It’s father’s day as I write this blog entry (knowing me it probably won’t be by the time I finish and upload) so I thought I’d write a few words about my father.
It is fair to say that my love for the natural world is a direct influence from my father. From him joining us to the RSPB back when their children’s section was called Young Ornithologists Club (YOC) and wearing my Osprey badge. I somehow prefer the term YOC to Wildlife Explorers or whatever they call it these days. Going on walks down the old railway tracks near our house and been saddened by the building on green belt. We’d watch nature documentaries together and I remember him once comforting me as I cried after we watched something about the slaughter of elephants for their ivory. The majority of the few memories I have of him include birds or being outside. Some more vague than others, such as a flash back in the college library the other week when I found a field guide that could have been the one he used. The silhouettes of the birds looked similar and it reminded me of spending days flicking through looking at the various pictures of birds it contains.
Every time I enter an old hide that is warm and stuffy the smell of the dark old wooden interior instantly transports me back to holidays as a child spent in Norfolk. We’d always visit Hickling Broad NWT Nature Reserve. This was one of my favourite reserves mainly because it has a gift shop (I could be wrong, we’re going back 20 years). A lot of my memories of time with him are those spent holidaying in either our trailer tent or caravan. We’d mostly go to Cropton Forest with two weeks a year spent in Norfolk. Walks in the cropton during a day looking for crossbills or him lied out on the Norfolk sand dunes with his scope sea watching. Even when not birding on holiday bird activities could occur, such as the evenings we’d spent in our caravan playing Bill Oddie’s Bird Race board game. I remember him getting excited and taking my older sister off to see some cranes that were near to our Norfolk campsite. I didn’t go out birding much with my dad, I got bored and tired quick. Something I hear from my six year old daughter when I try and get her to go birding with me. How quickly life goes around in circles! Hopefully in 20 years’ time she’ll have a great love for nature and remember those days when she found birding boring and tiring!
Although not much of a twitcher, I do remember him using the old bird line to gather bird news and from checking his logbook he did see some great birds (a lot come from excellent days at Spurn) including: “Desert Warbler 6th for Britain. ‘Lots of twitchers’”, 8-7-1989 Blue Cheeked Bee-eater an entry which was excellently accompanied with the words – “Bird of the year so far”, he also saw North Cave Wetland’s first official rarity – the white winged black tern back when it was referred to as North Cave Gravel Pits.
Looking through his log book and year list shows the changing status of birds in the UK. There is no tick next to red kite, a bird which now breeds locally and a decent roost site with large numbers. In June 1988 we took a family holiday to Wales, where he saw his first peregrine. A bird that now can be seen breeding on the cliffs at nearby Scarborough. I’m not entirely sure but I’m guessing this was a rare bird around here back then as 14th December 1991’s entry PEREGRINE FALCON* CHASHING PIGEONS at Filey is underlined, surely for the excitement. There’s also his first Avocet at Titchwell in 1987, which now also breed locally. They have a few local sightings in the later years but only in low numbers ones and twos, not like the many now found at North Cave and Blacktoft. Without studying each entry in depth I see no entry for little egret except on a holiday to France. On the other hand there are several sightings of ruddy duck before they were culled. These sightings are in 2s and 3s at least. Now you’d be lucky to see one.
The book also contains some exciting garden birds that I remember including in November 1993 when a merlin got trapped in between our and next doors fence, my dad using gardening gloves managed to free it and we were able to see it up close in hand before he released it. I remember watching it take to the skies until it was a small dot and then nothing as a six year old seeing something disappear like that fascinated me. There’s also an entry from February 1996 when we had waxwings visit our garden for berries.
The majority of memories I have of him are to do with birds, Sundays spent waiting for him to return from Pulfin Bog, Figham Common or Tophill Low so we could have our roast dinner. Places that I’d not visited but sounded like exotic places of British wilderness full of exciting birds, such as the time when he rang home to say he wouldn’t be coming home for tea as an osprey had just turned up at Tophill.
Tophill is the second to last entry in his logbooks - 27th April 1996 Jack Snipe, Ruddy duck and cuckoo all seen that day. Two months later he’d lose his battle with cancer. I could say about how I wish I could change the past and been more interested when we went out places or how I would love to go out birding with him now, but life offers no alternate in these situations. All I can do is pick up his Leitz that are older than I, put on my boots, go visit one of his favourite places and take in the amazing natural world. Pass on my knowledge and enthusiasm to my child and be thankful for the influence I’ve received. The influence that sowed the seeds for a love of nature that although took a while to fully blossom, I’m thankful someone was there to sow them.