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“Fings Aint What They Used To be”

By

15th August 2014

I was recently addressing US birders about the way things have changed since I was a boy that have fundamentally altered the route into birding for young people.

These days much of wildlife appreciation starts within the classroom, lecture hall or college club. Often youngster are way ahead of their elders on concern for the environment and determined to make things better in the future… just as well when the current agricultural, commercial and political leaders are royally mucking it up! Projects started by the biology teacher get followed up at home and on the net and maybe, just maybe, by nagging parents or grandparents to take them out into the real wild.

The thing is we are so much more urban now. Even countries that prize the great outdoors above all else (like Australia) have populations that are more than 90% city dwellers.

As we all scramble to make a living we spend more time with work colleagues than we do with family. When we are all at home at the same time we tend to be all doing ‘our own thing’. We not only lead more busy lives but have become fragmented making more investment into interest groups and e-friends that our neighbours or neighbourhood. Family life no longer consists of everyone around the dinner table or even mum, day and kids cuddled up in front of the telly together. Every room has a TV, every child an X-box or iPod and every adult an iPad or PC and our ‘free’ time is spent hooked up to a virtual world.

I didn’t know about birds because I did a project on them in class. I didn’t discover a love of trees from watching the Discovery channel, but from climbing them or hiding among them. I knew which plants could be harvested for an autumn lunch and which would get your stomach pumped not from a book but from experience and local lore.

Birds were part of the landscape of my rural youth. They sang in the woods and fields I played in. They built their nests in the hedgerows I foraged for cob nuts and blackberries. Martins nested in the eaves of our house and took crumbs and bacon rinds from our bird table.

I didn’t learn about birds behind a desk or via a screen but by osmosis as I sat with fishing pole in hand by a tranquil lake on a summer evening. Doves cooed, Coots called, Flycatchers caught flies and if you were very lucky a Kingfisher would flash by faster than a speeding bullet displaying more vibrant colours than superman’s suit. I learned patience and calm and to appreciate beauty and to want to preserve it for my children and theirs in turn.

Dad’s quiet voice told me about the Swallows long journey and together we discovered a cuckoo in the nest of a warbler. His love of the woods and wildflowers, his naming of every newt and shrew seeped into me with the summer sun. He showed me how to stalk a fish, bring it to the bank without harm and respectfully return it to the water, while all around the wild world went about its business.

My son is always looking for ways to get his kids interested in nature not by foisting birding trips on them but by getting out in the park and woods to play and continue the family tradition of creating naturalists through osmosis.

I was once on a Pelagic off New Zealand, riding the waves surrounded by shearwaters and being followed by a Royal Albatross. Behind me an American youngster piped up “Gee, this is almost as good as Disney World.” Perhaps we should put a large neon arch on the road to the edge of town with a flashing sign saying ‘Wild World’ and charging a fee for entry and perhaps kids would badger their parents into taking them there!


Related Internet Links:
Grumpy Old Birder
Fat Birder
Birding for All

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