By my own admission, I have never really had much faith in my literary abilities. Self-consciousness which stems, predominately, from a simple fact: that I am not a writer by trade. I have no degree in English literature, have attended very few relevant courses and have worked, to date, solely in the field of conservation. I have, however, always loved writing, whether it be about wildlife, particularly local wildlife, or conservation issues. And have, more so over the past few years, aspired to one day amalgamate my twin passions of words and wildlife into a viable career. Something which still seems a long way off.
Recently, however, and spurred on a great deal by the kind comments of those who have read my blog posts, articles and sparse book pieces, I have decided to take what has always been a side hobby, to the next level. And attempt to write a book myself. The logistics of which have baffled me for months as I started off along a number of alternate tangents only to find myself deleting files in a frustrated huff. Coming up with a good idea is never easy, though I fear the answer has been staring me in the face all along – my fieldnotes. And now, I have a firm and reasonably unique idea and have begun drafting *gulps*. Largely under the pretence that you never quite know how things are going to turn out until you try. Here is an example of my first attempt to rush words on to paper, I am aware it needs a lot of work, but wanted to post a little something here nonetheless:
Two days into January and growing wearing of the tedious festivities and broken resolutions, I find myself departing just before dawn. Taking up my seat in the dunes just as the first rays of jaded winter sunlight begin to creep over the horizon: settling in to watch the forthcoming dawn and to enjoy, undiluted, the abiotic coastal sympathy. The only sounds to heard comprising the soothing lapping of the now high-tide and the light rustle of the southerly wind through the decrepit stems of marram and lyme grass. My eyes, once adjusted to the semi-darkness, soon fixated on the beach, where a thousand ghostly silhouettes cluster from surf to strand in a manner much the same as a Roman Testudo – shoulder to shoulder and ready to advance at any moment.
Time soon passes, perhaps thirty minutes or so; and as the light begins to banish dark, the battle lines waver and disintegrate. The birds – gulls – breaking rank, stretching wings and pacing restlessly too and throw. And like that, the seaside crescendo begins. A thousand voices raised in unison as mews, cackles and strident “kyows” of the many herring gulls reach a fever pitch. The precursor to the daily exodus. The mass, as one, soon taking to the air and sea, relinquishing their seaward roost to those who utilise it through the day. The dog-walkers, joggers and other humans visitors set to rise later, oblivious to unfolding spectacle.
I struggle to think of group of animals that generate a greater level of unwarranted animosity from the general public than our gulls. Except, perhaps, rodents and corvids. Gulls, particularly those of the Larus genus – our black-backs and herrings – lambasted near constantly: by the media, ever in search of a divisive story, and by beach-goers, peeved at the loss of their hard-earned chips. We brand them noisy, thuggish and brazen and often, I fear, overlook the simplistic beauty of the birds themselves. A tendency born of familiarity I suspect – gulls, much like pigeons, now a firm fixture of the many places we call our own: our towns, cities, industrial estates and gardens. Testament to their success as a species, adapting their habits alongside our own.
Growing up on the coast, I have always treasured gulls. Both for their beauty, and the ease at which they can be viewed. Far more confiding than most, demonstrated perfectly as I sit, and watch, a small contingent of young herring gulls aloft overhead, returning my inquisitive glances, no doubt in the hope of a chip or two. The smokey tones of the juvenile birds somewhat scruffy in comparison to their mature kin now languishing in the surf, pale heads raised and bills agape as they call incessantly at each other, myself and thin air, pulling my attention away from those overhead.
Even for the most patient of birdwatchers, picking through the squabbling, clamorous ranks of a gull flock is a trying affair – perhaps the reason so few bother. I certainly did not a few years ago. Though for those willing to try, January is perhaps the best time to do it – when many and more gulls flock to the more hospitable climes of our coast. Gulls of all shapes and sizes, dapper herrings and petite black-heads the two most numerous today it would seem. Although as my eyes pass expectantly from bird to bird, more species soon become apparent. Greater black-backs, the largest gull in the world no less, and the softer faces of common gulls soon discerned as they bob on the unseasonally gentle wavelets. The former looking altogether foreboding with their slate black plumage and colossal yellow bills. Bills which scream power, at which many smaller seabirds have likely met their end, but which are promptly forgotten as less familiar shape passes elegantly into view. The unmistakable flashes of white and grey that herald the arrival of a little gull.
Little gulls, as their name suggests, are indeed rather little. Our smallest gull no less – something made frightfully apparent as the bird before me passes lightly beneath the hulking frame of a waking black-back. Though using the term “ours” may be a slight exaggeration as until fairly recently, these birds had not bred on our shores. And despite the recent success of a pair in Scotland, remain somewhat of a scarcity. Their dancing flight setting my heart to racing whenever a chance encounter takes place. Though this is the first time such an encounter has taken place here, on my own local patch. The realisation of this leading to a troubling conclusion: that absent the patience to properly scrutinise the flock, I surely would have missed it. Day one, and the waiting game is already yielding fruit it would seem.