A birding afternoon
Recently, we decided to move back to the Netherlands, and now, all of a sudden, we find ourselves on some kind of a ‘UK farewell tour’. Strange how you always end up forgetting about or just neglecting things and places that are relatively nearby, and then – when it’s time to move on – you feel like you have to rush to finally see and experience all those locations.
We never really went to the Midlands (only once passed through the area on our way to the Isle of Skye), so on a very fine Bank Holiday weekend, we decided it was about time to drive ‘up North’. First stop was the Melton Mowbray Artisan Cheese Fair. Apart from being famous for its pork pies, this area is home to the only five cheese-makers who are licensed to produce blue cheese under the name ‘stilton’. When our bellies were full of creamy stilton tidbits, along with a few other tastings of the 50 or so British cheeses that were on offer, we went to the Rutland Water nature reserve, a birders’ paradise and supposedly one of the best places in England to see ospreys. After a short walk, we arrived at the ‘Shallow Water’ bird hide, where very serious-looking birders told us we “just missed all of the action”. Apparently, just seconds before we entered the hide, one of the ospreys seemed to have had a ‘fly-off’ with a red kite, a sparrowhawk, and a buzzard.
It’s funny how you always end up knowing all the things you never knew you wanted to know about the mating rituals of mallards or the winter mould of the lesser black-backed gull when speaking to birders. For example, on a visit to Symonds Yat Rock in the Forest of Dean, I once learned that the sparrowhawk is a great example of ‘reversed sexual dimorphism’. And one of the birders at Rutland Water happened to know all the names of the ospreys and all their ancestors, which he eagerly shared with those wanting to know (and also with those not wanting to). Upon leaving the hide, one of the other birders commented: “Thanks for sharing your knowledge.” Was that a sarcastic comment, or does this perhaps pass for common polite birder etiquette?
Anyway, I thought our ‘score’ as just casual bird watchers – or ‘robin strokers’, as I once read we could call ourselves – was quite impressive for just a couple of hours spent in a few bird hides. Apart from two ospreys, we saw cormorants, great crested grebes (photo 1), common (or arctic?) terns, a little egret, a grey heron, mallards, tufted ducks, coots, moorhens, black-headed gulls, lesser black-backed gulls (photo 2), and a kingfisher. I also had my first quick glimpse of a water vole, a species that BBC Wildlife Magazine recently mentioned as one of ‘Britain’s most-wanted wildlife experiences”. A real shame that we only discovered this area now and probably won’t be back anytime soon...