each. They didn't survive for long and it was my introduction to Australian Zebra Finches which was to keep this particular hobby vibrant during my school years.
|November 1981 - my first 20lbs+ pike|
Quite a personal milestone; it means nothing to the wider world
I was still catching a few fish, carp had become the cult species, but very few venues offered a realistic chance of actually catching one. I dreamt of such encounters yet wouldn't believe that I'd ever have a chance to fulfil that particular desire. The reservoir complex, at Tring, became very important during the mid-70's and it was here that many lessons were learnt. Marsworth, Startops End and Wilstone - venues where dreams were realised and so it was. Tring also happened to be the base for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO - Beech Grove, Tring) and this coincidence probably had a greater influence on my discovery of the enjoyment of our natural wonders than any other factor. Whilst fishing on Wilstone, I would regularly encounter the BTO staff as they took a lunch-time stroll. It was due to two of these guys allowing me to look through their scope at a Scaup that started my "twitching" phase. What appeared to be nothing better than a black dot on the water suddenly appeared as an image, like watching T/V, when viewed through the eye-piece of a scope. I was quick to pay a visit to In-Focus - Barnet High Street and became the proud owner of an Opticron HR 60 with a 20 - 60x zoom eye-piece, I was on my way, but the time scale becomes a little blurred as birding started to incur on my angling time. Quite often I would be fishing on Wilstone with my scope set up in my swim. I found the 10th Herts Avocet in this very manner. I now had two, very powerful, yet conflicting, influences in my quest for outdoor natural history enjoyment.
|Madeira magic - four guys hanging over the side of "Margaretta" recuperating an|
Atlantic Blue Marlin in the 800lbs class
I think that it is safe to say that fishing remained my first love, my driving passion, right through the 1980's (the carp bug taking hold, yet being sated in the 1983 - 85 period and quickly I moved on to other species) and into the early 1990's - but birding had certainly taken a hold. My 1993 trip to Madeira was pivotal - a couple of Atlantic Blue Marlin later UK fishing seemed pointless and birding took over completely. My family had relocated to Kent, Dec 1993, due to my work, and the county held such potential that my "twitching" eagerness couldn't ignore. Within six years of arriving, I'd smashed Don Taylor's Kent Year List record by 21 species - I recorded 263 in 1999 - but I never did do things by halves; all or nothing being my only approach.
It was this particular bout of stupid, selfish, self-indulgence, that was to be the catalyst to my first marriage going down the tubes. It hurt and I know that my behaviour was 100% responsible for the situation; my salvation was finding Bev (or did she find me?) - second time around I'm a little less intense in my pursuits?
My interest in moths and mothing stemmed from the time (1994 onwards) spent around the H - block that used to be Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory (during the reign of Rab Morton). Andy Johnson and Tony Harman instrumental in my early endeavours, I'm now latterly aided by the considerable expertise of one Francis Solly - natural history freak/geek extraordinaire.
|I've seen many more rare, and spectacular, moths than this Poplar Hawk-moth. |
Yet this species remains the spark, which ignited the flame for my interest in this
group of insects. Benno was doing a school project in August 1994 when we started
to run a 125w, homemade, MV trap in our tiny Ash garden.
To discover that insects, such as this, existed was brilliant - that you could catch
such beasts in your own garden was a revelation!
Dragonflies, Bumble-bees, Grasshoppers, Spiders, Hover flies - it goes on. I am now at a stage where the pleasure is in the encounter. It's no longer the size of the fish, that drives me on, but the manner in which they are captured. In much the same way as positive identity is nice, but the experience of simply looking is what provides the excitement, the very reason for going out in the first place. I'm sure that age/experience has an awful lot to do with my current attitude. Steve, in an e-mail, had described our passion for the natural world as an absurd quest - a very astute observation which does nothing to detract from the fact that that same passion can result in a life long entertainment, of whatever intensity, as the clock marks time between birth and eternity. I read a comment on Steve's blog; not so long ago, where a guy tried to explain his own fascination in nature (and this is very approximate quote) "It is not the delight in what I do know, but the realisation of the millions of things I don't!" Natural history - the greatest show on earth. Freely available to anyone with a slightest interest and an enquiring mind. From my position, I would rather be bothered to look at, than ignore, the wonders that evolution has produced. Ain't got the first idea what it is? If it ignites the spark; then the cyber world will provide your answers, if you know where to seek such information. My own journey has taken me a long way from The Ladybird series 536 and those innocent wanderings in the countryside around Hemel Hempstead. I sincerely hope that as long as I draw breath, my desire to look, and enjoy, will remain as important as it has always been. Having Bryn, Emily, Harry, Evelyn and ? means that this particular grandfather has more than enough excuses to set foot into the countryside in order to show this next custodian generation what they have to take care of.
|Why limit yourself to a single county, country? There's a whole world out there|
to be discovered. Travel remains relatively cheap and easy - go have a look for yourselves.
Grass is always greener on the other side of the fence - so choose carefully the fence
that you look over!