Friday, 31 August 2012


I took the bus to Norwich on Thursday and made a list of the birds I saw on the journey; not very many it turned out.

1. jackdaw
2. woodpigeon
3. starling
4. rook
5. collared dove
6. black-headed gull
In the hedge there are fat pink blooms of Himalayan balsam (which I'm supposed to hate but don't).
Woman in the row behind me: Julie says she's got them invitations ready.
7. swallow
8. pheasant
9. house martin
Man in high visibility jacket gets on the bus.
10. lesser black-backed gull
Rabbit at a field's edge.
Hornbeams crowding round a bus-stop.
Linnets, perhaps, too far to be sure.
11. blackbird
12. feral pigeon
13. blue tit
14. goldfinch
15. mistle thrush
Man in the row behind me: I quite like doing it now and again.
Paramedics jump the lights.
On a billboard: We can help you go further.

A conversation, later on Thursday, between a marsh tit and lovely winsome Suzie, who for the past six years has inspired children to get involved with wildlife, often through wildly creative crafts, but whose last day at Norfolk Wildlife Trust it was:

Marsh tit: Do you have any thread?

Suzie: No, I don't; I lost my thread.

That's what we did on Friday from dawn: watch the sea and little else. Our watching, to be fair, was broken by flurries of Sandwich terns, by shear-winged gannets, the odd fulmar and a handful of brutish bonxies. Quiet though it was, it felt good to be birding beside old friends and to reminisce about the many times we have watched, the sea and other things, together.

Not deadly
Among the constant refrains of teaching children about wildlife is: I saw that on Deadly Sixty. I have nothing at all against the show but it was wonderful tonight, at the end of a bat walk, to hear a young lad tell me: Today I've learned that wildlife doesn't have to be deadly to be cool.

It doesn't, no.

New over a blustery sea today


great skua
Stercorarius skua

2012 Totals

Mammals: 82
Birds: 850
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 8
Fish: 11

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The North Sea

The North Sea in music
Yesterday, unexpectedly, my great friend Gav turned up at my door on a surprise visit from London. We grew up raising binoculars side by side and saw innumerable birds together for the first time. Gav is an opera singer and was full of excitement about a Proms performance of Britten's Peter Grimes in which he'd sung last week. Without knowing he was in it, I'd caught the end of the show on Radio Three as I drove home from leading a bat walk at Kelling Heath. It was thrilling, in a little-hairs-on-the-back-of-my-neck way, to hear my old friend talk of his excitement at singing in a performance of rare brilliance of this, Benjamin Britten's troubled take on the North Sea and a North Sea community.

Fish not seen near the North Sea
Gav knows greatly more about fish than I do and has been breathing down my neck (and operatic basses can breathe quite powerfully) about the paucity of fish on my list. He's right of course and, spurred by his visit and by his tip-off about a good spot at which to lob bread at common and mirror carp (sadly, for my purposes, two forms of the same species), today I bought cheap bread and lobbed it. I couldn't find the right spot so I went to another nearby. No carp came and I looked a sad specimen chucking little balls of bread at the water.

Fish seen in the North Sea
Though I failed to score the carp I was more successful with fish in the rockpools at West Runton, adding two new species to my list. I like to make it look as though I lead rockpooling sessions in order to advance the cause of marine conservation but no! The real reason is that small children are demons for finding scarce fish and bringing them in buckets for me to identify. Thus today I finally saw my first long-spined sea-scorpion of 2012 (a species which deserves a mention in dispatches for its name alone) and a five-bearded rockling (also no shirker on the name front). If I'm honest (always) there's a slim chance it was a shore rockling as I neglected to count its barbels but my erudite friend Dawn Watson of Seasearch East is happy that my identification is sound.

