What is is like to feel different? Many people who have been afflicted by mental health problems feel that they are isolated. If someone has never experienced depression, it’s difficult to understand the everlasting low moods of someone who suffers. If you are affected by social anxiety, then only you can understand why it’s completely impossible to socialise with a large group of people. This in turn increases your isolation.
I had never felt isolated until I went to boarding school. There I found myself among a group of unfamiliar people with whom I had little in common. I went to a public school which selected pupils to be ambitious and self-confident. This was just impossible for me: I was desperately homesick and every day was just a question of survival.
I felt physically very different from most people. At school there were so many things I couldn’t do: sports, PE, arts, metalwork and woodwork. Everyone else seemed to find these physical skills comparatively easy but I normally was the worst in the class. The teachers didn’t have any sympathy with those who couldn’t manage.
Even now I feel that I stick out in normal human company because I haven’t got married and I don’t have children. A friend once called me ‘eccentric’ which is the very last thing I want to be.
In contrast, I’ve found birdwatching is a friendlier activity because everyone has the same aim. People are happy to share their discoveries. I have only been able to see Bitterns through the kindness of fellow birders who let me watch these rare birds through their telescopes.
What about the birds themselves? Is there anything we can learn from their lives?
Possibly not. Some birds are bullies and pick on those that are weaker than them. Look at this huge male Mute Swan chasing geese out of the lake at Waddon Ponds in Croydon. Many swans are very intolerant, especially during the breeding season.
Geese are friendlier birds and I’ve often seen unusual geese mingling in with with big flocks of other species. For example this unusual goose, apparently a West of England breed, was feeding happily alongside the usual Greylags in Kensington Gardens:
The Mallard duck is the waterbird which comes in the greatest range of plumage variations. I’ve read that this is due to the duck’s ‘malleable’ genetic code. This may be partly due to interbreeding between wild Mallards and domesticated versions. These two dark ducklings in St James’s Park had an equally dark mother:
This duck, at South Norwood Lake, has particularly interesting plumage:
My favourite duck is this beautiful male Mallard at Hyde Park. Its plumage varies from creamy-yellow:
to pure white:
This is one duck is one bird on the lake that stands out as being different from most of the others – but even he is invariably accompanied by his mate and and a make companion.