Sunday, 13 May 2012

A week in words

It's been quite a week chez marsh tit, work-wise, life-wise and wildlife-wise. In the briefest of summaries:

On Wednesday morning at six o'clock I met a group of birdsong beginners outside the beautiful BTO headquarters in Thetford. Through rain, light and heavy, we trained our ears and our minds to blackcap and garden warbler songs, reed and sedge warbler songs, and the bright burbling of a female cuckoo. A kingfisher zipped past, a male cuckoo flew by singing, and, in spite of constant drizzle and rain, we had a marvellous morning of birds.

On Wednesday afternoon, Rebecca (NWT PR and communications manager, media guru, and creme egg dipso) made three more short films with me, in our series on The Wildlife Trusts' vision for Living Landscapes. At NWT East Wretham Heath it rained and at NWT Wayland Wood it rained. We finished the films all the same and in the wood I was tickled pink to see goldilocks buttercups in lopsided flower (little things... little minds).

On Wednesday evening celebrated US naturalist and tour-leader Rich Hoyer came to stay, at the end of his tour of colleagues and friends in Europe. I have known Rich since my early days in Bolivia and we shared much talk of Bolivian bird taxonomy and much gossip of the Bolivian birder community. Happy days.

On Thursday morning I helped Leanne at the Hawk and Owl Trust's beautiful Sculthorpe Moor Community Nature Reserve, introducing thirty primary school children to the muddy joys of pond-dipping. All the while a damp barn owl flapped damply over a paddock.

From there I took Rich to NWT Thursford Wood where the bluebells were ablaze and I saw my first two large red damselflies, indeed my first British Odonata, of the season. Having spent just a year in Germany, twenty years ago, Rich displayed a knowledge of European bird vocalisations, plant taxonomy and natural history that puts most of us British naturalists to shame. Next we visited a little owl nest tree, where one owl sat sulking on an ivy-covered bow.

On Thursday afternoon I had cause to visit Glandford. At Letheringsett, on my way back, a frost-winged Mediterranean gull floated over the road. I may have said it before: Med' gulls are heavenly creatures and I'm thrilled to see them more and more. In the evening I heard common terns along the river behind my house. Heavenly creatures too.

On Friday morning I skived. I woke early and the sky was clear so I hied me to Salthouse Heath. I spent an age lurking in the bushes in the hope of seeing the one singing nightingale I could find, but saw nothing. He was accompanied by a blackcap (whom I saw), a garden warbler (whom I also saw) and a bewildered reed warbler singing from a hawthorn bush at the border of a bracken heath and a field of rape (resplendently yellow under a cloud-unclad sky). Nearby my first turtle dove of the year flicked past and I forgot all about pesky, hard-to-get nightingales. What's not to love about turtle doves?

At Cley someone had poured swifts into the sky over the reserve, dozens and dozens and dozens of them. Yellow wagtails blazed in the Eye Field, wheatears bobbed along the shingle, a little ringed plover and an equally little gull crouched on islands in Pat's Pool, and over the North Scrape little terns chittered and oh-so-slow-flapped in display. Behind the visitor centre a female black redstart quivered her liver tail on the fence.

On my way home I spent considerably longer stalking my nightingale. Nightingale 2, marsh tit 0.

On Saturday I swotted for my only-a-month-away tour in Peru and got very excited by the Dream of Gerontius. The first brood of starlings on the street left the nest in sunshine in the afternoon. Meanwhile magpies kept flying the same route backwards and forwards across the common; they too must have a nest nearby. In the evening I watched a cuckoo singing in a birch from my bedroom window.

At dusk Leanne and I renewed the search for nightingales. We didn't even hear one but we were happy to be out and, glowing ghostly in the gone-light, we saw a hummock of meadow saxifrage in flower. On the way back, at Little Snoring, my first hedgehog of the year did his best to end his woes on the road. He escaped to blunder across another road another night. Oh hedgehogs...

On Sunday I led walks for NWT at its Go Wild at Barton Broad event. I left home early (no change there then) and drove to Norwich listening to Radio Four. My cheer at hearing a five-striped palm-squirrel chinking behind Mark Tully, as he recorded an interview at Delhi's Craft Museum, evaporated at Lenwade where two badgers lay freshly dead by the road, their flawless pelage incandescent in the early morning sun.

Before the event I spent a quiet hour at the Broad's edge in the company of gadwall, great crested grebes and three-dozen common terns (so not so quiet really). In fens during the day I found my first grass snakes and common lizard of the year, and saw a holly blue, a green-veined white, many large red damselflies and my first two hairy dragonflies of 2012 (hurrah, at last the insects are appearing). Here too were plenty of orange-tips, while their larval foodplant, cuckoo flower, bloomed shyly nearby. In the edge of the woods was a speckled wood and stratospherically high above us were four tumbling buzzards.

On Sunday evening I slammed on my brakes in Hoveton and pulled off the road to watch an osprey circling placidly over the middle of town. How long until they breed in Norfolk? A year? Two?

Nine-hundred people came to our event today. It is an honour to be part of an organisation that contributes to the lives of so many people and perhaps helps some of them discover a love for the natural world and a commitment to its conservation.

Little boy (passing quiz trail image of pink-footed geese): What are they?

Marsh tit: They're pink-footed geese, but they're not here now; they're in Iceland.

Little boy: I've been to Iceland.

Marsh tit (trying not to sound surprised): Have you?

Little boy: To buy food.

He has a point.

New since last we spoke


European hedgehog
Erinaceus europaeus


European turtle dove
Streptopelia turtur

yellow wagtail
Motacilla flava flavissima


grass snake
Natrix natrix
common (viviparous) lizard
Zootoca vivipara

2012 Totals
Mammals: 57
Birds: 459
Reptiles: 14
Amphibians: 6
Fish: 3

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