Bird Life

Yesterday was a lovely sunny day, just the sort you want at the end of August in this part of the world where summer is showing signs of being over. J and I decided to take a day out and go over to our local RSPB reserve for a spot of birding. For the uninitiated this is not a euphemism, we really do look at feathered birds, and in J’s case we record all sightings for his future use and possibly for posterity as well.

Little Grebe feeding chick (from http://www.thamesvalleybirds.co.uk)

The day turned out to be a wonderful mixture of walking and watching. We walked the stony footpaths alongside the fruiting hedgerows, and took the visitor trail up to the reed-screen hides. On my previous visits the waterways had been quiet, lovely to contemplate but not noteworthy to a more serious birder than I. On this visit we were pleased to see a young Little Grebe whose peeping was insistent, and we watched as its parents dived for food. As the young chick begged it was rewarded with small tidbits.

Further along the way we were graced with a glorious display by two Hobbys. These small falcons are seriously acrobatic, and as they swooped and dived for dragon flies along the reed edged water channels we watched in wonder.  Once the birds had taken their prey in the air they then bettered this aerial feat by feeding in the air, taking pecks at the insects caught in their talons. This spectacle went on for over five minutes, and neither J nor I had ever seen this activity for that long before. It was certainly a memorable moment in my birdwatching career.

Great Crested Grebe carrying chick. (www.northamptonshire.gov.uk)

This was all topped off for me by a sight I have had on my “to see” birding list  since I was about seven; a young Great Crested Grebe riding on the back of its mother. We had walked up to the furthest hide and on the way we passed a fellow spotter who told us that he had seen a grebe with some very small chicks. Very small chicks are normally around much earlier in the year, but the wet weather this spring has put back some breeding efforts so we were lucky to have them around. As J set up the telescope, I scanned across the water with my binoculars, I saw the grebe and its young but we needed the ‘scope to get more detail as they were across by the far reed bed, about 100 metres away. When I put my eye to the ‘scope I saw the sweet sight of two very tiny stripy headed chicks scrambling up their mother’s back. I squealed with absolute joy at this and watched as they snuggled into her down, disappearing out of view for a time (so much so that J didn’t see them for a while!)

So, a beautiful day and a great time spent in the outdoors.  In the local pub, over cider, we assessed our visit; we walked and watched for four hours and saw over thirty different species – I know this as J diligently recorded each one. The encounters portrayed here sum up the magic of the day for me; to have the opportunity to see beauty at first hand in the commonplace happenings of nature is a great privilege.