'I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out 'til sundown, for going out, I found was really going in.' John Muir

I've seen the top of Everest (from a long way off), smelled the breath of a whale (from way too close) and lived on a boat in Greece (for a few years), but I continue to experience some of my most precious moments right outside my backdoor.

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Sunday, 13 January 2013

Top Secret Birds!

At the end of my road there’s a strange collection of old brick buildings, paths covered with a now peeling anti-spark coating,  an old railway siding and some deep underground tunnels.   It was once a top secret WW2 chemical weapons factory and the tunnels held thousands of mustard gas shells.  They also carried out research into the first atomic bomb here.  Calculations and scribblings can still be seen on the walls in some of the buildings.  But now it's a thriving nature reserve and home to North East Wales Wildlife and Rhydymwyn Valley History Society.

I was on site to help out with a winter bird survey.  It was freezing , the golden reeds were covered in frost, the trees stood out like pencil sketches against a pale, water-colour-wash sky and my breath billowed out in clouds through my red felt scarf.

Jackdaws repeated their harsh calls like the sound of ice cracking; we counted their black shapes in the spooky ash tree.      On hearing a bright tinkling sound we looked up and counted ‘1, 2, 3, 4………10 goldfinches.’  We watched them disappear, showing off their light, bouncy flight.  Blue-tit, coal-tit, robin, wren, dunnock, marsh tit at the feeders in front of the bird hide, fieldfares clattering overhead, we counted them all until it was time for lunch and much needed hot chocolate.

After lunch we walked the Woodland Trail.  It was slightly warmer up there, less frost.  The branches glittered with drops of moisture and our feet slithered on dark slimy leaves.  The air was heavy, still and silent except for a drip-dripping sound and the occasional crunch of twigs under foot.   Then we heard a noise like tiny football rattles and saw a troupe of long-tailed tits swinging through the branches.   Then, the ‘demented’ call of a nuthatch, the thin ‘tsee’ of a goldcrest high in a conifer and the ‘squeaky toy’ sound of a great-spotted woodpecker.   Someone whispered, ‘There’s a treecreeper,’ and we all looked up to see the tiny bird, doing exactly what it says on the tin.

‘Woodcock!’ We shouted, looking at each other for confirmation that we hadn’t been imagining it. 
  It was on the edge of the Woodland Trail hiding in the leaf litter, until we approached with our clip boards.  I had a quick glimpse of its stocky body and long dagger bill before it disappeared. 

Kate pointed out some King Alfred’s Cake fungus, hard, oval and shiny black, growing on the bark of a dead tree.  She told us how it can be used to light a fire.  I never knew that.  I also never knew that I could see woodcock just down the road from my house.  I always imagined I’d have to get in the car and drive to a deep, dark wood somewhere miles away. 
Oh and there was also a ‘possible snipe’ near the wetland, but that flew off so quickly that none of us could be 100% sure.  

The next winter bird survey is on Saturday 26th January. I’m going to do my best to be there.  Who knows, we might see a ‘definite snipe’ this time?

1 comment:

The bike shed said...

You know, I think you'd love to meet Mark Cocker when he tutors at Ty Newydd this year - fabulous nature writer and such a knowledgeable birder. You'd also like the New Networks for Nature conference in Stamford (october-ish) - loads of writers and nature scientists there this year.