I have been quite well known (over the years) for uttering the phrase "use your eyes" more regularly than most - in fact my first blog was subtitled "Use your eyes" as were my first four photography portfolio books.
I have never forgotten how fortunate I am to have excellent eyesight and rather like my maternal Grandfather before me, am most interested in donating to human charities that deal with eyesight issues.
I think I picked up the "skill" to use my eyes (properly) from my father during our country walks when I was growing up (I guess he showed me what to look out for and how to look - his eyesight was excellent also) and now that I am married, I am also lucky enough to be married to someone who uses her eyes as well as I do. In fact, on the rare occasion that I miss things - my wife always sees them and tells me - I rely on Anna's sight as much as my own these days if not more than my own very regularly...
It amazes me how many people (this goes for virtually everyone) go about their daily routine and see NOTHING. They might as well have no eyes at all. It also amazes me how many people notice nothing, look at nothing nor use their (very often excellent I'm sure) eyesight at all.
They'll not notice the peregrine sitting high above them on the city tower, nor the fox trotting alongside a roadside hedge a hundred yards away, nor the lizard basking on that sand dune a few yards away from their feet - nor the hare's ears pricked and alert in the long grass in the field which they walk their dog, nor the huge-eyed jumping spider watching the procession of ants across the fence post on which they lean.... they'll notice nothing around them.
Is it because they're not interested in anything around them (other than the 6 feet surrounding them and any human standing within that bubble)? I doubt it. At least I hope not, but thats the impression I get sometimes...
Well.... before my eyesight deteriorates (as it surely will like everyone else) and before Anna's does too, we'll keep looking and seeing and noticing and thank our lucky stars that a) we still can and b) we still DO.
A good example of this (using eyes) occurred yesterday, as I warmed down after my (now) daily run through my favourite bit of local countryside.
I had just run three miles and as I walked towards the car, stretching my limbs, I approached an old tree stump (oak I think) that sat road side and which I'd run past at the start of my run almost half an hour earlier.
I knew there was a hole in the stump, about 7 feet off the ground, so I thought I'd peep in (as best I could) and see if there was anything "interesting" therein. You never know do you and you'll not find out if you don't look...
I walked in the middle of the road (the highest point of most roads) and got on my tiptoes to peer inside the hole.
And a barn owl peered back at me from the darkness!
I moved away pretty sharpish (I had no desire to disturb the owl or make it take fright nor flight!) and once again thanked my lucky stars.
Now I could have done what most people would have done after my run and walking down that lane. Got my stopwatch out, fiddled with my ipod, looked down at the tarmacadam or my feet, gazed at my car 300 yards away - taken NO notice at all of anything even remotely interesting happening around me - because hey... I know that road well and I don't need to look do I? I didnt need to look at that tree, let alone IN the tree.
Its no wonder that most RTCs (Road Traffic Collisions in "Police talk" (they've deliberately stopped calling them RTAs or accidents)) happen within a mile or two of one's home address - the drivers simply aren't looking (or seeing) at that point - they've seen it all before haven't they?
I rose very early at dawn this morning to go for another run and see if the owl was still roosting in this roadside tree.
I am very pleased to say it is still there - and if I time it right, I may be able to pick up some nice fresh barn owl pellets for Anna's biology classes again (I have furnished her with a few pellets from owls over the years and she's only just told me they've run out....)
But what is this owl doing there?
Firstly I should point out that the barn owl is roosting in a tree not half a mile from our little owl nest. That shouldnt really be a problem for either species though - more of an annoyance if they bump into each other but thats all really.
I do hear that this particular farm has a pair of barn owls nesting in one of the (several) barn owl boxes on the estate. I haven't seen a box (other than the box our little owls have "procured") nor any barn owls during my runs around the farm.
It is breeding season at present - so either this is one of the breeding owls, roosting away from its developing chicks during the day (very possible) or its a "nomadic" (single) owl that has strayed a little close to the breeding barn owls on the estate and is roosting in the roadside tree to keep out of trouble (less probable but plausible I suppose).
I'm not about to take any photographs of this owl yet as a) I don't know what its doing roosting there and we're still very much in breeding season and b) barn owls are schedule 1 birds (as are kingfishers for all you "wildlife photographers" out there who ignore the law).
It's lovely to know though, that well within a handful of miles from our house, we have breeding tawny owls (saw one at dawn this morning during my run), breeding little owls AND barn owls - but you'll only see them if you.....
USE YOUR EYES....