Monday, 6 February 2012

The kingfisher who made me

The kingfisher was back by the mill this morning, his colours and those of the syrup-gold willow in which he sat, the brighter for the snow. This afternoon, faced with the task of packing for yet another two-month trip, I did what every right-thinking naturalist would do: I went to look for smew at Wells. In my defence I invoke three pieces of evidence: 1) I had to go north to see my parents anyway and the smew were but a short hop from there; 2) smew are among the most desired birds of two faraway friends, Chris in the USA and Sujan in Kolkata, and, especially since I shall be staying at Sujan's on Wednesday and working with him for the following fortnight, one likes to have something to gloat about; and 3) smew are among my favourite of all birds and they beguiled me. I failed to see the smew, punished no doubt for my lack of charity towards friends. Far more excitingly, however, I heard, for the second time in my life, the sorrowful piping song of a bullfinch.

Among the unexpected joys of this blog has been that friends around the world have been writing more frequently to share their thoughts on the wildlife they too are seeing. Last night I heard news from three thoughtful friends: of noisy whooper swans and cranes driven by the snow to a quiet corner of North Norfolk; of a wintering green sandpiper and fox tracks in the snow in the Midlands; and of dovekies, thick-billed murres, long-finned pilot-whales and wholly imaginary cusimanses from a research ship off the east coast of the United States.

Our fascination for wildlife has this power, to weave together our human stories and make lives immeasurably richer. With this in mind, I am off tomorrow to lead a series of wildlife-watching holidays in India and Sri Lanka for Naturetrek. Here I hope to see many more kingfishers, like ours and of other species, and no snow. If I see a smew it will be a mega-lifer for my Indian colleagues; in December 2010 I found the same group of friends their first goldeneye so our wingtips are crossed now for a smew. While in South Asia I shall attempt to write every day of what I see, but I fear it may often not be possible to post here for a few days at a time. Have patience.

To anyone joining this blog since it began in December, welcome! I have set myself a challenge in 2012 to record all of the vertebrate species I see on my travels around this beautiful planet. I am not by nature a lister but I have chosen this list as a means to make myself reflect in words on the wildlife which has for decades lightened every day of my life. The rules of my challenge are simple and may be found here.

People have been kind enough to ask me to post photos from my trips. I am afraid this is unlikely, unless colleagues and clients supply them, as I am a lifelong non-photographer. Until very recently I had never as an adult owned a camera. Then, for a trip to Madagascar last October I decided I really ought to have one. On my return I explained to someone very dear that I had not brought myself to take a single photo. ‘That may be the cutest bit of dysfunction yet,’ came the reply.

Wildlife and cute dysfunction: that’s me in a nutshell.

The hills opened out, disclosing the level tree-scattered eternity of India.

Robert Byron
The Road to Oxiana

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