We are strolling through the park to preschool. The sun is shining, the children are proceeding in the right direction at the right pace. Suddenly a crow flies by, with a nestling fieldfare in its beak, the parents chack-chacking in outraged pursuit. I’m outraged too- after all that, the marauding crow is just going to get away with it.
We are at the icecream shop over the road, not buying a dog icecream, though we could if we wanted, but a normal one. First indulging in the favoured Polish sport of waiting in a queue for half an hour, and then having to eat a carrot sorbet because all the really good ones have been eaten by the hipster dogs of Mokotów. Suddenly the kids start to yelp with excitement. There’s a baby bird, feathered but with the stumpy wings and bald patches which show it probably can’t fly and really has no chance. A broken nest lies on the ground. The baby bird is huddled up next to a park seat and Janek and Maja dance around it with glee, having no idea what its fate will be.
The next day we are still feeling guilty. We could have taken it home and brought it earthworms and called the bird rescuers. Given it some mince and kept it in a box and released it back into the wild…
Anyway, we didn’t. But I did remember that the birds in the park aren’t just there so I can have the nice little hobby of observing them during the interminable walk to and from pre-school, or to pretty up my turd-strewn urban life with their song. It’s a jungle out there, actually. In case you didn’t know
Filed under birds, twitching
Riding along on my bike, being overtaken by all the fairweather cyclists who have come out of hiding since the weather warmed up and reflecting on my lack of running success, I realised I have sucked at every sport I have ever tried. Here’s an exhaustive list.
In my day I have sucked at: skiing ( I regularly cry when faced with a too-steep slope), climbing (never progressed to being able to lead any route) , running (my 10 km speed record run at a speed which I overheard my workmates once describing as well but nobody runs that slowly), surfing (I might have stood up once but not for very long), hockey (it was long ago and in another country, but I sucked quite comprehensively), and riding a bike (as evidenced by the fact that all the hipsters on single speeds are flying past me with the wind in their beards).
Anyway, apparently it’s edifying. One of my students said that the best things she got out of years of playing school volleyball was ‘learning how to lose,’ which actually might not be such a useless skill.
Some time last November, after bingeing for several months on nature writing, I decided I was interested in birds. It really was that simple, and I took the kids out to the leaden, shit-strewn park for an inaugural twitch.
It was something akin to a religious experience. The hoot and rattle of Puławska St. faded, and I entered another dimension. Here was another world which had always existed alongside mine, and which I had never looked at before. A pair of magpies hopped across the sodden ground, and the desolate hedges turned out to be alive with tits.
I watched David Attenborough’s series on birds, seeing what it takes for a pigeon to get off the ground and observing the mating dance of a grebe for the first time with a sensation that could only be called wonder. I played recordings of blackbird and chaffinch song on youtube over the breakfast table (boring the pants off everyone else, as a good twitcher should).
The pace of my walking also slowed to approximate that of a pair of 3 year olds, which was a useful adaptation. Peering into a hole in a tree in a Pruszków in the middle of winter, I was surprised by a rush of yellow -green as a woodpecker flew out in a panic. I watched the winter rook roosts forming in our park and came back from Australia to find that the fieldfares were back too, from somewhere or other.
Now I’m about halfway through my first twitching year. I am comforted by the presence of birds, which provide some counterpoint to the trudging human masses. I am invested in the success of their nestlings and am not above shooing off a predatory, nest-robbing crow in a futile attempt to save a baby fieldfare. I watch for them when I run, listen for them when I wake up, count species out the window while I’m folding the clothes. My world is suddenly richer.