Cephalopods ancient and modern
Though not a vertebrate, today's rockpool star was a small cephalopod found by Peter Waltonmy delightful Kelling Heath naturalist colleague. It was either a little cuttlefish Sepiola atlantica (which Dawn tells me are abundant off our coast at present) or a young European common squid Alloteuthis subulata (slightly confused where habitat is concerned). Either way, it was great to see a living cephalopod as I spend much time telling children about fossils on the beach and giving them handfuls of belemnite fossils. Belemnites were more-or-less comparable cephalopods which lived in the sea covering what's now Norfolk in the Late Cretaceous some seventy to ninety million years ago. How wonderful to show children ancient fossils and their still-living relatives side by side. If a design works, why change it?

Birds over the North Sea and its coast
A Mediterranean gull, a swift, two yellow wagtails and a fulmar. Everyone on the move.

Belemnite fossils from West Runton beach 

New in the rockpools today


long-spined sea-scorpion
Taurulus bubalis
five-bearded rockling
Ciliata mustela

2012 Totals
Mammals: 82
Birds: 849
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 8
Fish: 11

Monday, 27 August 2012


Sound comes readily to me. It's a big part of the way I interpret the world. So bird songs have always been easy to learn, as have new languages. In the same way I've never had any problem understanding English-speakers with widely different accents to my own. It came as a surprise then, a couple of years ago, to learn that I didn't have a good grasp of a Hull accent.

Bright eight-year-old lad from Hull (while pond-dipping with me): I saw a turd.

Marsh tit (unsure quite how to respond): Erm... what sort of a turd was it?

Bright eight-year-old lad from Hull: Well, I don't think it was a natterjack.

This evening Leanne and I saw six turds, two of them common and four of them natterjacks. We were wandering along the top of a wild beach, through an ankle-shredding stand of prickly saltwort, listening to the murmur of redshank and ringed plover on the low-tide mud. The natterjacks were a delight: rotund, squat, absurdly short-legged, beady-eyed and very charismatic. They scuttled into the marram at our approach and we took care not to disturb these threatened and highly protected animals. On our way back we saw a frog in my headlights - our third amphibian in the space of an hour - and I had to stop the car to usher him across the road. A little further on a young fox needed no such help.

On the beach as darkness fell I glimpsed a rabbit in the distance and, before I could see what it was, said, 'What's that?'. 'Lion,' answered Leanne, sardonically.

New on a wild beach tonight


natterjack toad
Epidalea calamita

2012 Totals
Mammals: 82
Birds: 849
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 8
Fish: 9

They think it's all over

For the first time in ten days, today a turtle dove sat on a lamp post outside Morisson's.

And, just when I thought it was all over, four swifts burst through a bubble of house martins: everyone moving south in a damp off-white sky.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Seven swans

Cley today was many-coloured. Sheets of reed in bruise-red flower, spattered at their edges with perennial sow-thistle gold and the burnt-toast seeds of alexanders. Greys were in the backs of the great loaf of gulls on Simmonds': hundreds of black-heads and lesser black-backs, and among them one common, one herring and one flat grey yellow-legged. A moodier grey, like the smudge of an artist's finger in a pencil sketch, was in the seven young swans at the scrape's edge. On Arnold's were six spoonbills, white, and round the black feet of a cow in the Eye a wagtail, yellow, but Sufjan wrote no song of them.

I saw a sign in the sky:
Seven swans, seven swans, seven swans.
I heard a voice in my mind:
I will try, I will try, I will try.

Sufjan Stevens
Seven Swans

Dogs love me; and I love them. I grew up with them and I readily trust their easy big-hearted straightforwardness. What went wrong today then? On the West Bank, with sea aster flowering mildly mauve about us, I met two lovely golden retriever crosses. Golden retriever crosses, as placid and accepting as they come. But one of them took against me, snarling, barking. Her owner apologised, making it worse: I'm sorry, she normally likes everyone. Beneath was the silent subtext: What's wrong with you that my dog can see? 

She normally likes everyone.

Act I, scene i
But I that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amourous looking glass,
I that am rudely stamped and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph,
I that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them [...]

