The birds! The birds!
I am sure you will be interested to know that have joined a Bird-Watching Group. It meets once a month
and goes on walks lasting around 2 hours - though most of that time is apparently spent looking out for our feathered friends rather than actually stomping along highway and byway. I decided to join because (i) I want to learn more about birds, especially
about recognising bird song and (ii) if taking up a new activity I wanted it to be something outdoors. I asked Mr B if he wanted to join too but he said he has all the pleasure of the birds in our back garden without stirring from his arm-chair. He does have
I was undeterred, however, and packed my rucksack with binoculars and bottled water this morning with considerable enthusiasm. I would have taken
my RSPB Bird Book but it’s quite heavy and I was sure our leader would be suitably equipped...
But, Houston, we have a problem. As we gather in the car park at The Bluebird Cafe, we discover that we have no
Leader. We are, in fact, Leader-less. Our Leader, The Knowledgeable One, is on holiday this week. Someone vaguely knows the route we are taking but makes it clear that, when it comes to Bird Recognition, she is as much a novice as the rest of us. She does,
however, have a small, well-thumbed anthology of birds which shows a laudable approach to preparation.
One of our group, a new member like me, strongly protests
that this is Not On and that our Leader should have arranged for someone equally knowledgeable to lead our group in her absence. I am thinking that we need Baz, my brother-in-law, who is the best Bird Watcher I have ever known. The Obstinate One jumps
up and down quite a bit (metaphorically speaking) but, fortunately, nobody else feels strongly about the leadership issue so in the end she pipes down and we saunter off along the banks of the Rife making so much noise as we introduce ourselves
to each other that the birds can hear us coming and make themselves scarce.
I am beginning to wonder whether we are just going to enjoy a pleasant walk or whether
we will actually spot a bird and watch it – which seems to be what the group should be all about. We are, after all, called the Bird Watching Group – it’s a bit of a giveaway, isn’t it? At which point the Birds of Ferring take pity
on us. First of all, a greenfinch settles on a distant tree and stays there, waiting for us to train our binoculars on it, study the bird book, and agree that it is, indeed, a greenfinch. It even obligingly turns round on its branch a few times so that
we can see it from all angles. When I say “we”, it is what is called a Royal “we”. I am struggling with my binoculars. You know how people talk about “training their binoculars”? Well, mine needed a few more lessons.
Though it might have been down to me, of course.
Hey, here’s another Bird of Ferring, sitting on a distant branch and giving us plenty of time to watch and
identify it. Nobody can decide what it is. Where is Our Leader when we need her? You can’t blame the bird, which stays put for ages while we deliberate, consult The Book, and argue about the merits and demerits of this bird versus that. As we are arguing,
several swallows swoop overhead on their way to the sea and beyond. “Swallows!” we all say, with certainty. We didn’t even have to consult the Bird Book. Our Leader would have been proud of us.
Members of the Ferring Conservation Society are doing a bit of judicious pruning along the banks of the Rife. They tell us that we should be able to see lots of egrets just along the way. We hasten our steps, in eager anticipation.
Sadly, the egrets have, well, egressed.
At this point the Outspoken One says she is going to take a different route back to our starting point. Three other
members of the group go with her. I stick with the main group because I am the Law Abiding Type. It’s the way I have been brought up. I would quite like to be a Rebel but I can imagine my Mum shaking her head in disappointment at my contrariness.
I am pleased I have stayed with the main group because we come across a First World War memorial on the corner of a field, with four names engraved on it. I take photos on
my phone and can’t wait to get back and check out the names against those we are researching for The Great War Project. This is a completely unexpected bonus.
When we get down to the beach the sea is in - so there are no wading birds to be seen. But the sky is so clear we can see the Isle of Wight, the sea is sparkling as if studded with hundreds of thousands of diamonds. It is so, so beautiful
that it takes what little breath I have left away. A cormorant alights on a groyne and spreads its wings: “Look at me! Look at me!”
two of us recite that Christopher Isherwood poem from our school-days:
The common cormorant (or shag)
Lays eggs inside a paper bag,
You follow the idea, no doubt?
It's to keep the lightning out.
But what these unobservant birds
Have never thought of, is that herds
Of wandering bears might come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.
Everyone else in the group looks at us as if we are quite, quite mad. You can see them mentally consulting The Bird Book for references to paper bags. And bears.