The enduring appeal of birdwatching for those who love nature and natural history is partly that birds are so visible. Brightly coloured, reasonably sized and present just about everywhere you go, bird are easy to watch (at least in principle - try telling that to a birder who's just spent six fruitless hours in sub-zero temperatures trying to find a rare warbler or other LBJ (little brown job) lurking in the undergrowth!)
But once you spend any time birding, you begin, albeit slowly at first, to notice the other natural phenomenon around you. The trees, the wildflowers, the insects (whether biting you or not!) and , of course, the mammals. Mammal are endlessly fascinating to watch, as the enduring popularity of Big Cat Wildlife on One type programmes proves. Sadly, in Britain at least, they tend to be small, secretive and often nocturnal.
So each mammal encounter is special, and I have been lucky enough to have some wonderful moments watching them when out birding. Hares can be found near my house and at this time of year they are particulary exciting - breathless chases across fields, tumbling fights, lunacy of the highest order (Mad March Hares in fact). Watching an otter walk across a frozen pool at Minsmere in Suffolk is a particularly cherished memory.
And then, a few days ago, while enjoying a stolen moment or two out birding on my local patch, I came across a fox at closer range than ever before. As I watched a Moorhen on the local river, I moved by binoculars slowly upwards and there, staring back at me was the fox, just 10m or so away. I froze and we watched each other intently. As he looked away, I moved my tired arms, but froze again as he turned back. We continued this performance for five minutes or more before he finally got bored and trotted away into the undergrowth. Throughout the whole encounter I was staring deep into black eyes, watching that gently curving white patch around the mouth, and thinking to myself that this animal had a face which looked much more bear-like than its canine ancestory would suggest! Whatever it looked like, and from whatever it descended, it was part of yet another magic moment while out birding.