Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The birdwatcher in me


I was thinking today, about my love of birdlife. Where did it come from? My father was a nature lover, but not a birder. And I thought back, to an old gentleman sitting in a big blue chair – Kensitas cigarettes (I used to run to the shop to buy them for him when I was 10) and Mosaic sherry by his side.

Alexander F Long, RAF
My grandpa, ‘Bones’ Long, was the birdwatcher in our family. I remember his excitement at seeing a collared dove on his way home one day (perhaps in the early 60s), when they were new immigrants to this country.  Or do I remember being told about his excitement? Memories are often constructed, but I do know he inspired in me a fascination in birdlife.

Furthermore, my love of dinosaurs (originally enjoyed as a child, and revived when I had a son) was manifested in their modern descendants – birds. Well, I believe that to be the case, anyway. Take away the feathers, put some teeth on those beaks – voilĂ ! Dinosaurs are still here.

Why birds? Because of their variety! A big old pheasant can be phenomenally stupid, whilst a bird a quarter of the size is extremely intelligent. Members of the crow family (they aren’t just black, they are a multitude of blacks), for example, are amongst the smartest of the avian species on the planet – inventing ways to crack nuts and solve problems that would leave an orang-utan puzzled.

Oh, I love orang-utans too, but I don’t get them in my garden (if you do, you are very lucky). I can see birds at any time – day or night – in any country I live or visit. And they all have different ways of attracting my interest. From huge flocks of starlings executing the spectacular murmuration, to that cute little pied wagtail hopping about on my lawn – they intrigue and entertain.

He’s been dead many, many long years; a man who fought in two world wars, rowed in the Olympics for his country and won Bobsleigh and Tennis medals. I have not inherited his courage or physical prowess, but his simple passion and delight in birds.

Thank you grandpa. 
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