Wednesday, April 14, 2004

What is this blog about?

I feel obliged, should there be anyone else reading this, to explain what birding is.

It's probably better known as birdwatching, the act of watching birds. Yes, blokes, you can make jokes like "I like watching birds but not the ones with feathers! HA HA HA!" but we've heard them all before and they still aren't funny.

A good phrase to summarise what watching birds is about is used by the RSPB for one of their campaigns. It's: "Aren't Birds Brilliant!" Birding doesn't have to involve vast numbers of birds, or a rare or spectacularly-coloured species, or ones with beautiful songs, though it can be any of those. It could be something as simple as watching a Starling probing for leatherjackets in a lawn, or a Chiffchaff, newly-arrived from Africa, picking its way through a hawthorn bush. Or a House Sparrow building a nest under roof tiles. These are all fairly mundane things that you can see on the way to work every morning.

I find watching birds go about their daily business fascinating. There is so much about them that we don't fully understand. Actually, there are plenty of things that we have no idea about. How do birds navigate their way around the world? Why do some species agitate ants' nests and then wait for the ants to crawl all over them? How do birds tell each other apart? We may never know for sure.

On the other hand, spectacular birds, or ones that do odd things, are extremely interesting. One of my favourite sounds is the 'drumming' of the Snipe. It's a small wading bird with a long, sensitive, slightly flexible bill which it uses to feed in soft ground or mud. The Snipe 'drums' by flying high up in a display flight, then diving earthward and fanning out its outer tail feathers. They vibrate, making an audible humming noise.

Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is that birds are fascinating beings. They are constantly doing things beyond our comprehension. They are all around us. They come in many different shapes, sizes and colours, and are adapted to just about any environment and extreme condition you can think of.

Compare penguins (ice and intense cold. Incubates its egg/chick on its specially adapted feet) and sandgrouse (desert and heat. The males carry water on their breast feathers to their young at the nest). Birds are immensely strong (eg. Arctic Terns spending 'our' winter in the southern hemisphere, then breeding in northern Britain; tiny warblers migrating year after year to and from Africa), and at the same time delicate and beautiful (look at the same warbler up close and you wouldn't think it capable of such a feat).

In short, birds enrich our lives and my life is improved immeasurably by them.

Here are my favourite BBC News stories of the day:
European men outstrip Americans
Nasa helps its feathered friends

What's in my CD player: Awcmon - Lambchop