“We could go round to the bridge, where you can see down into the lowest bit where the water is.” You could sense the frustration in his voice, that another of his selected sites that had not quite lived up to his own, high, expectations. We’d been looking at a large flock of Canada Geese on the hill crest, at least 50 birds, monochromatic against the leaden sky and muddy grass. A dismal scene they made on the ridge, exacerbated by the lack of White-fronted geese mixed in with them; especially when he had seen 15 or so there yesterday. We retuned to our silver charge. Onward we must travel.
Round past the church, through and over the traffic-lighted bridge, we came to a stop just past the crossing and looked out from there. A Greenfinch buzzed from a nearby Leylandii tree, a bird that had eluded us up until that point of the day. Two of us scanned nonchalantly with our binoculars as the third member of our assembled team, headed up to the apex of the low, hump of a bridge and stood pressed up against its thigh-high white railings. A bellicose shout of “white-fronts!” clattered down on us, which was repeated multiple times with laughter, as it had broken the silence in a somewhat amusing fashion. Cue some anxious moments as the birds seemed to have disappeared, until a crisp, white forehead mark appeared over the vegetation, followed by several more; as yesterday’s flock materialised again, in near-perfect synchronicity and timing.
We had hoped to match last years score of 77 species – our winning score – but as we closed in on and then met that number, the day was drawing in tightly and we started to consider that we may not beat it after all. After some deliberation we concurred that it would be best to go back to our Stonechat site and scan for them again, especially as the low-lying grazing land around there could offer some fine quartering territory for a Barn Owl as dusk encroached. For five minutes we fruitlessly scanned, when one of our trio put us onto a stationary shape in the fence line. A scope was sought and lo’ and behold, both Stonechats were there. 78 up.
The humble Marsh Tit had been our nemesis all day, when late in the day the third of our party suggested we head to a lake, some distance away, where he felt it was reliable to encounter them. A panicky drive followed, the clock was watched doggedly along the way and as we parked and walked, hoping for their sneeze-like call to break the cool air or the contact calls of a tit-flock to spiral in around us – we heard nothing.
So we beat a hasty and despondent retreat, to retrieve our cars and then drive onto the final meeting place. There was surely no chance of making the magic 80 now, unless we miraculously saw or heard multiple owls on the way back. As we trundled back towards the b-road, he screamed out in the back “Green Sandpiper, reverse!!!” On a shallow puddle at the edge of a muddy field, pattered not one, nor two, but three (!) Green Sandpipers; probing and tip-toeing around this muddy flash, before piping off in flash of wing beats and tail-bars as unfortunately, we disturbed their serenity. An unexpected bonus 79th species.
We successfully defended our title, by one bird and hope to do the same next year. Taking part in such initiatives is one of the many ways we can give something back to and through the hobby of birdwatching and you can read more about giving and citizen science in chapter 6 of Bird Therapy.