Last year when we visited Yosemite National Park in California, my husband and I were astounded at the number of times we were a) told that we probably wouldn’t see any wildlife b) pushed past by other tourists in a hurry to get to the next sight on the map & c) interrupted from our quiet enjoyment of the area by those same tourists talking overly loudly at each other. Despite all of these though, we did see wildlife and in abundance too. Among others there were lots of song birds, three species of woodpecker, chipmunks, chickarees and ground squirrels, mule deer (less than 10 yards from the trail), even a coyote. It got me thinking that perhaps people were simply unaware of the wild wonders around them. They didn’t seem to be looking anywhere other than at where they were putting their feet, or listening to each other, let alone the birds. Moreover, they were marching from one information board to the next as though it was some sort of workout session. No wonder we were being told there was nothing to see; if they weren’t seeing it themselves, why would they believe there was anything more?!
Recently though, the notion that the world around us goes unnoticed by so many people has been brought to my attention again. I belong to a local photographic club. I really enjoy taking part in activities, helping others and being inspired by their work. Lately I’ve noticed a growing trend among other members, judges and visitors: when looking at wildlife images (not necessarily mine I might add!): They first say how beautiful they think it is and then that the photographer must have been so lucky to see that creature because they’ve never managed to see one let alone get close enough to photograph one.
This of course may be true for certain images; unusual or foreign species aren’t accessible to everyone yet we are seeing increasing numbers of this sort of image. Some subjects that I’ve heard this sort of comment about have surprised me though: Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Hare… to name just a few. Now don’t get me wrong, I know these species aren’t necessarily abundant in every corner of the country, and I personally still feel lucky to have spent time watching and photographing all three, but compared to say an Ocelot, Hummingbird or Giant Salamander they are far more easily observed by most people!
So why are these creatures apparently so elusive to so many people? My personal thought on the matter is that with the demands of modern life: jobs, family, pets etc. and the draw of technology like television, mobile phones or computer games as a method of relaxation, we have forgotten to connect with the world around us.
We hear this sort of statement with increasing frequency in referral to the next generation; that children need to learn to connect with nature. It is undoubtedly true, but it seems to have escaped notice that many people in older generations are just as disconnected. How many adults outside of environmental professions do you know who can name more than half a dozen wild plants in the hedgerow or identify birds in their garden without resorting to a book?
I am often told that I notice things which others don’t, be it an insect or flower that others might just walk past, the behaviour of birds in my garden indicating the presence of a predator, or the fact that there have been bluebells flowering in my local woodland for over a month already.
I used to travel by train a lot and loved watching the landscape rush past outside the window, trying to see what I could spot. I always wondered if others on the train had seen the same thing. Had they noticed the deer grazing on the embankment? The fox curled up in a sunny spot in the sidings? The kestrel hanging in the wind on the roadside by the level crossing?
Now I wonder whether the Green Woodpecker feeding on ants in my lawn as I write is really such an unusual sight, or whether we are all so engrossed in our own lives that the wildlife blends seamlessly with the background blur so that we no longer see it even if it’s there. Perhaps it’s time to take a leaf out of our own book and slow down to connect with nature on a daily basis.