This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine Autumn 2020
Many years ago, when staying at a B&B in the highlands I overheard some chaps at a neighbouring breakfast table discussing their plans for the day. I leant across and asked if they were fellow birders. “No”, they replied “we’re buggers!” This came to mind the other day. I was doing my best to socially distance (steering clear of people comes naturally to me) while birding at one of the few reserves I know where one can park right next to fantastic birding. There is a layby where those with mobility problems have priority. A small group of ‘toggers’ stood at the other end of the pull-in, trying to capture footage of an obliging Lesser Yellowlegs there for its second July. One of the guys was broadcasting anecdotes. He could have whispered across seven fields, so I had every titbit in annoying clarity. Indeed, Hawkeye, who had power-walked off around the reserve for much needed exercise, later told me that she could hear him 400 yards away!
A twitcher arrived and asked the group if the Yellowlegs was showing, to be told it was currently hidden. I found this a bit odd as I was looking at it through my scope right then and it was well out in the open. I admit I did not correct them, just mumbled disdainfully into my mask, not wanting any social interaction having become even grumpier in enforced social isolation. I find being a hermit surprisingly comfortable, confined to my house and tiny garden has been no great hardship save the lack of birding.
The twitcher moved on, which was a shame as I was enjoying three-year ticks in the scope simultaneously… the aforementioned American rarity, several Ruff in various states of plumage and for me best of all, an obliging Water Rail. I had been watching the rail for ten minutes as it wandered in and out of the reeds and fed in the mud. Water Rails may be widespread and common but they skulk, so long-lasting views are always a joy.
Meanwhile the man and his audience chortled away. Correct me if I’m wrong, which I’m not, but there is an etiquette to anecdote telling. It is an exchange, not a one-way process. I tell you my amusing tale, then patiently let you burble on inanely until it’s my turn again for brilliance. I find I can usually turn down my hearing aid until the insignificant other draws breath at which point I leap in with my gripping tales. Putting up with some bore droning on is the price you pay for airing your canon of stunning stories.
Mr Sevenfields had clearly not been schooled in social niceties. He managed to seamlessly move from one anecdote to the next with an uncanny ability to breathe through his nose while concurrently blowing hot air out of his mouth.
Forced to listen I began to note the content. He went from twitching tale about birds then about butterflies and to odonata without a break.
Digesting this later in the sanctity of my ‘yard’, it saddened me that the twitcher had not transformed into a lockdown patch worker, I know I have. Well, in truth I stopped twitching years ago, but lockdown has meant appreciating what you can do when you are missing what you cannot. I have found great pleasure watching bees, hoverflies, and other macro world denizens and researching each observation to try to figuratively pin down ID. I’ve learned a lot about insects, and deeply confirmed that the beauty of the natural world can be appreciated without chasing rarities or boasting about it.