William Shakespeare
Richard III

New on Simmonds' today


yellow-legged gull
Larus michahellis

2012 Totals
Mammals: 82
Birds: 849
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 7
Fish: 9

Friday, 24 August 2012

Turtle doves

If you haven't already done so, please click here to read Talking Naturally's short post on a British company which is offering holidays to Morocco to shoot migrant turtle doves. The turtle dove, as anyone with a pair of eyes or ears in the UK countryside will have noticed, is in disastrous decline. If you agree with Talking Naturally, in its opposition to UK companies promoting the commercial killing of declining wild birds on their migration, please write respectfully and constructively to those concerned urging them to desist. Thank you.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


Old man's beard ties knots in hedges and the still green edges of woods. Still green but in the leaves of willows now are autumn's yellows and rowan berries are already red.

Under a pastel-smudged grey sky, and in a cobwebbed world, I wait for noctules and for Jerry. The noctules never come but Jerry does. He is Kelling Heath's bat expert and he's kind enough to let me join his bat walks to continue learning. Most of what I know about bats I've gleaned from him.

He leads his group through the woods and past ponds. Common pipistrelles put on a fine show, soprano pipistrelles too, a noctule is heard on a bat detector as it passes above in the dark, but the clear star of the show is Jerry's enthusiasm for these extraordinary creatures. Little known by most, less understood, reviled, and silently wiped out by our Blitzkrieg management of most of the landscape, bats have a tough time of it. But they have friends in Jerry and others like him who night after summer night share with people the lives of these remarkable animals.

I was reminded of words I read many years ago in Bolivia:

Quoting Merlin Tuttle:
We recognize that we need bees: They produce honey, they pollinate our crops. We're careful to leave bees alone, that's all. It should be like that with bats. We don't get excited about the fact that more people die of food poisoning at church picnics annually than have died in all history from contact with bats. Now, here we have a chance of dying so remote compared to all these other things, and we're terrified of bats. Thousands of us die annually at the hands of our own spouses! Yet I don't know anybody who is afraid of getting married for fear they'll get killed by their spouse. What I'm saying is, unless you're living in abject horror of all these other threats to your life, it really makes no sense at all to be afraid of bats.

Diane Ackerman
The Moon by Whale Light


New-ploughed fields of clayey fertile earth, the colour of Dairy Milk held too long in a three-year-old's steamy paw. Barley stubble, spiky scratchy and the bright light-bending gold of a green-throated tanager's back. Everywhere are glossy rooks, elegantly dishevelled, jackdaws, suavely greying, and black-headed gulls, their not-black heads not black now.

The heavens are quietly quick with a billion primaries pulsing south. The gulls gather behind the plough.

Nature teaches us about the circularity of life, of the inevitability of things happening again. The wheat and barley will be gold in summer, and the poplar leaves will rustle even if the air seems quite still; in autumn clouds of gulls will follow the plough; in spring the leaves will appear from bare soil as if by magic again.

Jules Pretty
The Earth Only Endures


A close friend works at Gressenhall and runs the Workhouse Cinema there. Last night, at her invitation, I saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and was lured again into the heady, heart-grasping madness that is India. Several times I've thought of no longer going to India; it never works as time and again I'm drawn by her sweat-drenched, cumin-pungent, white-smiled, heart-open majesty.

In the film I heard much Indian wildlife. There were rose-ringed parakeets calling in almost every scene. Common mynas gave their rocking chimes from time to time and peacocks yowled. In Udaipur, where I've heard them from my own hotel room, common koels sang from lakeside trees and red-wattled lapwings shouted rhythmically. A black kite drifted through the dawn and an intermediate egret flapped cornily into the sunset. In Jaipur, naturally, five-striped palm-squirrels scolded in the background of many scenes. Maggie Smith played a fine old bird too.

After so many months in India, after so many trips, still I am intoxicated. By the little marble statue of Siva's Nandi in an alcove. By the bright white caps of the Moslem men and the frenetic drumming of the Hindus. By a steel plate of hand-made, heart-made roti offered in kindness to a guest. And I look forward every day to the next time I'll be there.

