I started birdwatching at 12, leading to a career in the Forestry
Commission where I led on Environment and Recreation. I was a member of
RSPB Council and co-authored the Poyser ‘Birds and Forestry’ with Mark.
Now most of my birdwatching is in a magic valley in the Languedoc
swarming with Nightingale, Turtle Dove, Corn Bunting and Woodlark.
We all know about shifting baselines but what was it really like ? Are our memories simply rose tinted ? Looking through old bird notes I found this account of a walk in perfectly ordinary countryside south of Oxford when I was sixteen.
6 June 1971
It wasn’t a very nice day but a lot of birds were about. I went for a long walk to some gravel workings down by the Thames. In the valley a Cuckoo was cuckooing and a skylark sang from the field next to our garden. In a reedy pond in Radley Park a Grasshopper warbler was reeling and I got a beautiful view of a Turtle Dove which flew out of a tree. A large number of Swifts flew overhead with House Martins. Also in the park I saw a pair of Bullfinches and a Yellowhammer.
On the other side of Radley, wheat fields were full of Yellow wagtails as well as a small flock of Linnets and Goldfinches but the best bird was a Whitethroat carrying food. At the gravel pits there were Pied wagtail, another Whitethroat and about 200 Sand Martin and in the woods nearby a Stock Dove and another Turtle Dove.
On the way home there was another Turtle Dove on the wires but the best bird was a Corn bunting which I saw and heard really well. “
Mark’s BBS square blogs are a good comparator for what you’d see today in a random piece of agricultural countryside. No doubt someone has a patch that could rival my 1971 experience but one certainly won’t find it in a random part of arable England.