The sparrow used to be the commonest bird in Britain. Its name was almost a byword for durability and ordinariness, but they suffered badly from changes in agricultural practice and went into serious decline. Happily, they seem to be making a comeback, and the flock in my garden is burgeoning.
Serial bird watchers disparage sparrows and other similarly small, unprepossessing birds. They call them ‘LBJs’ – little brown jobs. Well, I’m not a serial bird watcher and I like them; I like them for their character and their very ordinariness. When you look at a sparrow you see no extravagant appendages, exotic markings or gaudy colours, you see a little brown job. That way, you get to see the bird itself with no distractions, and that’s what I want to see.
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This evening I saw a Tawny Owl sitting on the gatepost of a ripe wheat field. He stared at me as I approached, and then flew away when I stopped to stare back at him.
It’s relatively unusual to see an owl out and about in broad daylight, but it happens occasionally. I remember seeing a Little Owl once, sitting on a wall surrounding a ruined building on a wild part of the Northumberland coast where I was living. It had been used by the Knights Hospitallers during the Middle Ages, and the mournful sound the owl made seemed entirely in keeping with its surroundings. I even used the fact in one of my stories.