It seemed there were a lot of jokers abroad at the Arundel Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust on Monday morning. That's not even counting the ducks.
In various places around the site, books were open to collect "sightings" by keen-eyed visitors. "Swallows flying in and out of this hide" read one and "warblers spotted in the reed bed" another - but, hey, what's this? "Hippo in the
lake" states another entry, whimsically. Almost certainly written by the comic who penned the entry in the book in another hide which told us "Gorilla in the mud." I suspect fowl play...
Ron, one of the members of our Birdy Group who gathered in Arundel yesterday, was also in Fine Form, insisting on discussing the merits of goose as a Dish of the Day right in front of Mr and Mrs Greylag Goose and their four
fluffy off-spring. How could he? we tutted, but Ron was unrepentant. Mr GG hissed, as if to say: "Not in front of the children!" before he and his missus shepherded their little flock away from us, thus sparing their tender feelings.
The one thing we could be sure of was that we would see plenty of feathered friends on this Birdy Group outing, including many Downy Ducklings. We marvelled, as always, at how the
wildfowl generally managed to return to the stretch of water meant for them. By which I mean that the descriptive boards decorating the fences around the lake carried details of the very ducks and geese swimming around before our very eyes. If we wanted to
be really, really devious, we could study one of the boards at length, locate a particularly interesting duck - in terms of colouring, plumage, or endangered status - and (standing in front of the board so as to conceal it from view, proclaim loudly to our
companions: "Look! A merganser duck if I'm not very much mistaken! A diving duck, don't you know? one of the sawbill family..." Nobody, it has to be said, is fooled for a moment.
This time last year I can still remember the thrill of seeing a swallow nesting in a corner of one of the hides - not only did I have a close-up view but I even managed, by a complete fluke, to capture the bird in flight. Yesterday
I hot-footed it into the hide in question, a proper eager beaver. Someone even more eager than I was before me - seated in a corner was a gent resting one of those Super Duper cameras with a mightily long lens gently on his knee. I could just tell he was playing
the Waiting Game. The sight of our noisy gathering - like a party of chattering starlings - crowding into the hide must surely have filled him with despair.
had been waiting all morning, he told me, so sure was he that patience would be rewarded. I told him about my amazing photograph of last year's visit which seemed to give him the totally erroneous impression that I was a professional wildlife photographer.
As we chatted in sympathetic undertones, a swallow flew almost right up to the doorway of the hide before thinking better of it and swooping off. "We'll leave you to it!" I whispered - but, as we left, a small child aged about three with curly hair and a loud
voice trotted in to take our place. The Patient One shrugged expressively.
Later on, on my way back to the Visitor Centre where I was already planning on
buying a home-made rock cake to go with my regular Americano, I met my photographer friend again. He had managed to capture two young swallows in flight, he told me happily. I was almost as pleased as if I'd snapped them myself.
Back home I went, keen to recount all I had seen and heard to Mr B. I should have known what he would say:
"No Golden Eagle, then?!"
There's no satisfying some people.