Colour would remain – the pageant of birds in the early morning, brown bodies, white turbans, idols whose flesh was scarlet or blue – and movement would remain as long as there were crowds in the bazaar and bathers in the tanks. Perched up on the seat of a dogcart, she would see them. But the force that lies behind colour and movement would escape her even more effectually than it did now. She would see India always as a frieze, never as a spirit, and she assumed it was a spirit of which Mrs Moore had had a glimpse.

E. M. Forster
A Passage to India

Monday, 20 August 2012

Hobbies, Olympic and otherwise

My friend David Stubbs, Head of Sustainability at LOCOG, writes of the wildlife he and his colleagues saw during the Olympic Games:

And in all the hullaballoo of the Games I saw 35 bird species on the Olympic Park, including goodies like little grebe, sand martin, grey wagtail, sedge warbler and reed bunting.  Not bad for when there are 200,000 people milling around!

Bird of the Games for me was a hobby at Eton Dorney rowing lake, plus a red kite thermalling in the distance, while the Times correspondent Simon Barnes heard a crossbill at Greenwich Park.

Butterflies were also good: on the Olympic Park I was pleased to see gatekeeper and common blue, not bad for a newly created site in the London borough of Newham. We saw dark green fritillary and chalkhill blue at Box Hill during the cycle race and a marbled white at Hadleigh Farm, the Mountain bike venue.

Bring on the Paralympics...

In Norfolk, meanwhile, my life is full of hobbies, as the gathering flocks of swallows and house martins fill the sky above our pond with sound. As I sat at my desk this morning a hobby cut across the common, with swallows at her tail; and as I write a great spotted woodpecker calls from the dew-heavy outside, telling the sadness of autumn.

Every field guide that was ever printed is not merely a book of helpful hints on how to tell one bird from another. It is also a hymn to biodiversity: a song of praise for the fact that such a wonderful variety of creatures exists and has its being in our country, on our continent, on our planet.

Simon Barnes
How to be a Bad Birdwatcher

Saturday, 18 August 2012


A spotted redshank bounces in circles over the pond chiwik-ing loudly. It's the first I have seen from my house. Sit still and life comes to you.

When will I learn?

“What does sedentary mean?” asked Wilbur.
“Means I sit still a good part of the time and don’t go wandering all over creation. I know a good thing when I see it, and my web is a good thing. I stay put and wait for what comes. Gives me a chance to think.” 

E. B. White
Charlotte's Web

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Small fry

Through my mind move many thoughts and through my heart move many moods and through the golden-gravelled shallows of the river move as many minnows.

New today


Eurasian minnow
Phoxinus phoxinus

2012 Totals
Mammals: 82
Birds: 848
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 7
Fish: 9

Monday, 13 August 2012

Tybalt's death

Autumn came today, in the sorrowful winter song of a robin in Tyrrel's Wood; in the burst of a dozen migrant hawkers from a mess of bramble; in the thousand chirps of dark bush-crickets along the mint-fragrant rides of Lower Wood.

There was interest, yes, discovery: meadows cheerful with hoary ragwort, common fleabane and small skippers; huddles of muscled hornbeams with hairy St-John's-wort and wood spurge at their feet; and by a hedge the nano-constellation blooms of stone parsley.

Yet in the wings of the one swift over the pond today, in the southbound song of the swallows, came the autumn.


Tonight as I drove home, through the spring-summer-autumn rain of 2012, Prokofiev's taut, tribal Tybalt's death in my ears, a kingfisher crossed the road above me.

But autumn has come.

Saturday, 11 August 2012


Under the bridge today are trout, quite still in the gin-clear water, but for the power-laden sway of their tails. At the river's edge, under the flit of a banded demoiselle, are mats of water-cress and blue water-speedwell, delicate, in flower.

New in the river today


brown trout
Salmo trutta

2012 Totals

Mammals: 82
Birds: 848
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 7
Fish: 8


Small child as he finished pond-dipping yesterday: I'm so happy I might climb a tree.

Nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees. What happens when all the parts of childhood are soldered down, when the young no longer have the time or space to play in their family’s garden, cycle home in the dark with the stars and moon illuminating their route, walk down through the woods to the river, lie on their backs on hot July days in the long grass, or watch cockleburs, lit by morning sun, like bumblebees quivering on harp wires? What then?

