A Focus On Nature

Advent Calendar

Many Wise Folk Came Bearing Gifts Of Knowledge – Ellen Marshall

Welcome to our 2015 Advent Calendar series (#AFONAdvent)! For each day in the lead-up to Christmas, we have a post from an A Focus On Nature member on this year’s Advent theme: “The Gift of Giving”. We hope that you enjoy the series and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The theme of this blog series is the gift of giving, and at first, I of course thought about all the inspirational and wonderful moments that nature itself has given me. I’m sure most of you reading this have many of your own, balmy summer evening walks, magical woodlands, rewarding local patches and of course, close encounters with wildlife.  Other blogs in this series have described these moments beautifully, and I won’t attempt to match them!

I’m thankful for all of these moments, many of which I experienced alone. But more often than not, there is somebody behind the scenes who got me there, who inspired me to go, who tipped me off about somewhere or something, or who simply told me an interesting fact that piqued my interest. These people have given me the gift of their experience and knowledge, and have enabled me, in a plethora of ways, to get to where I am today. It’s quite a roll call of individuals when I start to think of it, and it consists of family members, academics, colleagues, peers and even passers by.  I can learn as much as there is from degrees and courses, research papers, news and articles, but there is no substitute for first hand  expertise and know-how.

So, rather than turning this into a long Oscars speech of people I want to thank, I thought I would share just a few of the better titbits of information and the people that gave them, that have amazed, interested and given me a better understanding of the natural world over the years.

My grandma, who taught me the common garden birds long before I ever looked at a bird book.

A ranger at RSPB Abernethy, who taught me the charming difference between the poo of a grouse that has been incubating eggs, and the poo of a grouse that hasn’t. For those curious, a nesting poo is in a large clump, and even has a dedicated name – a clocker – (probably not the Scottish spelling)- and the other poo looks like a green wotsit.

A ringer in my group, who apart from alerting me to the fact that tree slugs are a thing, showed me that if you see brown lipped snails up on a tree trunk, it means they are trying to escape the heat.

A fellow birder at my local reserve, who’s name I never got, who pointed out my first ever Whimbrel.

A researcher in Scotland who taught me the difference between deer poos. (are you seeing a theme here?)

A german bloke at a wetland site in Mallorca, from whom I learnt the german for Osprey: Fischadler

This is a tiny, completely random selection, and I could go on almost indefinitely. Every single piece of information is a gift to me, allows me to better understand the world that I live in, and lets me get out there and find out more. They just cannot be replaced by dry information in a book, and we should all share these little gifts of experience as much as possible – after all, it’s Christmas!

Ellen Marshall is a field ecologist, trainee bird ringer and occasional art dabbler. Follow her on Twitter at: @ellensophiem