A small brown and white dog is burrowing away energetically in the grassy verge. His tail is wagging nineteen to the dozen, his ears (when they emerge, momentarily, from the ever deeper hole he is excavating) are flapping
enthusiastically. He is a Dog on a Mission.
His owner, an elderly gent, is resting on a convenient wooden bench (the very same bench where we stopped a short while before to record our latest Birdy Group outing)
and is watching the hairy one indulgently. Is he, perhaps, after a rabbit? we ask. As in, the dog, not his owner, don't be silly.
The answer is, possibly but probably not. This is a dog that loves to dig,
we are told. "His name is Jacob," confides the elderly fella, "But we call him JCB for short..." Well, we weren't absolutely sure whether to believe him in not but, hey, it's a good story, don't you agree?
have an excellent turnout for today's Birdy Group, all of us seduced by yesterday's sunshine into expecting the same again this morning. We have all forgotten - or failed to remember, which is much the same thing - that on a day such as this, the mist from
the sea has a most unfortunate tendency to roll inland, shrouding our views out across the Downs to the sea in mystery. We gather in the car park, gazing across the green where any number of dog walkers are exercising their four-legged friends. It doesn't
bode particularly well for Sightings of Feathered Friends but we comfort each other with the thoughts that (i) the sun might well burn through the mist in the next hour or two; and that anyway (ii) we will all enjoy the walk.
As each new car arrives we strain to identify the occupants. If they have a dog / dogs in the back then it is likely they are Not One Of Us. If, on the other hand, they have binoculars strung round their necks and disappear into their car boots to unearth
their walking boots, then in all probability they will be joining us on our gentle amble.
For, yes, amble is the word for it. Nobody puts their best foot forward; indeed we are all conscious of the need to
walk to the tune of the slowest among us. Which gives us all the more time to look around us, train our bins onto branches high above us on which - just possibly - a bird may be posing for us. If we are really lucky, it will stay there long enough for each
of us to suggest what species of bird it might be, and for our leader, the Lovely Linda, to consult her Pocket Book of British Birds.
She tells me that the best piece of advice she was given when she took
over the group from its former leader was always to sound totally sure of her facts when coming up with an identification. If you sound convincing enough, so the advice went, it is unlikely anyone will contradict you. I am not sure if the Lovely Linda has
put this theory to the test as yet, but it wouldn't surprise me. Especially when she is the one in possession of the Pocket Book of British Birds, don't you know? You can't argue with a book, even a pocket-sized one.
The saddest thing we see on our walk is a poor dead rabbit, hung up like a trophy on a low branch. Now who would do a thing like that? we ask each other sorrowfully. The most beautiful is the yellowhammer who poses beautifully in a tree high above our
heads for ages until each and every one of us has been able to spot, identify and admire him. The mist doesn't clear completely but it lifts sufficiently so that, despite the fact that we are a talkative group (enough to scare the crows), we do manage a reasonable
tally of birds spotted.
Sue 2 (yes, indeed, the same Sue from our Singing for Pleasure choir) reminds me of the words of our Conductor, the Redoubtable Muriel last Friday. As regular readers will recall, Muriel
likes to provide us with a weekly nature lesson in the interests of improving our enunciation of our consonants.
Last Friday's whimsical verse was: "The first signs of spring / in the hedgerows / are the white
flowers / of the blackthorn."
Yes, yes! I am happy to report that Muriel was absolutely right. Not, you understand, that I doubted her for a minute. All along our way, the tiny white starry flowers of the
blackthorn signal that spring has sprung in the hedgerows.
Mist or no mist, it must be so. Seeing is Believing.