The power of a patch

Late on Friday, I paid an early-evening visit to the patch. Something which, with work and family commitments, I don’t get to do very often now. As dusk falls, birds arrive and congregate to roost communally, both on water and branch; in shrub and scrub – it’s a magical time, a feast for the senses and it would transpire to be one of the best to the patch in a long while; leaving me with potent memories and positive feelings – of comfort and relaxation.

It started as I walked down to the willow and alder tunnel on the south-east edge of the lake. As I funnelled into it, my senses sharpened and my movements became more controlled and focused, as I crept to the waterside. I flushed six nearby Gadwall into the air, who circled for a long while before surfing on the water as they landed. A slurred whistle ghosted over to me, there were Wigeon somewhere. I’d start with them. Strafing my scope from left to right and back, I counted eight. Two males and six females. Their smoothly domed heads, buff tones and the males blond highlights, making them stand out from the plentiful numbers of other ducks.

I counted the shovelers by scanning and picking out their larger bills. The males couldn’t be missed; with their chestnut sides, white and black bodies and bottle-green heads. They reminded me of an old ale bottle label in colour, which brand? I wasn’t sure. I counted the Gadwall next, 100 altogether, their presence reassured me – a constant comfort of the coming winter.

I counted the rest of the resident wildfowl: Moorhens, Coots, Little Grebes and Mallards. Then walked out of the tunnel and down to the scrubby area that the Warblers always make their summer homes in. I suddenly heard the unmistakeable wheeze of a Brambling from deep within a thicket and in the faltering light, began to make out the silhouettes of Chaffinches in the spindly branches too.

There were actually quite a lot of them in the tree – over ten – and when some more flew in from the left, I realised they were gathering to roost. Having not been at the patch at dusk for a long, long while – it became apparent that finches had begun to roost there. As I moved to a better position and observed, I could see the shapes of four birds atop the scrub as well – Reed Buntings. Either a family party or a roosting group. Together.

These roosting birds, united in comfort and safety, brought the same feelings to me. Feelings of reassurance and consistency. I knew that every evening they’d be there and even if I couldn’t visit very often, when I could, they’d greet me with their dusk-time gathering. The sun began to fully set over the lake and I pondered the power and pull of the patch. It was was still as strong as the days when I visited regularly, the connections we had made were still solid.

A chit-chit sounded, followed by another and then one more. A (presumed) family of Grey Wagtails, following the lake edge and into the small reed-bed in the far south-eastern corner. One of my favourite species of birds, not ever-present, but perhaps returning to roost in the same way that I had returned after an absence. Once again, it was as if the birds knew.

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