And if that didn’t scare you, nothing will. It is, of course, Halloween here in north Hampshire. Plagues of small children scuttle to and fro, cunningly disguised as comedy skeletons or white-sheeted ghosts, hauling bags of organic chocolate cookies and tangerines. Two and a half hours after the sun’s miserably early descent, I braved the pitch dark gloom and the depths of the local shop, dodging past a flock of ravenous zombie ducks by the pond. ‘Breeeead! Breeeeead!’ they seemed to quack. Yes, not-so-remote commuter villages are pretty hairy places at this time of year.
Joking aside, many of my best wildlife experiences of 2011 have been in the half light, or the gloaming. When our familiar, comforting dominion over the waking world seems, for a few hours, to subside, and we revert from hunter to hunted, predator to prey, namer and keeper of the animals to what in truth we each are, taken alone: small, vulnerable, fleeting.
Whilst in truth very few creatures abroad in the night hours will do us any real harm, darkness brings disorientation, and the slightest noise becomes seriously spooky.
And what better festival could there be to celebrate the power of night-life than Halloween?
Both of my readers are probably beginning to wonder when my next post is going to appear – it has been over a week. I was really getting into the swing of this blogging business, and suddenly in the last week felt like I had run out of things to say. Or perhaps run out of ways to say them. One of my intentions with this blog was to let a few days pass between first thinking of a topic or seeing something, and actually writing the post, to see what happened if I let things stew and tried to reach a ‘considered’ opinion. The clue to that is in the title. But as I have found, and I suspect most of us on my course have with our wildlife diaries, if you leave things too long you can lose the motivation to commit something to paper. On top of that, my desire to grapple with difficult issues or vexing questions, not that I have delved particularly deep so far, has been eroded over the last few weeks by constant debate, discussion, reflection, thought, and all those good things. I love to do all that, and it is necessary too – but really tiring.
Rob Burke via Wikimedia Commons
There is something truly wonderful about a wild mammal. I might go so far as to say a good mammal sighting can be the highlight of the wildlife enthusiasts day out, even this one. This may sound odd coming from somebody who is primarily fixated with birds, both in my outdoor pursuits and my indoor reading. I could list many, many reasons why birds are so very much more brilliant than mammals, though I think perhaps now is not the time or place. But whilst birds undoubtedly have a special, cosy little nesting space in my heart, and a peculiar grip on my psyche, perhaps even on the psyche of the country above all other groups, one of the primary reasons I go bird watching is because birds are what you tend to see. Take a look outside the window now, and I can almost guarantee the first, and probably only wild animals you see will be birds. You can go out birding, and expect to see birds. Maybe not fantastically rare or elusive birds, but you will see birds. At least thirty species, quite possibly lots more, in just about any part of the country, with not too much searching.
How about mammals though? You can’t really go ‘mammaling’ in the same way. You’d see plenty of Homo sapiens sapiens of course, a few tree rats, sorry, I mean Grey squirrels, maybe if you are lucky a deer. Oh, and rabbits. But anything else is definitely not guaranteed, and therefore a rare treat. In fact, it is of course much like seeing something like our Tawny owl from last week – something you know is here all around us, but so seldom seen as to make any glimpse particularly memorable. Therefore I can see lots of good birds on a bird-watching trip, but when I get home the first thing I mention might be watching a fox sun itself on a bank, or the time I saw a Stoat running across a shingle beach in West Sussex.