Thursday, 3 July 2008

Bird-watching contagion

When I moved to Marburg my mother gave me a bird book. I would have preferred a tree book – my inclination is towards things that don’t move, make noises and require cleaning up after. Plants do require care and sometimes a lot of it, but they reward such care by looking beautiful, creating shade and patterns of light, cleaning up the environment and did I mention that they are quiet? I must be the mother of a household of children. But my mother and my grandfather are and were birdwatchers so a bird book I got.

Over five years later I still don’t have a tree identification book, but I have used my bird book more than I ever imagined that I would. There are so many different and interesting birds in this area of mixed open grassland, patches of scrub and the swampy areas down in the valley. The bird book has actually become a little worn. Part of it is from my use, part from the fact that the children love to look through its meticulously illustrated pages. Seeing birds and identifying them is not the same as keeping birds. Most of the birds would terrify me in close proximity. Like I said, I’m not really a bird or animal person. I also continue to bemoan my lack of a tree book.

At 7.40 this morning I was lying in bed relishing the realisation that only myself and Blithe Girl were awake. I was in that delightful state of trying to decide whether to stay warm in bed or get up and make myself a quiet cup of coffee. My mornings are not usually like this, but it is school holidays and I’m trying to make the most of not having to leap out of bed and chivvy the children schoolwards.

My phone rang and the conversation went like this:

Neighbour: “Do you have a walking phone?”
Me: “Yes.”
Neighbour: “The harrier is out. If you come out your front door.”
Me: “I’m still in my pyjamas.”
Neighbour: “I won’t look, I don’t have my binoculars anyway. Okay I can see you now. In a straight line between you and me, on the fencepost. No, not that one, On the boundary between you and Russell’s. Okay it’s flying now.”
Me: “I still can’t see it.” Squinting in the bright sunlight.
Neighbour: “It’s flying up Russell’s field now. About a metre off the grass.”
Me: “I can see it, I can see it. Is it hunting? What does it eat?”
Neighbour: “Insects. Maybe bigger things like lizards.”
Neighbour and myself: Thanks and farewells etc.

So it has come to this. Five years in the country and I am traipsing around my front yard in flannel pyjamas and boots (sorry neighbour), treading over wet grass and looking for birds. Admittedly, a magnificent broad-winged bird flapping strongly as it flew uphill over the fields, dark brown and cream against the dry yellow grass. But a bird, and me getting excited. What has the world come to?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But I was wrong about the Harrier's diet. I have observed them catching and eating prey, but have not known what they had caught. My reference states that thier long legs dangle "to snatch at a ground bird, small mammal, reptile or other prey."