Sunday, November 13, 2011

I'm not envious, I'm jealous.

Fin whales off the Welsh Coast - image from Wales online

'What's the difference between envy and jealousy,' my son asked me this week. He had a new girl friend with him (note the separation of those words) and they'd been joking about my pedantry with language.

I played along, explaining that in common usage the two are now interchangeable. But technically, envy is a desire to have something others possess; a regret that it's beyond our reach. Whilst jealously is a fear of loss, a desire to hold on to what we already have - that's why we talk of jealously guarding.  'So you can envy someone's talents,' I explained, 'and still be jealous of their affections.' His new friend smiled and I left them to it.

This is a highly contrived introduction to my watching some nature programmes later in the week. The Frozen Planet was amongst them, but I'm also a late night addict of those documentary repeats on Sky. And the tendency when watching, aside from wondering at the diversity of life (and the photography that captures it), is to be envious of what's elsewhere - to wish we could experience it too: imagine, I said to Jane, the thrill of seeing a humpback whale.

Or a bird of paradise, a rhino charging; a colony of penguins. I watched this week, a piece about birdwing butterflies, laying single eggs on the leaves of particular vines, their caterpillars growing poisonous spikes that deter predators, at least if you're second in line. And all of this was fascinating and awe inspiring - and, frankly, beyond me, at least for the time being.

But on Friday I turned to Autumn Watch, the BBC's flagship of nature at home. This week's show was about the coast, and coincidentally to my envy, it showed Iolo Williams watching fin whales off Ireland, pods of dolphins following his boat. There were whales at Strumble this year too, and sunfish - and basking sharks passing regularly, occasionally turtles. It's good to be reminded of what we have here. But for all the magnificence of the rarer sights, I think it's the birds of which we should be most jealous.

There's a blog that lists local sightings, and on Thursday, four observers recorded.. two woodcock at Porthclais, along with great tits, coal tits, blue tits and blackbird. There were lapland and snow bunting on Skomer, a ring ouzel and a black redstart. At Castlemartin were sparrow hawks and kestrels, 600 lapwing, curlew, snipe, teal, shoveller, 10 choughs, 200 greenfinch, 150 linnets, 100 chaffinch and a few goldfinch. St Davids saw a Merlin in addition to some others above.

And this evening I'm going the three miles to Plumstone, for a clear night's forecast and I've noticed the starling gathering in our fields. At about 5.00pm, if I'm lucky, they'll fly to a small copse of trees on the edge of a nondescript moor. By December they'll be arriving in millions; the road will be white and the woods stinking of lime, and the raptors will be waiting too. It's one of the best sites (and sights) in Wales; something to be jealous of indeed.


  1. The awesome sight of a large flock of starlings really is something of which I'm jealous. Whereas I'm envious of those on the French blogs I follow who write about the long arrows of cranes flying south over their heads at this season. Nice post, Mark.

  2. I believe such collections and gatherings of birds is called Murmuration. There's an amazing amateur video of such a thing here - well worth the 2 minute's viewing time.

  3. Hello Mark:
    You are so right that one can be caught up with wanting to see more exotic species of animals and birds and yet there is so much wildlife in Britain to delight in.

    We are very lucky that our Brighton rooms look out to sea and have views to the Brighton Pier. Hundreds of Starlings roost among the supports of the pier and each night at dusk the sight of waves upon waves of them circling overhead is amazing, especially when set, as they most often are, against the most magnificent of magenta sunsets.

  4. We are just starting to see the great numbers of starlings here. At tea time they start to fly over in a Westerly direction, towards the bird reserves at Westhay. I find them slightly eerie, as their numbers are so great.

  5. I have been watching frozen planet with almost unbearable delight. What if we are truly f***ed and we are destroying it all so there will be nothing like it for my grandsons when they are grown?

  6. I reckon it's the unexpected sightings of wildlife which have the most impact.
    Though there are plenty of wonderful sights to see in Britain as Jane,Lance and yourself so rightly point out, I won't rest until I've seen elephants, narwhals and komodo dragon going about their business. What are my chances?
    Having said that, hummingbird, close-up kingfisher or the flock of starlings would do very nicely indeed.

  7. Frozen Planet is truly mindblowing and Elizabeth - I am buying the DVD for my grandchildren though I sincerely hope your fears are not realised.