There were mature oaks and senescent trees with green woodpecker, great-spotted woodpecker, nuthatch and tree creeper. In spring, as the fresh oak leaves burst there would sometimes come a plague of black flies with long dangling legs. There were spindle trees whose fruit are a delight- to look at only because they’re poisonous. One autumn I collected a Halloween posy of spindle berries and bright and startling fruit you find in a late October hedgerow. I saw goldcrests so frequently I learnt to tell them at the slightest movement in the trees. One year, I came upon a family of sparrow hawk being giving flying lessons by the adult and their cries filled the wood. On a winter’s night the tawny owls sounded close, never closer than the year I had chicken pox and could not sleep. I got up and thought it was kids larking about. Surprising who is out and about at two in the morning. But this was so very close. Was I more ill than I knew, was I delirious? I went out onto the balcony to look down into the road for these fooling kids. And the tawny called right in my ear. I turned to see eyes staring at me inches away on the edge of the flat roof. It felt hallucinatory.
This was Westbury-on-Trym and down in the depths of the woods ran a stream that is the River Trym. There was a glade where I could find kingfisher. Emerge from the woods and there was an old house with a terraced garden, a beautiful secluded place. In the pasture below grew rosy garlic which I now grow in my garden.
I belonged to Bristol Ornithological Club and since the BBC Natural History Unit is in the city I met dedicated and knowledgeable naturalists. I learnt lots on field-trips and club holidays. Sharing is what it’s all about, with a competitive edge. On Islay, over tots of the local whisky, we compiled lists of all we’d seen that day. Someone had seen a dozen grey plover. Someone else claimed a flock of a thousand. I learned to listen.
When I came to Cumbria I had to find things for myself. In the end, that’s far more rewarding. Unless you know birdsong it’s not going to happen. Redstart, for instance. I used to think redstart a rarity on Scout Scar. Now I can identify the bird on the first notes of its song, so I can map them out and they’re doing well. It’s taken me some time to confirm the call of lesser redpoll because I hear them in flight but they’re hard to see. I refer to Tweet of the Day to confirm what I hear. But birdsong is far more intricate than most people realise. The raven has something like thirty different calls, and it’s not alone. And birds don’t always give their song entire, just a fragment.
If you’re a keen gardener perhaps that is your bird watching and wild flower patch. Surprising what you can discover very close to home. What I hope to share here is the notion of a local patch and the reward of looking into it. Where is yours and what does it mean to you?