Back To Basics


‘What’s a heron again?’

I stared at my best friend with a twitching grin on my face and rolled my eyes, half teasing, half serious.

‘Is it like one of those big things at the beginning of the Lion King?’ She continued.

I could see she was trying, but no. Though she could have made a much worse guess definitely. Grabbing my bird guide that was open on my lap, I threw it at her with the correct page open. She let out a long ‘ohhhhh’ and I laughed. My initial shock that she did not know such an obvious bird was quickly replaced by understanding, because after all, why should she know? When you have an interest in something, it is very easy to forget that not everybody knows, or indeed cares, like you do. For example, I remember a time when I had had the audacity to enquire as to what exactly an MG Midget was. The shock and slight shame that passed over my dad’s face was comical and my justification? ‘Why the hell should I know?’ Imagine if we went into our first maths lesson and were scolded for not knowing the ins and outs of Pythagoras’ theorem. We would all agree that that attitude would constitute a very poor teacher indeed. When it comes to wildlife, going back to basics is sometimes the most fun and where we can find some of our most beautiful animals and plants.

This was the sight that greeted me when I walked my dogs through the forested river this morning, and a magnificent one at that. For us wildlife buffs, sometimes catching a glimpse of the rarest or largest or most secretive of creatures can become all consuming. So consuming in fact that we forget the beauty of the more common life that surrounds us. I remember being on a ornithology field trip at University, where the lecturers were so focused on trying to find a black-tailed godwit, that they completely ignored the swallow building its nest inside the very hide, a kestrel hovering over the grassland and a flurry of long tailed tits flash past us.

Their cries of ‘Oh there it is!’ only to be bitterly disappointed when it was merely a curlew (merely!). Blaming their equipment, muttering ‘its not set right!’ and dramatic cries of ‘why has God forsaken me! A buzzard could have landed on the mans head and he would barely have noticed, so focused was he on seeing something more magnificent. So, on seeing my heron today, I took a moment to appreciate him and give him the attention he deserved.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy seeing the rarer things in nature as much as the next person. Though I believe some of us who are interested in wildlife feel the need to boast and compete with our peers on who has seen the rarest creature. If you sat around a table of enthusiast who were shouting:
‘I have swan with a blue whale!’
‘I have touched a golden eagle!’
‘I have fought a polar bear!’

(Honestly I wouldn’t put it past some). To say ‘I saw a heron’, you might get laughed out of the country. But why should you? Our countryside would be very boring indeed if we did not have these apparently dull specimens (and our ecosystems, a whole lot worse). So for those wildlife buffs and maybe just for those who want to show some kind of interest, don’t be ashamed of starting with the basics.

We all have to start somewhere!




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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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