Considerando Uccelli

Florence. Fairly pleasant, from a distance.

Florence. Fairly pleasant, from a distance.

It’s probably best not to habitually make excuses for my absence, but one very good one I can offer for the last, oh, I don’t know how many blog-free weeks, is that I was busily preparing a poster (and, crucially, needed to finish generating some data to put on it) for a conference that took place in Florence last week. Lest anybody suspect I’m asking for sympathy, I fully acknowledge that a conference in Italy seems like an excuse for a holiday, and, indeed, we managed to extend the trip a couple of days either side to take in some of the Tuscan countryside.

 

It goes without saying that binoculars were never far from my side, and since I was travelling in a country that I’ve only visited once before, more than half a life ago, I was eager to observe anything in the birdlife that was different to what we see here in the UK. One of the first things I noticed is that the sparrows of Italy are rather sharply attired, as befits a country renowned globally as a centre for fashion, with a chestnut brown cap, white cheeks and an extensive, chequered black bib.

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Further Away

Today you may write a chapter on the advantages of traveling, and tomorrow you may write another chapter on the advantages of not traveling.

Henry David Thoreau: Journals. 18th March 1856.

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An overseas sort of bird.

Well, in the spirit of Christmas past – or perhaps I mean the Christmas post – this has ended up being a little late, as follow-up blog entries go. I’m sure you can forgive me for having been a little bit busy with last minute festive fripperies from shopping to baking to the creation of, er, beautiful music. Besides, I’m sure none of you will be reading this until about a week from now, since you will all be far too busy eating and making merry as well. For now, though, where was I? Ah yes, travelling. Forget everything I said last week. It’s a brilliant idea! The thrill of treading where one has never trodden before. Barriers broken down between previously isolated communities. The exchange of ideas. And the wildlife! As I’ve noted in the past, seeing a new species in its natural environment is a more satisfying experience than twitching vagrant birds, for example, though of the latter I plead occasionally guilty. Lists are hungry beasts.

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Closer

“When it was proposed to me to go abroad, rub off some rust, and better my condition in a worldly sense, I fear lest my life will lose some of its homeliness. If these fields and streams and woods, the phenomena of nature here, and the simple occupations of the inhabitants should cease to interest and inspire me, no culture or wealth would atone for the loss.”

Henry David Thoreau: Journals. 18th March 1856.

IMG_3582In the last couple of months, Wednesday has been my home day, a no-car day. For a variety of reasons most of my days for the last two weeks have been Wednesdays, in that I haven’t really been anywhere in particular. I’m beginning to get itchy feet. Or, since I’m a birder, perhaps I should say twitchy feet.  I long to be back out seeing the world, out in special places like the Arne peninsula or Salisbury Plain, collecting memories and year-ticks.

But what I have to remind myself is that mobility is a modern innovation. Motorcars, aeroplanes, trains, even bicycles, are all new-fangled contraptions on an epochal sort of scale.  Horses were an option, of course, if you could afford to keep one, or at least the cost of a place on the stagecoach. But they were about all that was available to Gilbert White, to name a famous example, as he pottered around his Hampshire parish in the 18th century. He and his fellow naturalists at the time and for long ages before would largely have travelled on foot. Even Darwin, once his globe-circling days on the Beagle were over, spent much of his life within the confines of his house and garden at Downe, and within the surrounding woods and chalk downs. So to claim that an interest in nature can only be fulfilled by ranging far and wide would be to deny the lessons of our forebears.

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