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

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