I was a woman with a plan. I was going to treat myself to a couple of hours in a bird hide on the estuary and write a sparkling piece about it for my long-neglected blog. I have always loved estuaries. I am never happier than when I am gazing out at an expanse of rippling water and mud, listening to the otherworldly calls of curlews and oystercatchers. In such a constantly changing environment, there is always something interesting going on. And, apart from that, I have heard that otters are regularly seen from this particular hide.
So, I was not best pleased, when having driven for an hour, I discovered that my hide was under repair and out of use. Grumbling to myself, I stomped across the marsh to the next hide, overlooking a lagoon. At first glance, writing material seemed thin on the ground. I texted my husband to tell him that my plans had changed and I was now sitting in a hide with no birds in sight. He texted back, “Isn’t a hide without birds just a shed?” He had a point.
I picked up my binoculars and scanned the water. The scene was not, as I had first imagined, devoid of bird life. There was an elegant little egret stalking the shallows, a couple of mute swan, half a dozen moorhen and a little grebe, which swam straight towards me. A group of black-headed gulls, with charcoal-smudged winter faces, huddled together by the far bank. I settled down to watch, hoping that something exciting would happen. I don’t know what I expected. I didn’t really mind, as long as it gave me a story.
Time passed. The wind howled around the hide and ruffled the surface of the water. I wondered whether I should move on; try pastures new for my story. Then, I started to notice things that I had not taken the time to notice before – the bright orange of the autumn oak trees, the steely-blue of the water and the crows, hanging in the air like puppets cut loose from their strings. I turned at the sound of a kingfisher and watched it land on a post. A group of teal appeared out of nowhere and quietly dabbled. A pied wagtail hunkered down on an island and the egret stood on the shore to preen, exposing its shocking yellow feet. Suddenly, I realised that my attitude had been all wrong. The natural world does not have to be exciting. It does not have to ‘perform’ for my benefit. Nature documentaries have got a lot to answer for in this respect, raising the bar and our expectations, by showing us only the most interesting behaviour and the best quality close-up portraits. Wildlife watching in the real world is often nothing like that. It is a glimpse of a roe deer, before it melts into the woodland, the scrunch of leaves underfoot and the smell of damp earth. It is about delighting in the first primrose of the year, or discovering that blue tits are nesting in your garden. It is about all those little everyday things that connect you to the natural world and which you see as soon as you take the time to really look.
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