Lapwing….

Wrestling the binoculars from my bag, I hurried to focus, desperate not to miss this treat.  But I needn’t have worried, my target was stationary, head held high, plume erect and elegant. A posing lapwing. I was overcome by a sense of relief. Eight years ago I’d spotted one nesting in this corner of the Peak District but since then, on every springtime ride, I’d searched in vain. Now one was back, displaying, climbing vertically and diving down to impress a potential mate while filling the air with its exotic call.

But it was just one lapwing. One. Back when I was a ploughman, I’d been followed by hundreds. They were as common as muck and I therefore knew nothing of their subtle beauty, the brilliant white throat, the lustrous irridescent plumage and flamboyant crest. Abundance blinded me because rarity had currency, drawing my attention away from the commonplace. Otters, hunted and polluted to near extinction, raptors, all but wiped out by gamekeepers, were the apple of my eye while many birds were simply, well, boring.

Which meant that the decimation of one species didn’t alert me to the dangers faced by others. As a kid in Essex, seeing a budleiia covered in butterflies, tortoiseshell, painted lady and red admiral was par for the course. Now it rarely if ever happens. Sparrows would fill our garden, chirruping and squabbling yet almost invisible to me. Now, I actually know exactly where I’m going to encounter small colonies of sparrows when out on my bike. How badly did I miss the decline? How did it creep up on me?

I’ve had to overcome this dismissal of the everyday. I remember being overjoyed when goldfinch began to frequent my garden but after a time, they took over the feeders, became bully boys in my eyes, thuggishly evicting other birds. I forced myself to look closely, to enjoy the dramatic colours, the infighting, the sublime song. When the scout comes in to the feeders and does a clockwork bird impression, swivelling from side to side and calling the others in, it makes me smile every time.

And I know the tits, bullfinch, dunnocks, nuthatch, siskin and the rest all get there turn on the perch. A preponderance of one species no longer fools me into the nature lover’s obsession with the rare, I revel in the abundance, hoping that current conservation measures will ensure that populations that are steady now remain so.

Because, as we know, pretty much everything is endangered and we are on the cusp of a disaster. Striving to find and record the rare is crucial, but enjoying the commonplace is to celebrate mother nature’s determination to survive the human onslaught.