Memories of a Young Birdwatcher
Why, at age 63, can I vividly remember the day I discovered my first ever Partridge and Shelduck nests aged 11? I could take you to the precise location tomorrow and, if I could paint, I could precisely re-create those images that have stuck in my head from 50+ years ago.
Bird nests are infinitely varied in location, structure, materials, lining and design. Some are nothing more than a scrape in the ground, some an actual hole in the earth (as per my Shelduck above), some a hole in a sandbank (Sand Martin), or a hole in a tree (Woodpecker). Some nests are massive platforms high up in a fir tree (e.g. Osprey) … the list goes on and on.
For me there is something quite awe inspiring and wonderful and thought provoking about bird nests. Aged 11 I was *mesmerised*.
How does a first time nest maker know:
- where to build?
- where to find the right materials?
- what goes where?
- how to construct the outer shell?
- how to construct the inner lining?
- where to put the entrance?
How does it work out what will be a difficult location for predators to access?
Why does a Song Thrush create a perfectly semi-circular mud lined cup, but the Mistle Thrush nest has no such lining, and creates a nest more like that of a Blackbird?
Why are bird eggs coloured or marked so very, very differently? It stands to reason why eggs of ground level nesters, like Partridge, need to be camouflaged - but why are Starling eggs a vivid spotless bright blue, and the eggs of a Song Thrush similar but with spots?
And then to cap my 11 year old wonderment … those eggs hatch … normally into pink, featherless, big eyed and big beaked `mini-dinosaurs`.
This love affair with birds and their extraordinary architecture has remained with me my whole life - influencing my choice of home - fronting as it does a mud-banked estuary that is home to many waders and seabirds. My binoculars hang by the door - ready at a moment’s notice to help me identify a call, a nest or an unusual new avian visitor.
The really vital legacy of those free-range days of my youth however, is my reliance upon nature to retain my physical health, resilience, positivity, balance and sense of wonder. When a Curlew calls, I’m 11 years old all over again.
Richard Cooper Feb 2022