Updated: Apr 1, 2018
Mostly I've always wandered in the countryside near where I've lived rather than travelling miles in an attempt to find rarities of any kind and, although my walks sometimes throw up the unusual, I'm content to just wander or meander and just see what turns up. Sometimes I just go to a quiet corner of a wood
and wait. Small and supposedly insignificant lives are often strange and beautiful if looked at carefully and sadly some of these unremarkable birds and animals are disappearing from the scrap of lowland England where I wander, and some of them may soon be gone altogether.
Sparrows are great favourites, both the little mobs of house sparrows that fluctuate in numbers from year to year, but we're still lucky enough to have around here, and the neater tree sparrows which I can only find in a couple of places now. I remember coming across a ruined barn years ago that held a colony of dozens of them but when I revisited the place last year the old barn had been converted into a fine house with exposed beams and a floor to ceiling glass wall. I'd love to live there, as did the tree sparrows.
But back to house sparrows; famously squabbly and argumentative. One recent bitter winter day I walked up to the old WW2 airfield that is still partly used for flying, but also has an sizeable area now a solar farm with a crumbly concrete perimeter road bordered by straggling hawthorn bushes. It's a bleak windswept place on days like this and there seemed to be nothing alive to see apart from a few clanking jackdaws flung high in the easterly wind across an iron grey sky. As the light began to fade I turned to leave and then noticed the sparrows in one of the bushes. Long leafless, and at least five months before it would be festooned with that creamy may blossom that marks high Spring, this bush was nevertheless full of life as about a dozen sparrows chattered in its filigree of black twigs. As I got closer they went quiet and shuffled to the opposite side of the bush and started up their chirping again. I walked to the other side of the bush and they became silent and quietly moved back to where they'd been originally. Soon they were as noisy as ever.
A couple of things struck me. Firstly just how much most wild animals really do fear and hate us. They wouldn't have bothered moving if a much bigger horse or cow had wandered grazing up to them. It was me they feared, but why? They can't have ever experienced any animosity from people. Surely no farmer had ever have troubled to lift his twelve bore at them and no boys have gone collecting birds' eggs for decades, and certainly no bird catcher has snagged sparrows with limed twigs for more than a century. They would of course have shown the same fear if a sparrowhawk had settled on the fence post nearby, or if a cat had slunk through the coarse dead grass of the meadow towards them, or if a stoat had capered below on the concrete rubble. I realised again that day that we too, like it or not, are predators in the eyes of virtually all other creatures we share our world with.
Most surprisingly though I found myself overwhelmed with a simple helpless love for these humble but resilient little birds and, as I left them to their bleak night in that thorn bush, their polite domestic chattering still spilled into the biting evening wind and filled me with a quiet joy I still don't really understand.