Alone again (naturally)

Both of my readers are probably beginning to wonder when my next post is going to appear – it has been over a week. I was really getting into the swing of this blogging business, and suddenly in the last week felt like I had run out of things to say. Or perhaps run out of ways to say them. One of my intentions with this blog was to let a few days pass between first thinking of a topic or seeing something, and actually writing the post, to see what happened if I let things stew and tried to reach a ‘considered’ opinion. The clue to that is in the title. But as I have found, and I suspect most of us on my course have with our wildlife diaries, if you leave things too long you can lose the motivation to commit something to paper.  On top of that, my desire to grapple with difficult issues or vexing questions, not that I have delved particularly deep so far, has been eroded over the last few weeks by constant debate, discussion, reflection, thought, and all those good things. I love to do all that, and it is necessary too – but really tiring.

Instead I just wanted to go outside, and see what I could see. Many nature blogs, and quite wonderful ones at that I’m sure, are basically just accounts of things the author has seen, or noticed. There is a simple pleasure in sometimes laying aside what everything ‘means’, and just noticing, and enjoying things at face value. And to do this best, I confess, I’ve had to go it alone a few times. One of the joys of moving to a town where I actually know some people is having friends who are almost as bird obsessed as I am, whose eyes, ears and useful knowledge I can borrow, and whose company I enjoy on trips. The camaraderie and competition of a joint birding trip is absolutely great, and something I hope not to lose any time soon. However, many if not most of my trips over the last few years were made in my own solitary company, and there is something special about it. As when feeding the birds at Otmoor couple of weeks back, I like to be quiet, melt into my surroundings, or at least attempt to, and try to be totally aware of everything around me, mind mostly empty, but eyes wide open.

This week I was back there again for a volunteer wardening shift – striding lone and purposefully from my car with a light load and no agenda but my own. So what did I notice? Floating nearby, a pair of kites were calling to each other – a most evocative sound, long, drawn out, celebratory but with an edge of mourning with the rise and fall of each note. A song thrush started singing over their calls, trying out phrase after phrase, lingering over the most successful sequences through three or four repetitions. The tits at the feeding station repeated their friendly performance from a fortnight ago, waiting in the very edge of the nearest trees and sending out advanced scouts almost before I had a chance to replace each feeder on its hook. Distantly a woodpecker was drumming, a short burst every few minutes, that or machine gun fire on the army ranges.

Whilst I was watching a superb male yellowhammer through the branches of a small shrub, head as sulphur bright as ever on a dull day, I noticed lapwings, maybe 150 or 200, rise up at once from Big Otmoor – each bird sculling at the air with shallow wing beats but the flock moving as one. Then moving faster behind them, 40 golden plover: smaller, pointed wings, colour alternating from brown gold to white as they twisted. From the hide, I counted 500 wigeon, and there were almost certainly more. Have you ever noticed that you can, listening carefully, hear the sound of them tearing up grass? They are the sheep of the duck world, but I would say a little more handsome – I noticed how the (secondary) feathers of the males are gloss black, edged in a pale grey, whereas the females are a duller black or brown, with a paler white edge.

The reed bed was a little quieter but at the second screen, an unprecedented gathering of fifty shovelers had taken over the water, turning little circles in pairs as they do, and calling less noisily than the teal or wigeon – I don’t think I’d ever noticed a shoveler’s voice before. They have a simple call of one or two notes, a kind of ‘tchook’ with a twanging, clicking metallic quality. Each would flick its huge spade of a bill quickly up with every syllable. Finally, walking back to the car the main thing I noticed was the peace. It’s one of the things I love about Otmoor – such a still, restful reserve, quiet and far away from rush and noise – and yet also a multi-faceted place of shifting moods, clear light and huge skies that reflect back the changing weather and seasons.

After such a lovely time, am I about to become a hermit, a solo wildlife explorer with not a gregarious bone left in my body? Well, no. I am very sure to be inviting people with me on exciting trips out very soon. I do enjoy having somebody around to share things with. I also take this opportunity to apologise for sneaking off and seeing extra birds without you. But I must also promise myself I’ll find the time now and then to drop everything else, and go and experience nature. Alone. There aren’t many other times that I feel more alive.

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