Saturday, 8 December 2012

A long walk for a longspur

I find myself in tears, not knowing why. A shingle ridge and a cold sea, a flurry of snow buntings, and in my ears still, in my heart, from my just extinguished radio, Wagner's Wolfram sings, sings in the knowledge that his love and its object are doomed. In the gilt light of a Norfolk winter morning, in the company of snow buntings, I cry for the beauty of it all.

At the water meadow, to the east, Marcus and the Kelling coven of birders are hunched over their scopes peering to the North Sea. They've not seen much today but red-throated divers, though I show them a round-shouldered shag sulking on the shore towards Salthouse. Two days ago they saw a great northern diver. (Marcus, Marcus, where's your compassion? Don't you know I haven't seen one this year?).

At the camp, Moss is on his morning round; all the birders out to celebrate this one bright morning. Himself on 900 birds or more this year, he's full of tales of Australia. Of great knot on the mud at Cairns and southern cassowaries in the garden of a rainforest lodge. Of scarce birds on the camp too: nightingale and thrush nightingale ringed from the same net, but a month apart, in the spring. (Moss, don't you know I've seen none of those this year?) I ask about Lapland buntings.

Moss: I saw plenty in the autumn. None for a few weeks though. You know the call?

Marsh tit (smiling): You taught me Moss, right here, I was thirteen.

At Sheringham, by the golf course, I meet a quiet, friendly birder. He too has seen little but red-throated divers. No purple sandpipers on the groynes, nor this week's surf scoter on the sea. He's looking though. I tell him of common scoter - five females - and eider - one drake - that I've seen and we wish each other luck.

At the highest point of the golf course, two hours out across shingle and cliff, I turn back and soon meet the friendly birder again. Did I see the glaucous gull? I had not seen the glaucous gull, an adult, which had flown by. I'm doubly grateful now that Gav took me to see one in Kent.

We turn to Lapland buntings. He's seen none but they were here, a month past, in their usual stubbly field by the coastguards' cottages. Surely they're here still but no-one's been looking. So I look. I trespass across these barley stubble fields, kicking up meadow pipits - tseep tseep - linnets - puchupuchup - and skylarks - tsirrrp. As I'm nearing the cottages, through the same woolly hat (La Paz, remember?), I hear a clear trill and in a small flock of linnets come two larger birds, fat-bellied, long-tailed, making a distinctive call. A call I've known since I was thirteen.

Tears for snow buntings, but now a lone figure in an Ice Age cliff-top field gives a little dance for their cousin. 997.

As I trudge back across the shingle, among the many herring gulls, the first winter great black-backs and the blade-winged black-heads, one big, power-chested gull shines. Glaucous, adult.

New today on a North Norfolk cliff-top


Lapland bunting
Calcarius lapponicus

2012 Totals
Mammals: 129
Birds: 997
Reptiles: 76
Amphibians: 23
Fish: 12

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