As expected, my memorable post about the heavily-streaked Common Gull went down like the proverbial lead balloon. Whether people are just too polite these days to point out my glaring lack of Gull skills, or whether they are too scared to offer even a heavily-caveated opinion on any Gull, well, who can say? It’s not like this blog is Birdforum is it? For starters it’s rarely about birds, despite the title conning you into thinking it might be. Actually you could say the same thing about Birdforum, which has a tendency to stray away from birds and instead be mainly about people and their diverse personalities.
Since I last spouted forth, I have been birding precisely once – a swift lunchtime visit to Bush Wood to help Hawky find the Firecrests. As it was, and entirely predictably, I was no help whatsoever - he found them himself, so I went back to work. Excellent. We saw four, which is really rather exciting. I remember twitching Bloomsbury Square in Central London early one morning before work to see my first Firecrest, one of those fond recollections of my youthful exuberance and general stupidity. Similar expeditions away from Wanstead were undertaken for Ring Ouzel, where I drove all the way to Hertfordshire, and also for Redstart, both of which we get every year without fail approximately five hundred yard from my front door. Mind you, I don’t suppose there is a birder out there who does not have similar tales from when they were first starting out, and that now induce a wry smile and spot of self-ridicule. It’s all about the journey, and for me, the silly moments rank right up there with past glories. Despite the oodles of Ring Ouzels present on the Flats since that date, I still treasure my mobile phone-scoped shot of that bird at the famous layby in Batford. I had driven at least an hour, and by some miracle found exactly the right spot. As I scanned down the hedge that separated two paddocks, it suddenly hopped out and began feeding on the grass. My heart skipped a beat, all my Christmases had come at once. A Ring Ouzel, a perfect, perfect male Ring Ouzel. Despite their relative frequency so close to home, they’re still a special bird for me. I’ve yet to get a decent photo of one though, they are some of the scarediest, sneakiest, flightiest birds I’ve ever come across. I’d planned to put that particular omission to bed this autumn, but there weren’t any, or at least not that I saw, as I had started work on exactly the date they tend to start coming through.
There was some internet speculation about whether it was true that I was now working. I can confirm that, sadly, it is indeed true. This blog started up in January 2009 as a hastily conceived “Oh a lot of people are doing that, I wonder if I can too?” kind of thing. About six weeks later I lost my job, so people who have read this or the column in Birdwatch will only ever have done so in the context of me being an unemployed layabout, home dad etc. Actually I worked extremely hard for many years, over ten in fact, in a large grey building in Canary Wharf. As of about eight weeks ago, I’m back in that same building. Birding opportunities have thus dropped off a cliff, and will only recover in Spring, when we get some morning daylight again, or when Greece and Italy collapse, whichever comes sooner. For the sake of my mortgage and desire to start shopping in Waitrose again, I’m hoping it’s the former.
I am finding that work is extremely tiring. It does not help, of course, that my domestic responsibilities remain unchanged. I’m still doing the school runs, still doing the domestic stuff, but the fact is that I am not twenty five any more, when I revelled in fourteen hour days, survived on about five hours sleep, and generally bounced around. I am now old. Old and tired. Two nights ago I had dinner with a friend after work, drank two very meagrely-sized beers, and arrived home at approximately 8pm. By 9pm I was tucked up in bed, and I was probably asleep before 10pm. Rock and Roll. I woke up at 7am. Nine hours sleep is almost unprecedented, but I yawned my way through the entire day at work, and at one point seriously considered taking a day off next week purely in order to stay in bed with my eyes closed. Then I realised that with children that’s basically impossible. There is no respite in sight until after Christmas, itself a shattering affair; by then I may have curled up and died. On the plus side, my new endeavours are bringing crusts to the family table, and buying an increasing number of bricks in the four walls that surround us, which after all is the whole point of human existence, isn't it? Maybe that's just what it seems like sometimes. I am consoling myself with thoughts of birding opportunities that with renewed financial health are now possible. Extramadura seems a likely spring destination, and there are fairly firm rumblings regarding Arctic Finland and Norway. A family expedition to somewhere warm in the New Year is also looking good, so who knows, maybe I will have something interesting to blog about in the not too distant future.
I wouldn’t count on it though.