Sharing the wonder of a pup’s eye view of the world

Inspired by his new canine friend Oisín, Stephen Colton reflects on the beauty of our surroundings

Boy and father birdwatching with binoculars
Serious birdwatchers tend not to like being called 'twitchers' (Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61)

In the birdwatching world, the word ‘twitcher’ can be contentious and even considered a derogatory term by many serious birdwatchers.

This is because, twitchers, using modern rare bird alerts, apps and personal networks will travel large distances at the drop of a hat to observe a new or rare species. Their obsession and primary interest is to see the new bird and add it to a life list.

All this is very different to the birdwatcher who enjoys the pleasure of observing common birds for their ordinary appeal, often recording colour, behaviour and habitat. Rare or new birds which present themselves are a bonus also to be cherished.

The term ‘twitcher’ first arose in the 1950s to describe a nervous birdwatcher, Howard Medhurst, who became very jumpy when out with friends on bird trips, especially when trying to locate and observe a new species.

His friends would, on future trips to see rare birds, mimic his nervous ‘twitching’ behaviour as a joke and so the expression spread through the birding world, becoming widespread by the 1960s.

I thought of the term recently when walking through a mixed woodland where a carpet of bluebells, wild garlic and marigolds, displayed vibrant colours while a screeching jay and melodic blackcap called out nearby - simple encounters enjoyed with no fuss, in the company of my new canine friend, Oisín.

Journeying on, other meetings with a gigantic beech tree, majestic Scots pine and some mallard provided Oisín’s first brush with ducks. His curiosity was noteworthy - no growling, barking or chasing, just inquisitiveness and wonderment at their form and movement.

Later, he came nose-to-nose with some cows where again, with an air of mystery, he peered through fence gaps at these curiously sociable creatures. Rooks and jackdaws probing soft ground were next on his discovery round as he looked on first before starting a chase, scattering them skyward.

His behaviour at observing these common sights for the first time, recalled from school days the Sara Teasdale poem, Barter, in which the American poet writes of the many everyday things we can enjoy.

She expresses the joy of witnessing the “loveliness” life has to sell, “All beautiful and splendid things/Blue waves whitened on a cliff/Soaring fire that sways and sings/And children’s faces looking up/Holding wonder like a cup.”

Inspired by his new canine friend  Oisín, Stephen Colton reflects on the beauty of our surroundings
Oisín is exploring new surroundings all the time

Later in the day Oisín, with youthful spirit and wagging tail, danced alongside a bumblebee, making mock attempts at catching the insect as it circled a flowering dandelion in search of pollen and nectar.

During these interactions, Oisín’s face was full of wonder as he regarded each new species with innocence and gaiety.

Welsh poet WH Davies in his poem Leisure asks, “What is this life if, full of care/We have no time to stand and stare” at nature’s many glories, ordinary things like a tiny daisy, humble sparrow, or mighty oak. Blake, too, asks us in Auguries of Innocence, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild flower”.

Oisín’s early exploration of his world, and our world also, has encouraged me to look afresh at natural things and observe them, as if for the first time, through more curious, appreciative eyes.

I am still reluctant to travel long distances just for the chase of a rare bird which, blown off course finds our shores. I prefer to enjoy the birds and creatures of my near environment as wonders of colour, song, and season. In future, I hope to watch them as Oisín does, with a sense of looking on, “Holding wonder like a cup”.