Richard Louv
Last Child in the Woods - Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Friday, 10 August 2012


9th August

Today I saw a stoat. Well, I didn't just see a stoat; I saw lots of things. But it struck me as remarkable that it took me two-hundred and nineteen days to see a stoat in 2012. Then yesterday I saw two and today I saw another.

Today I also saw an otter. But I digress. For first we have to go to the Broads.

Today I went to the Broads. I went in fact to Winterton Dunes NNR which is as fine a stretch of coastal dunes as may be found anywhere on the east coast of Britain. I was meeting my lovely friend Beth, of Discovery Quest. The dunes are blue now, dark blue, with the fluffy button flowers of sheep's-bit. They're yellow too, with common cat's-ear and, here and there, the brimstone brightness of mouse-ear hawkweed. And grey, in the strange glaucous leaves of grey hair-grass.

The dunes quiver too, with the wings of myriad butterflies: graylings as you never see graylings now, common, everywhere; small coppers too, on flowers throughout; and dark green fritillaries, worn and tired, still tearing over the dunes in search of violets.

A fat female adder slipped through the slacks of cross-leaved heath at our approach and all along the beach were the scaly, round-winged chicks of little terns.

We moved from here to Hickling Broad NNR where the fen and reedbed quivered too, but with other wings: the brittle cellophane wings of dragonflies. Black-tailed skimmers sunbathed on the boardwalk,  common and ruddy darters crowded the rushy fringes of pools, brown hawkers coursed above reed and marsh, and southern hawkers zipped through the tips of oaks.

Here the disciplined ranks of lesser reedmace crowded dykes, towers of marsh sow-thistle made reed look puny, and among the brash stands of milk parsley (how can such a rare plant be so common?) was the twisting strangeness of tubular water-dropwort.

The milk parsley had another trick up its umbelliferous sleeve: caterpillars. In the years I've worked with NWT I've never seen so many swallowtail caterpillars. Where usually they're found one to a plant, today they were in fives, sixes, sevens and eights. Big bejewelled ones and little bird-poo ones. Go and see them people. Go see them today!


And, in the evening, the otter? Well, she was beautiful but I gave my word by her river that I would keep her secrets to myself.

Swallowtail caterpillars on seed-setting milk parsley; this and following photos by Bethan Wardale 

Swallowtail caterpillar 

Marsh sow-thistle and hemp agrimony 

A cinnabar caterpillar which hitched a lift on Beth's trousers and looked very stylish on them

The problem about wearing a wetsuit is a sensory deprivation; it is a species of whole-body condom. Of course, there are people who like rubber. They enjoy the feel of it; they may even find it aesthetically pleasing. But there is no getting away from the fact that a wetsuit is an anaesthetic to prevent you experiencing the full force of your physical encounter with cold water, and in that sense it is against nature and something of a killjoy. On the other hand, I tell myself each time I struggle into the rubber, not a drop of water ever actually reaches the skin of the otter. Its outer fur traps air in an insulating layer very like a wetsuit, and the inner fur is so fine and tight together that the water never penetrates it. So if otters are allowed what amounts to a drysuit, I reckoned I could permit myself the occasional, judicious use of the wetsuit to bolster my chances of survival. It can make a long swim in cold water bearable, even comfortable, but it cannot approach the sensuality of swimming in your own skin.

Roger Deakin
Waterlog, A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain

A low whistle, softer than the cries of flighting curlew, came from above the ford. The otters were coming.

Henry Williamson
Salar the Salmon

New in two water-bodies today


Eurasian otter
Lutra lutra


common rudd
Scardinius erythrophthalmus

2012 Totals

Mammals: 82
Birds: 848
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 7
Fish: 7

Thursday, 9 August 2012


Today I've received two very kindly emails of encouragement for Norfolk Wildlife Trust's appeal. One came in English from a friend who lives in Cley village; the other came in Spanish from my effervescently jovial, talented Peruvian friend Juan Cárdenas, with whom it was my privilege to walk the Inca Trail in June.

