I just spent a week in northern England, visiting Finch’s home for the first time. Some relatively mild birding – more walking with some birding thrown in than intense birding – though all the birds were new for me. It was a good balance, especially given the overlay of fatigue I’ve been toting around lately, from bad sleep, too much moving about, a little work fretting.
Sometimes it’s a little hard for us to find the birding balance, my deeply focused birder lover and his enthusiastic but sleep–loving partner. Add a dose of male/female push/pull and a couple of determined alpha types, and the titration of birding dosage becomes a predictable site of some tension. But this week we hit the balance, Finch letting me nap on Friday afternoon and sleep past the rain on Saturday morning, getting up at a non-birder hour for our outing.
And it turned out to be lovely. Leighton Moss, a reserve with marsh, sea and woodland habitat, where I saw my first avocets, the iconic bird of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
(Finch said I’ve seen avocets before but the memory is a blank).
It’s both thrilling and disorienting for a brand new birder to go to a new continent. Everything is new – and even when you’ve seen the species before, it’s new for your Europe List. But it’s very disconcerting to have the little reliable taxonomy you know tossed in the air. “These are old world robins, not North American robins. Your robins are thrushes. Oh, and yes, these are common blackbird, no relation to your red-winged blackbirds. Those are icterids, and these are thrushes.” Not to mention the tits (blue, great, coal and long-tailed) and the buntings (your buntings aren’t really buntings) and the goldfinches that don’t look anything like goldfinches.
But there are also more visible version of known birds, like these curlews, this one part of a pair warning its chick to hide when we pulled up at the side of the moor, giving me a glimpse of a soft speckly baby.
Apparently there aren’t a lot of breeding curlews left, according to Finch’s friend we climbed a hill with to see breeding Eagle Owls, on Saturday afternoon. So seeing a breeding pair was lucky. “It makes me happy to think of them there on the moor,” the friend said. Not a man of many words, but a gentle and good guide.
On Monday, we went east to the sea, to see gannets and puffins and other seabirds. I didn’t get to see the gannets diving the way I had in Scotland a few years ago, but I got to look closely at their gannetty little faces. And discovered that from that angle, they look just like boobies.
“Of course they do,” said Finch, surprised. “They’re in the same family as boobies, and used to be placed in the same genus.” I did not know that. But looking at their eyes, I see a tight line drawn between these champagne-headed seabirds of the north and the blue-footed creatures I’ve long vaguely associated with Darwin and the Galapagos, these ones we saw in Baja.
Birding in the North of England, where families crowd the sea to look for puffins on a bank holiday, even in a light rain.
In many ways, England is of course The Source of all birding enthusiasm. But even I was surprised when I found peacocks in the recycling depot in Finch’s town.