Moments in Time – Counting Birds by Mike Haynes

I have been privileged to have nature deliver a moment in time that sticks in the memory. One of the animals that can often achieve this is the arctic fox and a favourite moment of mine to recall is this.

For research purposes I was counting barnacle geese that were flying overhead in their thousands. They were all going in the same general direction and heading presumably for their nesting grounds or perhaps for a particularly abundant food source. Wherever it was they were heading, they passed overhead in formations, each of hundreds of birds, for several hours.

I found a comfortable spot, out of the wind, facing the right way between some boulders and settled down on a piece of driftwood, padded with a piece of closed cell foam mat and began to count. Every few minutes, I’d pause the count, get up and look around carefully for any signs of polar bear. Nothing seen, I’d settle down again and count some more. I thought I had established a safe working procedure.

We both stared at each other for what seems now in memory to be several minutes and perhaps was even less than one. It was certainly longer than I had expected of this usually wary creature.

Quite some time into the counting, I was startled by the sight of an inquisitive arctic fox who just appeared, from nowhere, just a few feet from me. My first thought, alarmingly I realised soon after, wasn’t ‘this could have been a polar bear’. My first thought was how beautiful the arctic fox was and how privileged I was to be so close to it, I could see every detail.

I moved first, as I realised that in fact, I hadn’t looked around for some minutes and perhaps that unseen polar bear could be getting closer. When I settled back down again, to my surprise the arctic fox was still there, exactly in the same place, with what I imagined to be a curious look that just made me smile. I suspected then that had a polar bear been heading our way, more than likely the arctic fox wouldn’t have been hanging around, watching a human being. After a short time more, perhaps even a minute or two, the arctic fox went on it’s way. Never looking back.

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