The Rewards of Apparent Indifference

If you want to catch a playful dog, like our new friend Melba, it’s as well to pretend you are not interested in doing any such thing. The rabbits on Abbot’s Hill can tell when Melba is up for the chase and soon make themselves scarce. Wild birds will disappear if they feel something is watching them, hence the joy of a cold hide on the edge of a winter’s lake.

In the Nineteenth Century Richard Jefferies put it this way:

This is the secret of observation: stillness, silence, and apparent indifference. In some instinctive way these wild creatures learn to distinguish when one is or is not intent upon them in a spirit of enmity; and if very near, it is always the eye they watch. So long as you observe them, as it were, from the corner of the eyeball, sideways, or look over their heads at something beyond, it is well.

(from The Gamekeeper at Home, available at Project Gutenberg)

This evening’s encounter was fleeting. I was walking past the hazel bush on our street (yes, the squirrels did get all the nuts) when I heard a quiet, musical squeaking. Not from my boots, but at ear level; something on the railway? No, a young cock blackbird, his feathers very dark but not quite black, his beak still a muddy chocolate brown. I don’t suppose he was trying his sub-song out on me, but I felt privileged to hear it for a few seconds as I continued walking so as not to disturb him.

Let’s hope he finds a mate to appreciate his full-throated song, come the Spring.

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