Hay fever and climate change

Last year on 28th February I wrote this:

Last year it wasn’t until March 12th that I complained about hay fever. Nearly two weeks earlier, this year.

Well, it’s only the 9th, and my eyes have been painfully sore for days. Because of these little buggers I took a picture of yesterday:


It’s not really fair to make year-on-year comparisons, because I haven’t consistently blogged at the first sign of any symptoms. But I’ve been getting hayfever for about 15 years now, and this is ludicrously early. I think of it as starting in March; this year the first itchiness at the back of my throat was at the end of January.

So I was interested to see this article. Basically the guys at Kew Gardens are making the same observation. They link it to climate change, and it certainly feels like yet another warning, along with the ibises and egrets and spoonbills, that climate change is happening right now and it’s not only affecting glaciers in Greenland.


Epistem [ornith] ology

I went for a walk in the local woods a couple of days ago, and forgot to take my binoculars because in my head I wasn’t birding, I was just going out to enjoy the spring sunshine. That’s silly, of course; its not something you can turn off. Even if I’m in central London, there’s a little bit of my brain ticking over in the background in readiness, just in case something more interesting than a pigeon should fly past. And walking through the woods on a sunny day in late March, with all the birds gearing up for the breeding season and not too many pesky leaves on the trees, it inevitably became a birdwatching walk.

I saw Woodpigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Wren, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, and Starling. Nothing very surprising, but reasonable enough for London. And actually I quite enjoyed doing some naked-eye birding; just watching the birds, unmediated by binoculars.

But I was thinking how frustrating I would have found the same walk if I wasn’t familiar with the local birds. By the nature of the thing, most of the birds were some distance away, or partially obscured, or in shadow, and the only reason I could generally identify them quickly and easily was that I knew them well. The same sightings of unfamiliar species would have seemed like glimpses.

It’s an odd experience when you see new species for the first time. It’s almost like you don’t actually see a bird, you see an unstable collection of impressions. Everything can be misleading, depending on the lighting and angle; even the most basic things like size and colour are elusive and untrustworthy. You can catch a flash of white on the head and not know whether it’s the throat or an eyestripe, or see some pale colour on the wings and not know whether it’s white or grey or yellow. You can lose sight of it for a moment and find it again and not be completely sure whether it’s the same bird.

And then there’s a moment, when you’ve seen it enough times, when it abruptly switches from being a inchoate mess of birdiness to a type, a species. And the next time you see one you just recognise it. Since this moment of coalescence is often associated with finding it in a field guide, it sometimes feels as though by naming it, you have given it form.

And if you tick off a new bird without having internalised it in that way, no matter how sure you are of the identification, it’s never quite as satisfying.


pelted with cast off shoon

What wrong with this picture?

snow in March

Answer: the time of year it was taken. Snow is all very well in its way, but I’m about ready for Spring now, thank you.


That time of year again

Last year it wasn’t until March 12th that I complained about hay fever. Nearly two weeks earlier, this year. Could be global warming; more likely just me being more irritable.

Amusing bonus bit of web 2.0 gimmickry: you can see the culprits here.


Spring is sprung

I can tell that spring is here because my eyes have started itching like crazy. These are the culprits, hazel catkins:

picture from Flickr, © ‘Nunns’

It always seems unfair when my hay-fever gets going and the weather is still cold and miserable. Spring is definitely coming, though. It may still be cold and grey, but there are little bits of green appearing on the trees, the birds are singing, and there’s frogspawn in the pond. Today’s treat was a goldfinch displaying in the garden. This is a goldfinch (if it looks unfamiliar, you may be thinking of the American species):

picture from Flickr, © HOPires

The sexes look the same, but presumably it was a male displaying to a female. He was perched near her on the feeder pole, chirping and doing a little dance. He was standing on one spot and turning his body left and right in little abrupt movements – rather Chubby Checkerish – all the time with his wings slightly spread to show off the wingbars. She seemed more interested in the niger seed, but perhaps she was just playing hard to get. When they flew off, I noticed another goldfinch joined them and also started displaying.

I didn’t know they did that, so I was pleased to see it.