Note: Yes, I know. And it will never ever happen again. But I’ve been changing jobs and visiting the Old Homestead ™ and then my grandfather, in one final display of his characteristic beloved cussedness, died. And then one of my cats died. Also I had to go lose a major award and read from Shirley Jackson. So, onward, and let’s see if I can’t catch up with myself in the next month or so without getting swamped by fall migration.
Also, being at the Old Homestead, I do not have my notes with me. I’m winging this. A full species account will follow.
So far on Albion’s fabled shores, I’d picked up a grand total of eight new species – not bad for an average three-day stretch, but this was no average three-day stretch and I was going to have to do better. I needed a guide who knew where – and what – the birds were.
Enter Charlie Moores, 1000birds.com‘s Brit-in-residence and one of those rare birders who logs air mileage like an Arctic Tern. He was kind enough to give up one of his rare days with both feet on native soil to show me around.*
I left bright and early, only to arrive in a rather stressed-out state thanks to the idiosyncrasies of both British rail and my cell phone (which, as it turned out, would not receive any kind of signal throughout my trip. Also, I was afraid that my deodorant was giving out.
Charlie, accommodating to the max, laid out a whole buffet of birdy options before my bewildered brains. After a brief roadside stop to check out some orchids and butterflies, we hit a swath of farmland that could not have been more British if Beatrix Potter were buried there. Climbing over a stile (the first stile I had ever seen!) we almost immediately spotted the original Buteo, the Common Buzzard. Coming as I did from a background where Buzzards are Turkey Vultures, I definitely got that not-in-Kansas-Any-More feeling. A brief stretch of woodland stream failed to yield a Dipper or Kingfisher, but turned up several species of Tit. Then things began to pick up – the birds I’d been studying in my ancient Peterson’s Guide starting winging across the pastures – Green Woodpecker, Jay, finches, more tits, to say nothing of Magpies. Then we were in someone’s backyard. Someone who, going by their house, I ought to trade lives with, but never mind that. Someone with a feeder.
More tits in abundance attended at the feeder, plus Greenfich, Goldfinch (a bird I have yearned to see ever since I saw it illustrated in my Eastern Birds as a kid) and, in an uncharacteristically high and clear perch, a Gray Wagtail. This new addition to my Wagtail gallery excited me tremendously, a beautiful bright-yellow (and gray, of course) bird perched on a sunny rooftop – a perfect picture, if I could have worked my camera. That, and the Robin, nearly distracted me from the Great Spotted Woodpecker that decided to visit the feeder. On our way back through the pasture, a Chiff-chaff began belting out its characteristic song.
Once we’d drunk our fill of the feeder, we got back int the car, took a quick detour through the most scenic town in Britain (I believed it), and went looking for partridges. The partridges didn’t put in an appearance, but this was more than made up for by th Mistle Thrush that lived up to its reputation for calling rain, and a glorious field full of poppies and Skylarks, and a quick pop-up appearance by the Song Sparrow’s British doppelganger, the Corn Bunting.
Then it was on to Chew Reservoir for a quick lunch and a gander at some context-appropriate Mute Swans, a glorious plethora of Tufted Ducks, multiple Grebes, Gulls a-plenty, Lapwings, more Pied Wagtails and Coots, and a chance to finally catch up with the elusive (and surprisingly tiny) Kingfisher. Then, in a moment that will stay with me forever, a Hobby cut a swath through the Martins overhead and demonstrated some hot falcon flying skills.
We ended the day tromping about in the woods on the trail of more Tits, and sighting the Hobby (or its spouse) again, and stumbling over a dead goat. Charlie was kind enough to offer
to extend the trip, since we’d “only” seen about forty species, but I was growing increasingly anxious about my cellphone and my ability to find the Inimitable Todd again in a city the size of London.
In retrospect, I realized that I was also anxious about my job. Anxious about my job! While birding! There could be only one solution. The job would have to go.
But I still had some more vacation before needing to worry about that – and a few more key target species to track down….
*I do want to assure Charlie that my nerves were entirely my nerves, and not anything reflecting badly on him; but the subject of being a woman in a male-dominated hobby is one that I may well write more about in the future – Cliff Notes: birding is better than science fiction, anyway.
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