Yesterday I had a lunch date with a horde of hungry finches. Fortunately for my wallet I didn’t have to shell out for, or indeed shell the seeds myself. The honour of picking up the tab at yesterday’s feast – and it’s one that stretches expensively out through the year – belonged to Hampshire Wildlife Trust at their Blashford Lakes reserve, which boasts one of the busiest feeding stations I’ve ever seen. One of the things I love about the Woodland Hide there, in front of which the feeders are laid out, is how peaceful it usually is. Apart from the beating of tens of little pairs of wings, gentle clomping of feet from the watching humans inside, and the occasional understandable kerfuffle as yet more humans enter, it’s a quiet place, a back-to-nature experience in a very cosy, domestic, sit-down-and-have-a-coffee way. In anticipation of this atmosphere I veritably trotted down the track yesterday, lunch packed and binoculars at the ready. So I confess my mood sank a little when I heard the tell-tale raised voices of a class of primary school children inside.
I perched unobtrusively at the back, and began to watch over the shoulders of the excitable class. The feeders were as busy as ever, with the regular twin stars of the Blashford show about in decent numbers – lemony yellow and black siskins and delicate pink-washed lesser redpolls. A chunkier black and orange number swooped on to the base of one of the tall feeders, and I heard one of the teachers present introduce it: “You see that one there? That’s a very rare bird, a brambling. It’s flown all the way from Scandinavia to be here.” Appreciative oohs and aahs from the class. Another adult gestured out of the other window – “And those over there are redpolls. I’ve never seen a redpoll before today, so isn’t it wonderful that now I’ve seen seven?”
I realised the presence of noisy, unruly children didn’t seem to be bothering me as much as it might. They were outdoors! (Sort of, I’m sure a hide counts).They were learning about nature! They seemed genuinely thrilled to be seeing new things, and proud of being able to put a name to them: at one point two of the children held up the little laminated ID guide to the feeding station’s residents with a cry of “Miss, miss, we found them ALL!” “It’s not a competition, girls,” the teacher replied with a smile. Try telling that to ‘grown-up’ birders! And for all the commotion, they could have been a lot noisier. At least most of the noise was excitement over seeing the birds. Their teachers seemed pretty pleased to be there too, and I don’t think it was just because they were getting out of the classroom for a day. How very encouraging: knowing nature is the first step to loving it, which is to say caring for it. Maybe in years to come society will do a better job of looking out for wildlife than we are presently, if schools could only be given the time and space to encourage this sort of thing more often.
As the class filed out with inevitably new heights of noise-making, they got loud enough to spook the flocks and most feeding birds departed for a few minutes. Just this once, and in the spirit of encouraging a new generation of naturalists, I’ll let them off. As the birds trickled back in ones and twos I started to take a few blurry pictures through the windows, and got some splendid views of up to six bramblings feeding on the ground, each as superbly marked as the next. As I was looking down at them, something flashed over the clearing and with one burst of hurried flight the feeding flocks were gone. Another flash right past the hide’s windows and there on the ground was a new, rather hungry looking guest at the buffet.
I actually wish the children had been there to see it, though I suspect a sparrowhawk in all her fierce glory may have proved nearly fatally stimulating! The hawk seemed in no hurry to depart, so I blinked first and headed back out into the sunshine. Across the road on Ibsley water I added eight ducks (mallard, gadwall, tufty, pochard, goldeneye, goosander, wigeon and pintail) to go with the six finches on the feeders (the above mentioned plus chaffinch, goldfinch and greenfinch) – not bad for an hour’s lunch break!
Ever notice how sparrowhawks often have white ‘false eyes’ on the back of their heads? Almost a useful ID feature at a distance.
As for the other pictures: I’m not a fan of how captions appear in WordPress at the moment and I’m trying to find ways of making them look nicer. But if you’re not a birder and don’t know what all the blurrily snapped species above are, why not find out the long way round? You might even learn something 😉