Caught by the River

Eagles in California, Tigers in London

Will Burns | 10th August 2010

by Will Burns.

There are certain things in the natural world that will never, ever cease to raise my spirits, no matter how often I experience them, or how small or commonplace they seem to be. When I see a bird of prey, even the now almost ubiquitous Red Kites, it just makes me feel something, the same when I see a swallow flying, or swifts and martins in the summer sky. There is a stirring in my chest, and I feel somehow ageless and intrinsically linked to some timeless, fiercely alive and ancient Earth. The feeling is expressed with more eloquence than I could ever hope to muster in Raymond Carver’s brilliant poem, Eagles.
But there is another feeling of exhilaration that comes from the seemingly ceaseless habit of watching wildlife, and that is the excitement of seeing something new. Something you have never seen before. Sometimes this is something you have waited to see, a bird or animal that you long for, romanticize, that you yearn to watch hove into view over some spectacularly prescient vista.
I had a moment just like this a couple of years ago in Northern California, when for two weeks or so, I had scoured the sky almost endlessly hoping for an incidental Bald Eagle sighting (I was not on a trip designed specifically to see these birds, which, like Red Kites in Buckinghamshire, can be seen fairly commonly in the right places). But suddenly, one evening while setting the picnic table outside my cabin for dinner, two of these awesome birds flew across my eye line and away across the lake behind the cabin (that they were following hot on the tail of an Osprey completed in one evening the secret “to see” list in my head for the trip) and I was struck dumb.
Then there is that other, different first moment, one that can be even more exciting, even more rewarding, perhaps because it most acutely captures the childlike wonder and heady, adrenal rush which is right down at the heart of all this fishing, bird watching, hunting or butterfly collecting, and that is the sight of something you hadn’t looked for, hadn’t heard about, hadn’t expected or maybe hadn’t even known existed before it miraculously appeared before you and changed your life.
Last night, while I was watching TV at a friend’s house, I was called upon to come and have a look at something. I rushed upstairs to be shown the most beautiful black and yellow moth resting on the wooden bedroom door. We ooohed and aaahed, and tried to take photographs of it. I had never seen anything like it, and was filled with exactly that sense of wide eyed excitement that takes me right back to seeing my first Tawny Owl, hearing my first dawn chorus or catching my first trout.
This friend of mine is from Jersey and this morning, I looked the moth up so I could tell her what it was we had seen. It was a Jersey Tiger. And a beautiful and wonderful new thing lodged in my brain. The second most beautiful thing from Jersey in the house that night. Like the song says, “Saw a butterfly, named it after you…”, my little Jersey Tiger.