The Advent of the Crested HenfumblerWildlife is what buzzes round your head in a low-cost Bed & Breakfast and then dies in your egg. Wildlife is what trundles across the carpet every night as the news comes on. Wildlife is what joins you in the bath when you’d rather it didn’t. Wildlife is never where you want it to be.
Take up binoculars, dress as a section of woodland, lurk in a damp hollow and the chances are that you will see nothing. However, all around you will have had a field day, filling their notebooks with rare sightings of porpoise and pine marten. This is what happens in bird hides.
Scene: a draughty outpost on the edge of a bog
Enter Innocent Visitor (IV), anorak swish and heavy boot on creaking floorboard causing Serious Watchers (SW) at every window to spin round and glare.
IV settles on perch, raises field-glasses and stares. Five minutes pass like five hours. Silence broken by low whisper of Bearded Expert (BE) alongside –
BE: Pair of Brunwalters…
IV: Wha –
BE: Brunwalter’s Snorkelling Little Owls… crossing the Sound… 2 o’clock from bushy-
topped tree… the one with the Crested Henfumbler… hear it a mile off… that’s not
a Corbelled Goat Pipit, is it? Small brown thing… just gone down…
IV: I –
Small brown birds look like all other small brown birds in the book, but never a sure enough match for positive identification. They are too small for that. This is the other problem with wildlife: it is rarely the right size. Take ticks, too small to see until too late. Were ticks the size of elephants, you would spot them well ahead and take avoiding action. They would not be able to drop from the undersides of bracken, crawl up your leg, bury their heads in your flesh and gorge on the contents. It simply would not happen. (Conversely, elephants the size of ticks would be less likely to trample villages or be hunted for their ivory.) Or midges. A well designed midge would be the size of a ptarmigan, say, or grouse. That way, it would have been blasted out of existence long ago by gun-toting members of the aristocracy - all but a select few, hand-reared on large estates for sporting purposes (midges, that is, and also aristocracy). Which leads me to end on a footnote in history –
A regular jape for guests at weekend house parties thrown by Edward VII at Sandringham would be to find under the bedclothes as they retired an item from the day’s bag – a newly shot pheasant or hare – in place of the anticipated footwarmer. Now don’t tell me that lot did not know how to party.