Monday 6 January 2020

A change is good as a rest

This weekend just gone I birded so much my eyes hurt. Patch abandoned, no two hour Saturday morning stroll for me. Instead a marathon weekend of dawn to dusk birding. I have been threatening it of course, and now that I have done it I want to do it again. As a change of scene goes it was fantastic, and really drove home quite how dull birding in London most often is. 

Call me shallow, but 2 Smew, 4 Long-tailed Duck, a Ring-necked Duck, a Scaup, 2 Great Northern Diver, a Black-necked Grebe, 7 Great White Egret, 2 Cattle Egret, 2 Rough-legged Buzzard, a Merlin, 4 Hen Harrier, 11 Marsh Harrier, a Siberian Stonechat, a Grey-bellied Brent and an Eastern Yellow Wagtail have convinced me that there is perhaps more to birding than repeated visits to Wanstead Flats. Add to that a supporting cast of thousands upon thousands of seven other species of geese, and countless waders and ducks in fabulous scenery, and I am sold. Re-sold. 

This of course is something I used to do a lot, but for whatever reason I fell out of love with it. I have no idea why, it was terrific. There was some driving of course, but not the mind-numbing hours and hours that a long-distance twitch incurs, and most of it was done in the dark. And the rewards at the end of the journeys was frankly staggering for someone numbed by the weekly routine of urban birding.

That is not to say that the weekend was perfect in every way. My metaphorical spectacles are not so rose-tinted as to be able to deny some of the more unavoidable aspects of birding the North Norfolk coast in early January - that is to say that I felt rather as if we were in a procession of sorts for most of the day, seeing the same birds as everyone else. A shuffling doddery green-clad procession...  One man I saw four times, and to be fair he could have said the same about us. Were I to spend all of my time up there I expect that it would drive me stark-raving bonkers, however the excitement of a fresh year list will no doubt wane shortly and my next visit, whenever that is, will probably be rather calmer. The birds were good enough that none of this really mattered, and the landscape vast. At any other time of year you could probably find a few spots that get no visitors at all.

Out here were 7 Marsh Harrier, 3 Hen Harrier, 1 Merlin, 1 Peregrine and 1 Sparrowhawk. 

Suffolk and Essex were far less busy, neither are on the birding map in quite the same way, and I suspect that I will head back there first. Abberton, immense, was exceptionally good. Freezing but excellent. Wanstead has had so few ducks of late, Abberton has thousands, and I spent a happy hour or picking through flocks of Teal in the hope of a vertical stripe. A vain hope... Neither could we dredge up the Black-throated Diver.

This of course was before I remembered to buy a Double Decker. This delectable confectionery is often thought of as an autumn staple, but its mythical power can be unleashed at any time of year. As soon as there was one in the car we were unstoppable. Rough-legged Buzzards in the gloom, the Grey-bellied Brent after less than a minute of scanning an immense flock of Pink-feet, the Stonechat on view immediately - everything simply fell into place. The Wagtail showed brilliantly - a UK tick. Although there have been loads recently I have felt no urge to twitch any of them, but as a part of a big day out seeing gazillions of birds I didn't mind in the slightest.

So why was it so good? Because it was refreshing. I have not done any UK birding like this for simply ages and it felt really good, just like birding abroad. My last visits to Norfolk, Suffolk and coastal Essex were all in 2016, and very simply I was ready again.

Here's to 2020.

Thursday 2 January 2020

So what is the approach in 2020?

2020 did not start as I intended. I had visions of keenly starting the New Year out on the coast seeing tons of glorious birds. This fitted neatly with my resolution of sorts, which was to spend more time birding in this country - terribly neglected of late. Then I discovered that the family car was required for less frivolous purposes and had to scale back my plans. So, Rainham then, I would get dropped off or take the train and spend the whole day birding there, hurrah! It is a semi patch of mine that I used to devote a lot of time to, I would very much like to get back to it, this could be the perfect backup start to 2020! Great, I'll get the stuff ready. What's that? My middle daughter has arranged to go to see a friend which would leave the youngest one home alone...

So I guess I'll stay local then. Pah! It was nice to spend time on Wanstead Flats and in the Park seeking out birds - for a brief moment everything is interesting again - but it felt slightly laboured. Of course it was also pleasant spending time with Rob and Nick and others, the shared joy of finally finding a Greenfinch, the amusement of repeatedly missing flyover Collared Doves and so on, but I question whether it is sustainable. In the sense of will this keep me going all year. 

The answer is a big fat no.

Once upon a time, but no longer. The same goes for blogging. You may know that I very nearly jacked it in on the 10th anniversary. I had a post typed up and ready to go about a month before I intended to publish it. It is still there in draft status, tempting me. For whatever reason I had second thoughts and carried on, and 100 posts later here I am. It has been hard. Very hard. And oddly so, I cannot put my finger on it. I am still the same person I was 11 years ago. I am older of course, slightly more jaded, heavier.... but fundamentally I am still me and if - to steal an acronym from modern lexicon - if you knew me IRL I would hope you think that I have not changed a great deal. I am still very juvenile and delight in small acts of stupidity. I have learned to keep a lid on it in certain situations, namely work, but personality is and should be irrepressible. I also think I lead quite an interesting life, and I am quite happy with my lot. Mrs L of course would say that I could contend for the Dull Men of Great Britain title, but I disagree. Yes of course a lot of is spent behind a desk etc, but that is the case for many people even if it sometimes does not feel like it. In the brief snippets where that is not the case I think I do pretty well. I have lots of hobbies and interests, too many in fact. I read lots of books, I travel to fabulous places, I potter around at home being domestic and I enjoy that too. You would think therefore that I have a wealth of material to write about.

And yet.

It gets harder and I cannot put my finger on why. And it used to be easy, effortlessly easy. Now I am not looking here for all blog readers to jump in with a comment saying don't give up etc. I like a bit of interaction, all bloggers do, but this is a deeper question that maybe only I can answer. I am busier than I have ever been, or at least it feels that way to me - possibly nothing has changed other than I used to be 33 and now I'm 44 - I have a huge amount that I could talk about across many different facets and subjects. Why can't I? Am I worried about what people think suddenly? Worried about being dull and boring? Maybe I am. I thought I wrote for me, because I had to, because I needed to - this belief drove me for a very long time. Now I am not so sure. I find that I can easily not write something for several weeks and it doesn't bother me at all.

And this is not just about writing. It is everything. I can ignore the patch for several weeks and not feel like I am missing it. I can (and in the past have) let the greenhouse rot. Similarly I can go for a month without reading a book even though I really like reading. All the things I like I can discard with little care, at least for a while. And yet I am perfectly happy and content. I am not having a mid life crisis, or at least not that I am aware of. This makes no sense.

I am sure I wrote about this before either last year or the year before but I cannot now find it, it was called "The Spark" or something like that. Whenever that was I think my slant was writing, but actually I now realise it is applicable to much more than that. If it was a spark I have not yet managed to refind it. And that is what 2020 will be about.