Nature Notes competition entries – My Old Feathered Friends

In this delightful blog, Marc Sanderson explains how even though he is a keen fisherman he has never lost his love for birds and birding.

My Old Feathered Friends 

While The Hornet’s Nest started life (a long, long time ago) as a birding blog, things turned decidedly fishy as I rediscovered angling from about 2011 onwards. But in times like the last few months, I thank God that I never lost my love for birds and birding – because while appalling angling conditions seem to have driven fish completely from my life, my feathered friends have remained faithfully by my side throughout.

The less said about those angling conditions the better. Almost every time I’ve been able to get out it’s been too cold, too wet or more often both. On the one occasion when The Leam looked ‘right’, I blanked. My total haul in 2013 is a pair of Leam bream, and two small roach from the Grand Union.  ‘Poor’ doesn’t quite do it justice.

Birds, however, are more constant in their affections. Whenever you take the trouble to look and listen for them, they will be there. Not necessarily the super-rare twitchable specimens, but the normal everyday sort that can lift any heart with their flash of colour, snatch of song or perhaps just their sheer numbers.

Such as the two flocks of golden plover I have seen in recent weeks, one from my car and one from a train, both wheeling and turning unmistakably this way and that; one minute a tightly-packed mass of sharp-winged silhouettes, the next a block of warm tones shimmering in the sun.

Of more modest numbers have been the bullfinches and jays which have both brought their vivid white rumps into my garden for regular visits throughout this interminably long winter; the treecreeper whose delicate little tap-tap-taps kept me company as I sat blanking on the Leam last time out; the three oystercatchers which so caught my son’s imagination as we peering from a Brandon Marsh hide in the snow last weekend; the little egret that crept along a tiny Oxfordshire brook as I swept past on the train; and the several sparrowhawks which have flashed through, past and around my life in recent weeks, each with the distinctive fleetingness which makes them both too fast to see properly and yet also unmistakably ‘sprawk’.

Even a bird I didn’t see or hear was able to bring joy to my heart: the early chiffchaff that was reported as being ringed at Brandon last weekend in the snow. A much-sought hint of spring indeed.

But among all these fine feathered moments, there’s only been one show in town for my family in recent weeks – the starling flock, or murmeration, that has been steadily growing in numbers and performing nightly behind and over my own house.

This spectacular, shape-shifting cloud has entranced us all as it has formed and grown in the gathering gloom of every evening – swirling, splitting, reforming, turning, occasionally touching down on huge farm oak trees before setting to flight once more.

Words can only hint at the glory of a murmeration of hundreds if not thousands of birds; a photograph is perhaps only slightly better. If you’ve not seen one before you should really go to YouTube and find a video of one, or better still get out next autumn and stand in awe of the real thing.