Looking at Birds is aptly subtitled ‘an antidote to Field Guides‘.
John is making the point that identifying birds is only the beginning, and that to be open to other ways of watching birds will greatly enhance our time spent doing it. He suggests that we should enjoy the “many times when, because of light or background, the bird is unpredictably different or when behaviour shows a bird in a new way.” These moments create evocative memories that can take us back to the time and place of seeing and “transform our bird watching into poetry”.
It has been a real pleasure to re-read the book while sorting out the original illustrations to go up on the website. As well as the early chapters on thinking about relative size, shape, colour, behaviour, wind and water the last two chapters invite us to think deeper about what we are seeing.
Chapter 11 is entitled The Rainbow and the Cuckoo, and is a call to be on the lookout for the unexpected. This was a game we played as children too, partially introduced to relieve the tedium of long car journeys I suspect, but Dad encouraged us to look for patterns and interesting conjunctions of things at all times. He gives some great examples in the book, and I’m not surprised by the ‘oblivious golfer’ cartoon. Dad was firmly of the belief that ‘golf was a walk spoiled’!
A Great Time by W. H. Davies see wikipedia page
Beyond the town, where wild flowers grow—
A rainbow and a cuckoo, Lord!
How rich and great the times are now!
Know, all ye sheep
And cows that keep
On staring that I stand so long
In grass that’s wet from heavy rain—
A rainbow and a cuckoo’s song
May never come together again;
May never come
This side the tomb.
The last chapter discusses the role of the imagination, not in identification, but to look beyond the outward appearance and see into the lives of birds. “I wonder why?” being an important question. As John says, imagination to “help us discover connections between ourselves and the natural world. It adds another dimension to how we interpret what we see, and makes events all the more memorable.”
The final postscript says it all;
“Nature is always on the move. May we all have time to look, time to see and think, and many exciting and memorable days to share with the birds we look at”
John Busby, Looking at Birds p.95