“February made me shiver,” goes the old song. I think many of us would concur with that sentiment after a couple of weeks of easterly winds. Some days last week were truly biting, with the sort of bitter, stabbing breeze that cuts through as many layers of clothing as you can throw at it. Being a fellow of slight build, to say the least, I don’t have an awful lot of natural padding and find such conditions more than a little unpleasant.
Combine that with an all-pervading, drizzly mizzly haze, the sun absenting itself for days at a time, and it’s a miracle I went out at all. I know in my heart that in such circumstances the nature lover should simply get out and make the best of it, that fortune favours the brave, and that by this logic the more times I suited up and took whatever the weather could throw at me – whether for ten minutes or ten hours – the more chance I had of seeing something stupendous and wonderful. Even if that something was a magpie, which for the record are brilliant. But cold weather, and even more especially gloomy weather, breeds inertia and as the sun hid away for whole days, so did I, not even putting a foot out of doors.
Fortunately salvation came in the form of a few lost waterfowl, providing temptingly findable and interesting year ticks (county ticks for two of the species*) to bolster my thinly populated 2013 bird list, and just the excuse my spirits needed to grab bins, scope and camera and get over the doorstep. Three species which would usually be somewhere exciting in vast flocks on the east coast, or at Slimbridge, or somewhere up in Scotland, had for some reason all found good spots to rest up and recharge in ‘boring’ old Berkshire.
Just for fun, I haven’t captioned any of the ‘record shots’** shown here of this modest trio of twitches. Of course if you’re one of my Bio-listing Facebook friends or a fellow Berkshire birder you’ll already know what they are. But for everybody else, see if these pictures show just enough detail to make out (or at least make a guess at) which sorts of duck, goose and swan have been cheering me up this week. I hope they keep coming, if I’m to be tempted back out into the cold.
Having said that, it is now technically March (where does the year go?) and the sun has started to emerge over the last few days; indeed, Wednesday afternoon was quite glorious. And almost warm; warm enough that slowing to the crawling, inquisitive pace required for bug-hunting is once again a possibility, and local carbon-free walks are looking appealing again. Perhaps prospects for badly insulated naturalists such as myself are looking up. As it happens two ruffs have alighted on a nearby marsh whilst I type: so perhaps it’s time to round off here, drain the last dregs of my coffee, and go chasing another year bird. I’ll see you back here later.
*The beauty of focussing one’s listing on a county like Berkshire is that you can’t travel far without running out of Berkshire to look in. It’s not quite as small as it looks, but on the whole Berkshire listing will never inspire long distance twitching.
**I’d define a ‘record shot’ as a picture that is about good enough to keep as a record of the sighting, the bird being recognisable, but poor enough that you’re extremely unlikely to frame it and hang it on your wall. Most of the pictures I take of birds are ‘record shots’ at best, and more commonly indistinct blurry blobs….