Juan was kind enough to send with his email some photos he took in late June as we walked the Inca Trail, spotting birds and sharing much Andean laughter with two Naturetrek clients.

Tulluqoe on the Inca Trail 

Tufted tit-tyrant, a marsh tit's Andean alter ego 

Naturetrekkers with a delightful orchid-spotting friend at the rarely visited, recently discovered ruins of Kantupata

Breakfast at the last camp on the Inca Trail, Phuyupatamarca

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Mustelid hits and mustelid misses

Only yesterday I was telling a young naturalist friend that in 2012 I had, barely believably, seen neither a weasel nor a stoat.

Today, in separate incidents, I saw two stoats.

Still alas, on my fourth attempt, I saw no otter this evening. A friendly fellow, who has been there every time I have, was by the river again tonight. Last night he saw an otter, while I was leading a nightjar walk.

Ho hum.

New in two hedgerows today


Mustela erminea

2012 Totals
Mammals: 81
Birds: 848
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 7
Fish: 6

Tuesday, 7 August 2012


Last night, as I again failed to see an otter, I heard a dark bush-cricket from a straggle of bramble. This is the sound which nature sends to tell us summer is done, though this year it never came.

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.”
The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everyone that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into fall – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.

E. B. White
Charlotte's Web

The great wind had mauled the trees, combed the grasses and made the woods a multitudinous sea for two days. The year had turned, so early and after such a mockery of summer. Today there had been a touch of north in the wind, who was veering with the sun, and tomorrow we might have fine. But the prime was gone.

T. H. White
The Goshawk

Sunday, 5 August 2012


This morning for more than an hour I failed to see a lesser spotted woodpecker.

In the sweaty heat of the day for two hours I failed to see a honey buzzard.

Tonight for almost an hour I failed to see an otter, until the downpour and the lightning, which started in my heart, drove me away.

There are many animals that can express their happiness, but only the human animal has the genius to express a magnificent sadness.

Gregory David Roberts

Saturday, 4 August 2012


Scene: The Pinkfoot Gallery, Cley

Lovely Pinkfoot Sarah (on the phone): Mr Comparethemarshtit has just come in.

Pause while unidentified interlocutor responds.

Lovely Pinkfoot Sarah: No, he's like Banksy; he never reveals his true identity.

The identity of the interlocutor was revealed, however. It was Mike Dawson: birder, gentleman, friend of artist and conservationist alike, and commercial director at Swallowtail Print.

I was visiting Sarah under Banksyesque cover as recently she's tweeted cryptically about a scarce and wonderful animal she's been seeing locally. I was bent on getting to the bottom of things.

Sarah was kind enough to share her spot for seeing this wild wonder and this evening Leanne and I went to try our luck. The creature in question never came, or if it did we never saw it, but we witnessed a sunset of rare drama: a bruised, bloodshot sky to the west and leaden curtains of rain to sea. A barn owl wafted past, a hobby snipped the sky and every space between the clouds was packed with shrilling swifts.

As for Sarah's rare animal, well, I'll be back.

Friday, 3 August 2012


Tonight a nightjar, male, flew by on buoyant wings and landed on a bare branch against the fat white moon. There, a short distance from us, he sang and my group quite silent understood why I squelch through wet nights in search of wildlife.

Mary pointed out the faintest outline of the new moon, no doubt the reason for the previous night's ceremony and dancing, and when I remarked that in England it curves the opposite way, she replied, 'You have wrong-way rubbish moon.'
Roger Deakin
Wildwood, A Journey Through Trees

Luna lunita lunera
Cascabelera bendita seas
Vení alumbra este andaluz
Que viene cargando esta cruz

Gives birth to live young

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Six for gold

Part one: in which our hero fails to see a lesser spotted woodpecker
Die-hard marshtitters, who've been here since the start, may remember that last year I saw no lesser spotted woodpecker. Not seeing a lesser spotted woodpecker in Norfolk has become sadly straightforward. This year I am well on course not to see one again. But one has turned up on a feeder at Sculthorpe Moor, just a quick flick of the wings from my house.

