This article first appeared in the January 2022 edition of Birdwatching Magazine
Driving back from a pleasant morning’s Autumnal birding I pulled tight over to the roadside hearing a siren and seeing flashing blue lights approaching. Traffic parted like the Red Sea, without exception drivers moved aside to let the ambulance though.
Pulling into town I let a number of cars into the traffic… 90% signalled their thanks.
Hawkeye popped into the supermarket, while I watched shoppers using their escalator… 80% had the courtesy to wear face-masks. Why have some people stopped wearing masks just because it’s no longer a government diktat, despite it protecting the vulnerable?
In ‘Lockdown’, seventy percent of us stayed at home except for essential journeys, the rest exploited the empty roads, presumably thinking we were mugs for obeying a regulation designed for our collective safety. Most people obey laws, but many think guidelines are there for other people to follow.
While most of us, most of the time, try to do the right thing, there are always a sizeable minority blissfully unaware of how their actions affect others, or just not caring.
Back in town we headed to a seaside carpark to see if the strong winds were pushing a few pelagic birds into view. After a close up view of a Long-tailed Skua, and a more distant view of a Sooty Shearwater topping the waves and disappearing into the troughs, I scanned along the shoreline for waders. Nothing to see despite the ebbing tide. When I saw the beach I understood why. Of course! It was the first of the month and the seasonal ban of dogs on beaches was lifted. I counted twenty dogs all within a 100m stretch. Eighteen of them were being walked by just five people.
Being ‘allowed’ back on the strand the professional dogwalkers were taking full advantage of their freedom. Our local paper had been canvassing opinion all summer as to whether to keep two beaches, out of the twenty in the area, free of dogs all year. Walkers could not be ignorant of the debate, they just put their own selfish concerns above the needs of other users of the tideline.
‘Naturally’, many dogs were off their leads and charging along the lapping waterside because, for some reason I cannot fathom, it’s great fun to put up flocks of gulls and terrify a few beach-loving people who also, apparently, need to be as close to the water’s edge as they can get. Is salt-water a cure for some dreaded dog disease? Why else would all dog-owners need to throw the stick or ball into the sea for the dog to chase.
Not long ago, viewing birds from a ramp, someone wandered through a barrier signed ‘no entry’ along a path into a reed bed, just as, elsewhere, I saw someone hop over a locked gate, ignoring the ‘nesting birds, please do not enter’ sign and wander across a field, map in hand, determined to take the most direct hike to his goal.
Alongside me in the hide, birding mum and teenage son chatted away mask-less, blocking the shelf where the hand sanitiser lay… obviously the sign on the door saying ‘please wear a mask and use the hand-sanitiser’ was meant for the hoi-polloi, not their superior selves.
Twenty-five years ago, at a mass twitch for a red-flaked bluetail, an over eager togger pushed my teenage son aside to get a better view, then strode forward to get the ‘killer’ shot and flushed the bird a hundred yards down the track.
I bet he doesn’t wear a mask in the shops or thank courteous motorists.