THIS year I celebrate my 10th anniversary as a columnist for the Gazette Herald. As I look back over a decade of articles about watching wildlife, it’s funny to think when I first started and was worried I wouldn’t have enough material.
My articles have ranged the globe. There have been pieces about elephants in Namibia, marine iguanas in the Galapagos, and king penguins in Antarctica.
I decided to face up to my fears after becoming a father in my mid-30s and found myself struggling just to read my children a bed time story. So, as my daughter learned to recite the alphabet, I joined her – little did she know I was learning too.
I was also keen to discover more about wildlife. At night I sat up in bed and forced myself to follow the words on a page, using a ruler to keep my place. It was slow work, but “practice makes perfect” or so they say, and I can quite happily tackle a book now – so long as it is about wildlife.
The turning point came in May 2008 when I travelled down to a garden in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, to watch a family of urban foxes. I was there for a week and needed a record of my observations so I started jotting down everything I saw. When I read what I had written back to myself, I was quite surprised – it was actually quite good.
Back at home, I handed my scrawled notes to Lara, an employee who helps to promote my paintings and liaise with the press, or to my wife, Victoria, to type up.
I discovered that they were so interested in the wildlife stories I had to tell that the poor spelling and grammar didn’t matter so much. And encouraged by their interest the words soon began to tumble out.
Initially, I found structuring the order of a story a challenge, especially coming up with beginnings and endings. But I’ve discovered that while others might simply see a bird flying overhead or a deer running across a moor, my mind will go into overdrive as I unpick the secret story that this creature is sharing with me.
My readers have faithfully followed my experiences, sharing both my sadness when my local barn owl population was virtually wiped out during the savage winter of 2010 and my joy of being one of the few to film kingfisher chicks inside their nest in colour.
Thankfully, my knack of finding creatures wherever I go means I’ve yet to run out of wildlife stories. I’ve been known to get distracted by pied wagtails while shopping in York and once persuaded my family to abandon their Christmas lunch to watch a flock of waxwings feasting on berries in my parent-in-laws’ garden.
And it’s always a joy to be able to share my paintings and photographs as well.