After the redpoll? Christmas. Turkey, books and socks I’ll probably never wear again; enough alcohol to circumvent family gatherings and parents still busy with work. The final week between Christmas and the new year is always fallow. Lethargic, like this sentence. Short of a proper cold snap, are we witnessing the globally-warmed ghost of Christmas future? It was so warm that a pre-Christmas pint with friends was held outside, at 10pm, in December without coats. More practically, the mildness means the sky has been leaking rain since…forever? Or so it feels. Without the usual cold snap the countryside has laid to rot, devoid of anything that isn’t a Waxwing. And there’s none near the village here.
After the redpoll? Minsmere. After that redpoll most things don’t seem so good. That afternoon was spent wandering around various hides overlooking a remarkably birdless scrape. Passing Bittern hide we stopped and looked at it: ‘you never actually see Bitterns from it’ I remark to dad. He agreed. The same applies to Kingfisher hides. As soon as you name a hide after an animal, you’re guaranteed to never see that species from it. Mother Nature is the greatest ironist though: at that moment a Bittern flew from left to right, extremely close in front of the hide. Had we gone in the hide, we would’ve been walking up the stairs, oblivious to the bird.
We were headed to Island Mere, for the long dusk of winter days. Facing southeast, with the skeletons of poplar trees in the distance, the horizon turns a festive golden as the light slowly slips away. Bewick’s and Whooper Swans makes brief, unsatisfactory appearances, as does a Kingfisher, periodically flying from one reedy inlet in front of the hide to another. By the reedy edge of the hide, Water Rails comically, awkwardly, sprint from cover to cover. Living deep in cover does that: they’ve not learned the Minsmere way of parading to a paying public. As the shadows extend over the margins one becomes a bit bolder though, and hesitantly, slowly picks its way around a muddy puddle. They are impossibly awkward looking birds, with their long, gently decurved bill, long legs, and surprisingly slender, striped, body.
The hide fills up as dusk wins over day. Word has got around about this place, and more precisely this:
One of the more reliable places to go face-to-snout with an Otter, though never one you can ever confidently predict. It just appeared, in a channel in front of the hide, posed for just long enough to grab a photo before hunting for fish. For several minutes it was on view, often just the head or tail before the light disappeared completely.