It’s a well-trodden route. One which has been part-forged by my own explorations but also from someone else sharing their wisdom and experiences. As with all routes that are wandered in the search for avian encounters, it’s a logical mosaic of suitable habitats and hiding places. From the car-park, you skirt along a hedgerow, which itself is the edge of a bowling green. As the road curves left, a track leads ahead and away, in the direction of the cliffs. The cliffs here, so famously crumbling, are sheer and exposed. It can be a desolate place in poor weather conditions – wind-battered and storm-lashed; it really feels like the end of the world.
A little way into the track and there’s the old forge. It’s garden is one of the first outposts of tree cover for any migrant birds requiring some shelter and sustenance. It’s always worth checking here, and in late Autumn their lawn can be coated in thrushes, fresh-in from migration, feeding up and restoring order to their ranks before moving inland to roam their winter territories. A bird flicked down onto the dusty path, but back into the hedge before it could be properly observed. A Robin, surely. A few steps closer and there it was, perched at the edge of the hedge, the first drift migrant of the day, a Pied Flycatcher.
Down towards the paddocks, the hedges grow taller and funnel you down towards those weathered cliffs. There are houses here, they’re old enough to have been smugglers haunts, perched on the edgelands and watching the coastal paths where Black Shuck prowls on stormy nights. There are no migrants around the houses or paddocks and the curve irons out, the view opening out onto beet-fields and three concrete structures hugging the cliff edge. These hunched edifices hark back to times of conflict: a pillbox, and two bunkers – watchpoints and gun emplacements that have stood through multiple wars at this desolate outpost on the eastern edge of the county.
There’s a lonely elder standing where the path terminates. An attractive and verdant resting spot for many an exhausted migrant over the years. Birds had been blowing in on the eastern seaboard in previous days – interesting and scarce ones, like Wood and Icterine warblers – perhaps one would be skulking in the branches, offering tantalising glimpses of various shades of yellow amongst the greenery. The elder proved fruitful in both berry and bird. A lemon-yellow Willow Warbler skulking and fly-catching around the middle of the domed bush. A Common Redstart, bushy and bright-tailed, sitting high and proud, occasionally dropping down to the ground to feed. Birds at the stopping point of their often-momentous migratory journeys.
Walking for no more than thirty minutes felt like hours, similar to the Kingfisher analogy in the book. This brought much reflection along with it and a floating, featherlight immersion in the moment. Other reflections rose – on how several strands of the book had come together during this walk to the Coastwatch and back. Our ‘bird sense’ and those movements that draw our eyes to the foliage. The consistency of nature’s calendars through the wonders of migration were evident to see in these easy days of autumn passage. So too were the feelings, as writing now, the same line resonates, that never truly just watch birds and often, we feel them too.