Saturday, 22 November 2014

Preliminary skirmishes

In the soul-big sky of North Norfolk yesterday there were larks. On the mind-wide waves there were many scoters. On the heart-great beach were my oldest friends. And I knew, in the sole song of a lark in the dunes, that it was time again to write.

In 2012 I wrote a blog, which many of you were kind enough to read from start to finish. Since then the itch of another idea has been at me. Early this year I scratched at this itch and set in train an adventure for 2015, and a blog to record it. Being by nature a perfectionist and a lover of neatness, I planned to take up my blog again at the start of next year, when the journeys it describes will begin. But yesterday in the lark's song, and in many memories among dunes and pines, came my cue. So here again is a marsh tit, sharing his small thoughts with the world.

I will tell you of my plans for 2015 very soon. I am excited and daunted. For now let us wander yesterday on Holkham beach. Let us stand with the wind sand-whipping the ankles of our boots and gaze through telescopes at the sea. On the waves is a fidgeting raft of common scoter, mostly chalk-cheeked females with here and there a glossy black male, a neat yellow splotch on his bill. Among the common scoters are a dozen velvets, and some of you may remember that this was the 995th bird species I saw while chasing my 1,000th at the icy end of 2012. Here too is but one drake surf scoter, only the second I have seen in Norfolk, and it is - ostensibly - to see him that we have come, though to me a wild walk with wild friends holds a greater force.

2014 has been for me a year of scoters and of waterfowl. Early in the year, from Titchwell beach, I showed a duck-loving friend his first common and velvet scoters. In July it was my privilege to travel to Kamchatka and Chukotka, there to see a spoon-billed sandpiper on its nest; many whales, brown bears and walruses too; and innumerable arctic waterfowl, including Steller's, king and Pacific eiders, black and Stejneger's scoters and - everywhere - dapper flocks of drake harlequins.

A drake harlequin's flank feather, Kamchatka, July 2014

A marsh tit in Kamchatka (by Kenny Ross)
In September I visited British Columbia where, as we sailed through the fjords of the Great Bear Rainforest in search of wolves, humpbacks, orcas, American martens, grizzly bears and black bears (including the rare white form of the black bear, termed the spirit bear), we were often met by flotillas of surf scoters.

A marsh tit catching a chum salmon in
Canada (photos by Ze Carrapichano).
The salmon swam away unhurt.
In Ethiopia in October and November, there were no scoters, naturally. Instead there were blue-winged geese, there were yellow-billed ducks and African pygmy-geese, there were numberless spur-winged geese and Egyptian geese, and, ever so briefly from a speeding bus, there was an African black duck.

Geladas adopt a marsh tit in the Simien Mountains,
Ethiopia, October 2014
(photo by Hilary Lamont)
Last week, I showed another new friend - met under a peregrine's nest on a cathedral spire - his first common scoter drake. And yesterday I returned to Holkham, with my oldest birding friends, and watched - what else? - scoter, and by them in the surf an immaculate Slavonian grebe.

#surfscoterselfie by @GDH56

Peregines - two! - sliced over the waves, wanting the life of a blackbird, chasing him up the beach until, by some migrant miracle, he reached the edge of the pines to defy their talons. Over the mist-heavy marsh inland of the dunes there were harriers, looping in lazy circles in suit of their prey. On a post a common buzzard, in the gloomy distance a rough-leg, and far to the south a kite. What wonder that these birds, so recently absent, are with us in Norfolk again. A third peregrine - a male hatched in 2013 - relentlessly shuffled and reshuffled the pack of teal on the marsh. The kite dreamed by on drooping wings and white-fronts tugged at summer's sugars in the grass.

For there is joy in wildlife. And wonder. And in 2015 I shall travel to watch it, and think on it, and write. I should be honoured if you would follow me.

#lovethemotherland by @GDH56

1 comment:

  1. Nick - Looking forward to your blogs, whenever they come. I remember the great walks with Discovery Quest. Inspiring stuff, helping to connect to the world around me.