Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Fingringhoe Wick...

I had another half-day at Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve. The nightingales were still singing. I walked around the reserve in a daze, listening to sedge warblers, reed warblers, blackcaps, whitethroats, willow warblers and chiffchaffs. It reminded me of how I used to experience birds - more than half a century ago - in Bramhope, north of Leeds. Though it was really just a ‘dormitory suburb’, our house was the last but one before the countryside began. I could wander "up the fields”, past the farm to the bluebell woods; the old part of the village even had a duck pond. Nearby was Golden Acre Park, with a lake, old quarry, deciduous woodland and scrubland with gorse bushes. With such a variety of habitats on my doorstep, it’s no wonder I saw so many birds.

Fingringhoe Wick reminded me of these places. It was also a vivid reminder of how I felt, all those years ago, and what first piqued my interest in birds. I’ll happily watch ducks and geese from a hide, or scour the sea for gannets and shearwaters. But what I love best are the birds of woodland, scrub and heath - stonechats, wheatears, woodpeckers, redstarts, yellowhammers, flycatchers, warblers, etc. These were the birds I grew up with: the same birds that are found - in much greater profusion - at Fingringhoe Wick.

To see and hear them you have to walk quietly and stand still. All you may see, at first, is a sense of movement; all you may hear, at first, is a snatch of song. You have to recalibrate your senses, and become attuned to the rhythms of the woodland. Gradually, you pick out small brown birds as they move from branch to branch, mostly hidden by leaves. A few birds will break cover. A whitethroat sings from a the top of a hedge; a flycatcher flies up, for a few seconds, and returns to the same perch; a wheatear flies a few yards ahead of you, in the direction you’re walking, seemingly beckoning you to follow. Close observation is rewarded. The birds don’t suddenly appear; what changes is your awareness of them. The mind is quieter, the heartbeat slower; you don’t become the woodland, or the birds, or any nonsense like that. But the space between you and the woods, you and the birds, contracts. You’re looking - without any effort - and that makes all the difference…

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