Eight years is a long time to wait to meet another wildlife enthusiast on your local patch. My beloved Stokes Field - a local nature reserve just a minute's walk from my front door - is so tiny, so humble in comparison to almost every other patch of green space in Surrey that I'd just come to the conclusion that no one other than me was recording wildlife there.
Walking around a patch knowing that you are most likely the only person there actively looking for wildlife can be surprisingly lonely, with no one to share bird stories on summer evenings and no one to skip and prance around fields in search of moths with. I have very specific needs.
There I was walking through one of the many footpaths that criss-cross the reserve the other day, like I have done for the past eight years, when suddenly
my long lost soul mate an old man passes me, fully kitted out with binoculars and camera. I was flabbergasted. Someone else. On MY reserve. Looking for wildlife. A thousand questions crossed my mind - what? who? how?
I tried to keep a cool head, and quickly remembered how to greet a birder.
"Alright" I uttered casually, trying to make it sound like it wasn't the big deal it was. "Any birds about?".
"Well, actually I'm looking for butterflies" he replied.
SCORE - he's into lepidoptera. I can have a long butterfly related conversation with him, I thought to myself.
"Oh, any butterflies about?"
"Erm, there's a Brown Hairstreak around the blackthorn bushes over on the west boundary" he muttered.
"Oh, nice. I've never seen one here before. Good find." I replied, trying and failing to keep the grin on my face.
He walked away. I walked away too, then stopped and tried to process what he'd said. He'd just seen a Brown Hairstreak. I was no longer flabbergasted at the fact that I'd just seen someone wearing binoculars for the first time on the patch, but at the fact that they'd seen an extremely elusive butterflies I've only previously dreamt of finding amongst the reserve's many blackthorn bushes. I hurried over to the area he'd mentioned, stared at the blackthorn for a couple of hours before finally...
There it was. A little gem high up in a blackthorn bush but sticking out like a sore thumb - one of the most beautiful butterflies I've ever seen, made all the more special because it was on the patch. The ability for such a small, under-managed site to harbour such quality wildlife never ceases to amaze me, and just goes to show how important our urban green spaces are for promoting biodiversity.
Big thanks must go out to the binocular-camera guy who pointed me in the right direction for the butterfly, without whose help I would almost certainly have walked right past it. No doubt he was probably just as surprised to see me on his patch as I was to see him on mine!