Sometimes it is nice to just sit still; to abandon the urge to chase nature and allow wildlife to come to you. To wait; a moss-clad boulder, park bench, bank or fallen branch the ideal perch from which to watch the natural world go by, and from which to admire the myriad secretive creatures set to creep into consciousness as the minutes dwindle in quiet solitude.
This is exactly what I found myself doing yesterday evening; opting for an uncharacteristically patient approach to wildlife watching along the weathered banks of my local river, the Blyth. My seat for the duration of my stay – a mere half an hour – a fallen birch; her trunk slick to the touch and crumbling as a result of the trees prolonged and unrelenting decay. This particular tree, a favoured seat of mine for many years now, located midway through the Half-Penny Wood: a cherished childhood haunt that I discuss quite frequently on this blog, and one of only a scant few designated nature reserves in my local area. A rather nice place, in truth.
Waiting, as the light faded and the washed-out tones of the Winter day faded, gradually, into crepuscular darkness, all remained quiet. At least at first. The pronounced trickle of the Nesquick coloured river, rife with sediment, and occasional rustle in the jaded leaf-litter the only sounds to be heard. Abiotic notes, only noticed in my more quiet moments, soon cast into obscurity with a series of shrill screeches from the yellowed riverside grass. A vole, though who knows which species. The rodent clearly perturbed at the presence of some unseen being; voicing its displeasure from deep inside its fortress of rotten foliage.
A Dipper came next – though, as is often the case, I missed it. The electric call of the bird as it passed unseen, a painful indicator as to an opportunity missed. My head, on this occasion, turned the other way; the call heard once more above the soft rumble of water as the small bird, obscured by a bent, passed further upstream. The blow of its departure softened somewhat by the sight of another sought after woodland denizen. It’s arrival marked by a brief serious of maladroit notes as the bird – a bullfinch – dropped into the lower branches of a denuded alder. Watchful yet content at the far side of the river.
Bullfinch have always been one of my favourite birds – so much to that, to my shame, I once considered a tattoo of one. The sight of the splendid little bird before me – plump, rosy red and sporting a delightfully glossy cap – a sight for Winter-weary eyes. A bird table regular whose appeal cannot be overstated: the birds themselves, resplendent in their vermillion finery (the males at least), surprisingly shy and reclusive for such a stocky songbird. Prone, at this time of year, to traversing the wood in small groups, or pairs; and rarely as single birds. The presence of the lone bachelor on this day, in this sense, somewhat surprising. Did his mate fall victim to the Winter weather? Mild though it has been. Or was it the local hawk? Maybe she is just waiting, pink feathers obscured behind the bottle-green veil of needles shrouding the nearby Yew.
Minutes pass after the finch departs, calling once more as it lifts, flying overhead and out of sight in a series of undulating motions. Gone, for now; biotic silence returned to the river and wood once again, albeit momentarily. Broken again with a sharp “zrik” and the familiar sight of a white/brown blur hurtling towards me from upstream. It is the Dipper again, flying back the way it came; seemingly having hit the invisible yet clearly defined force-field that separates his territory from that of the adjacent bird. The unseen territorial barrier than splits this small stretch of river in half – a barrier whose crossing, for the Dipper at least, carries the threat of retribution. Or, at the very least, a serious scolding courtesy of his peeved neighbour. Ready and willing to fight to maintain his borders and thus ensure his dominion over any nearby aquatic invertebrates.
The Dipper passes by in a flash; enjoyed briefly before it fades, once more, from sight. I follow suit, heading home in the same direction. My evening concluded in enjoyable fashion absent the need for far-ranging adventure nor physical excursion. The patient approach, when applied here, as with all places, forever fruitful.
Cover photo: © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37675952