7. You're a keen birdwatcher. Could you describe your
thoughts and feelings while watching? In what ways does it give
something to do?
It is a calling for the curious and the watchful. On
one level birdwatching focuses the mind on something external, so it's
very meditative, but at the same time it is a very active pursuit. You
use your memory a lot, recognising, memorising. Your nerves are taut, as
you pay attention to everything around you, searching for sound and
movement. It is always different. It can be relaxing, exciting, slow,
fast. Watching Curlew pick their way along a shoreline is completely
different from watching a Peregrine hunting. And songbirds have the
added joy of sound. In fact, sound is just as important, the world
without birdsong would be a terrible place, and there are some
wonderfully elusive species which only reveal themselves to those who
learn to listen for their calls. Each individual bird is unique, but you
start to become familiar with species and their habits or
personalities, and in time you feel you 'know' them. It really was
transformative for me, to 'discover' birds, and one is never bored as
long as there are birds around. It is more than 'something to do'
though, it sort of becomes a lifestyle, at least it has for me.
8. Could you tell us a bit about a bird you saw that was particularly important for you?
Oh wow, hard question. I don't want to construct some kind of hierarchy
of experiences so I'll mention a few. Many of these experiences are
particularly important because I have shared them with good friends...
The first time I saw a Kingfisher, walking the river bank with my friend
Max. When we saw it (jewel of a bird that it is) we both shouted
'Kingfisher!' in unison. The excitement of that moment was very pure.
There's almost too much to mention though, there are many birds which
are dear to my heart; Bitterns, Peregrines, Curlew, Blackbirds. I really
could go on forever. I spent the whole of last summer obsessed with
Nightjars (a nocturnal relative of your Tawny Frogmouth), and was out
most evenings after dark walking on the heath, with them 'churring' and
flying around me, cracking their wings together in display flight and
flashing their white wing tips. Then there are the Starling murmurations
at Brighton pier which I would go to watch every night during winter.
Or the vast Seabird colonies I saw with my friend Jo on Scotland's
northern islands; the racket of thousands of birds, the whirl of their
constant movement to and from the cliff-face, and the smell of ammonia