So yesterday morning, as the gates of the reserve opened, I swung into the car park and headed, via a warming cup of coffee with my friend Tim who is the assistant warden, to the woodpecker-encrusted feeder.

Nada. Zilch. Nuffink. For three-quarters of an hour I stood by the feeder and twiddled my thumbs. Then, almost imperceptibly at first, a flock materialised. A few great tits, mostly butter-cheeked chicks. A marsh tit here, a marsh tit there. A blue tit, chick too. Great tits, great tits, great tits, more! A forest deus ex machina, making of my morning a festival of birds. The long-tails trilled announcing that the buzzard who'd been yelling in the poplars had taken flight. They trilled again, in flew a sharp male sparrowhawk, landed, saw me, fled.

Silence. No bird, no sound. Then, as though leaves were taking flight, the birds emerged again from nowhere. A treecreeper, a long-tail flock, a young great-spot dangling from a feeder. A buzz and bicker again of tits.

No lesser-spot came. I didn't mind.

Part two: in which our hero gets his toes salty and wet
I rock-pooled in the afternoon once more, with another excited group of children and their more-excited parents. Lovely Louise at the Beach Cafe was in fine philosophical form:

There's no point switching off the lights to see how dark it is.


Part three: in which a thousand thousand knot are seen
Until this morning I had not seen a knot this year. This morning I saw several tens of thousands of them (Wendy Cope wrote a delightful poem in a similar vein: Bloody men are like bloody buses). Leanne and I resolved last night to visit Holme beach at high tide this morning, just before seven. Via Choseley we went (still no corn bunting in 2012) and as we crossed the dunes, blue with the blooms of sea holly and loud with the shouts of Sandwich terns, we saw, like a children's mobile, a swirl of arctic skuas. Dark, light, young old, they harried the terns with easy strokes of their whetted wings.

Came the knot. Tight flocks, hundreds at first. Thousands then. Bulging, breaking, stretching, splitting, recombining through the skies above the rising tide. A high hobby slammed past and the morning was bright with bar-tailed godwits, with redshank, with common terns, with common gulls, with curlew and with snipe.

Part four: in which no natterjack is found
We walked from the tide-roost along the strandline in the hope of finding a natterjack toad or a dune tiger beetle. We turned over piles of sea mat, we followed trails of tiny amphibian footprints, we snooped through luxuriant beds of sea rocket but neither beastie could be found. Here though were salt-marshes alight with common and matted sea-lavenders; frosted and grass-leaved oraches and sea bindweed crouching at the top of the tide; and on the beach prickly saltwort, predictably salty and prickly.

Part five: in which botanical nomenclature is called into question
In the dunes the birds were fewer - meadow pipits, linnets and a cackling green woodpecker - but the plants, watered this year as never before, were riotous. Spires of leafy hawkweed were peeking into bloom and great drifts of harebells beamed blue on every dune. Wild parsnip flowers argued, chromatically, exquisitely, with rockets of rosebay willowherb. In the slacks were the dying flowers of both common spotted orchids and the luminous coccinea form of early marsh, and here were the very-much-living flowers of marsh helleborines too, all set around with starry parsley water-dropwort and the yellow suns of common fleabane.

I pointed out blue fleabane to Leanne. None too impressed she retorted that it wasn't blue. A little further on I showed her red bartsia.

Yes, she replied, I will agree that that is vaguely red. Puce bartsia would be a better name though.

I ask you.

Part six: magpies and a ditty
As we reached Thornham a family of magpies flew up from the road. Two, four, five, six. Six for gold. And so it was for Heather Stanning, Helen Glover and Peter Wilson. You've done your nation proud.

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
And four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
And seven for a secret that's never to be told.

New over the Wash today


arctic skua
Stercorarius parasiticus
red knot
Calidris canutus

2012 Totals
Mammals: 80
Birds: 848
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 7
Fish: 6