Anybody can be good in the country. There are no temptations there.
Oscar Wilde obviously hadn't visited Saltholme when he said this had he. A day out with the family and a long overdue visit to the RSPB's 'flagship' reserve in the North East was the order of the day. I've always found Teeside a strange place to go birding, there is something odd about birding with the set from Bladerunner or Terminator as the backdrop. The seemingly opposing forces of big industry and nature competing and coexisting in the same space. However it gets good birds and with the weight and experience of the RSPB at Saltholme the habitat should just get better and better as they get to grips with it.
As a destination for the family it was good, the outdoor play park kept the kids amused for a while as did the range of squeaking toys in the shop. Squeezing five around a small table in the first floor cafe was a little like one of the games on the Krypton Factor but we managed. The kids duly obliged showing off their birding credentials pointing at anything that flew past the huge window. Mrs T checked in for a sprinkling of retail therapy with the shop smellies and Joel suddenly got interested in trees at a cost of 7.99.
I glanced at the large white headed gulls bathing in the early afternoon sun as I poured a second cup of tea and picked at the extensive salad that came with my spicy beanburger. A few fired off shots of Black-tailed Godwit on the imaginatively named 'Bottom Tank' but truth be told I felt a little uncomfortable, something just didn't feel right and I couldn't quite put my finger on it at first. The staff were friendly and the facilities first rate but it was too sanitized, it felt like I could have been in an aquarium or a modern museum, it didn't feel like birding.
There was no hardship, I wasn't hungry, had it been raining I could have stayed dry, I couldn't feel the wind in my face (now I've turned into Denis Hopper) I somehow felt too connected to everything that I, I think we, as birders try to escape, retail, sales pitches, mall food, commercialisation etc.
Oh it's tempting, dining well to look up for the rare wader from the balcony cafe, not getting one's arse nettled when nature calls, all so easy but it didn't satisfy me in the way I get satisfaction from say pitching up on a layby and checking out a flooded field on a windy day or eating a pasty on a rain soaked headland in a northerly.
I understand that the RSPB needs places like this where the two worlds of birders/non birders collide in order to raise money and connect with the great British public.Maybe it's the first sign that I'm getting old but I found the sight of two unshaven scruffy birders with mud on their boots wearing four layers under the battered green weathered waterproof sat, scopes across the table, drinking latte, a little too incongruous, in fact just plain wrong.