I was reading a column by nature and sports writer Simon Barnes recently, and he was saying that he doesn't go birdwatching, he is birdwatching, and this is something that I concur with. If I'm awake, I'm birding, wherever I am, I am always connected to nature. I can be watching a gripping MotoGP race on TV, and if I catch the movement of a bird in the Hawthorn outside my lounge window, it is identified and logged in the old grey matter before I even think about it! Simon calls this tuning in. It takes a while for this to happen, at first it requires some conscious effort, but eventually when you are fully immersed in the wildness of the world, this tuning in happens at the subconscious level. And it certainly enriches your life.
Talking about all this tuning in, reminds me of a joyous encounter that I had with a Wren recently, and the 'joy' word isn't a word that I use often, but it is the correct choice of word to describe my experience.
A Wren, but not the Wren.
In fact, this tiny bird, second smallest in the UK to the diminutive Goldcrest, made me feel very small indeed. A Wren weighs somewhere in the region of 10 g, and I weigh 70 kg, or to put it differently, I weigh 7,000 times more than a Wren! So, how can something so tiny, make me, who is so large compared to a Wren, make me feel so small?
It was the joyous nature of the encounter that made me feel small, the humbling experience of spending five minutes in the company of that Wren, sharing in its life, if you will, for five minutes, that's what made me feel small.
Just over a week ago, I was standing at one of my vantage point locations, tucked behind a Hawthorn hedge to try and get some shelter from the biting northerly wind, one of those winds that cuts right through you. In fact, folk from Norfolk call them a lazy wind because of this. I was looking towards the horizon, in this farmland landscape, eyes peeled to pick up any bird movements, and ears finely tuned to pick up any sound.
Just to the left of me, and only about six feet from me, a Wren came into view. It was on the southern edge of the Hawthorn hedge that we shared, and like me, it was taking shelter at the same time as soaking up some watery, winter rays.
It was obvious that he or she couldn't see me, and it proceeded to preen. Using that fine, slightly down-curving bill to part, comb, probe, tease and re-arrange its' feathers. I could see its' tiny feet gripping the thin branch it was perched on, and the pale stripe above its' eye, that we birders call a supercilium, gave its' face some detail that I wouldn't normally notice. I could see the rusty upperparts, and the dark and pale dots along its' wings, and its' short, stubby tale that Wrens seem to almost constantly hold cocked.
This delightful of 'cave dwellers' (from its scientific name of Troglodytes) continued to preen, and then it moved further out to soak up the full rays of the sun. It looked left, right and straight past me, so I knew for definite that it didn't know I was there. Or did it? Did it know that I was there, and that the large, brown lump adorned in the bird surveyor's jewels of binoculars, telescope, camera and clipboard, was no threat, and therefore was being ignored? After all, the Wren had made me feel so small, and maybe it knew that.
It then dropped to my feet, literally, with just the mesh of the fence between us. It was obviously searching for invertebrates, and I could see it on the ground, like a clockwork mouse, all jerky in its' movements. I could see it looking, cocking its' head to one side, so a dark eye could look skywards, and see whether there were any predators approaching. It actually looked as though it was looking at me, perhaps it was, who knows.
It flew back to the hedge, soaked up some more rays, as though it was using the sun to re-charge that tiny body. And then it was back along the fence, looking for invertebrates again.
I could see why it was feeding along the fence bottom, as the structure of the grassland was different here, as the sheep couldn't eat the grass off along the fence bottom, and tussocks had formed as a result, perfect for harbouring multi-legged, juicy morsels for the Wren to eat. The Wren moved further away from me, but I could still hear that ratchet-like call, as it foraged along the fence bottom. A joyous encounter indeed!
That encounter with the Wren had been the highlight of what was a very quiet morning. I was at one of my wintering bird survey sites in northwest Lancs, and even though it was a lovely sunny morning, birds were thin on the ground.
Just before I had my encounter with the Wren, another creature that lives its' life equally as fast made a brief appearance, and that was a Stoat. It popped up, took a look at me, as they often do, and then vanished as quick as it had appeared. This site is good for another mammal that lives life very fast at times, the Brown Hare, and this morning I had five on the arable land.
Pink-footed Geese were thin on the ground, or should that be up in the sky, as I only had 38 go over. Four Shelducks that made an appearance were another sign of a growing list of signs, that spring is on its' way. Whenever I start seeing Shelducks inland on farmland, I know that spring is round the corner. How far round the corner, is a question that only February knows the answer to?
For once, Stock Doves outnumbered Woodpigeons, with 17 of the former, and only 3 of the latter. A total of 166 Lapwings heading west was noteworthy, and I wondered if it was an effect of the recent cold weather that we have been having. Only two species of raptor, a Kestrel and two Buzzards, and my total of nine Blackbirds was greater than my total of Fieldfares and Redwings put together. I think there's a pattern emerging here! And that was that.
I read a rather depressing report recently from the BTO, that said that the UK's Puffin population could plunge by as much as 90% by 2050, because of changes in the marine environment caused by rising temperatures, if global warming is not checked.
Increasing water temperatures are having a negative impact on sand eel numbers in British waters, the main prey species of Puffins, affecting the breeding productivity of British breeding Puffins. Very sad news indeed. Trying to put a positive spin on this depressing piece of information, is the fact that the Puffin population could plunge as much as 90%..., and putting the emphasis on the 'could', means that we might be able to do something about it. We'll see.