Monday, 5 December 2011

Being in the know

It was here, just as the track sweeps around to the left, arching along the shallow incline, that the Long-tail Tits nested over the summer. I am sure that if I looked I could find the nest again, assuming it has not yet been degraded by the weather or ripped apart by an opportunistic predator. Last year, it was a Whitethroat that nested here and the year before that a Blackcap held territory in the scruffy bit of bramble which now tumbles towards the track. Today, on this flat winter morning, the recollection of these birds brightens my walk and lifts my spirits. Having a regular beat strengthens my association with this place; it has become rich in memories and each new visit adds layers to an ever deeper connection.

This connection is important to me; even though this patch of plantation woodland is nothing special, it helps me feel rooted here. As well as being able to draw upon previous encounters, I can look forward to those that lie ahead; the Whitethroats and Blackcaps and Long-tailed Tits will be here again next summer, some of them on the same territories and nesting in the same bushes as were used this summer. Of course some of the individuals may change, and it may be young birds recruiting into the breeding population for the first time that take over these territories. Even so, the sense of continuity remains. As the poet Ted Hughes put it when describing the return of Swifts each summer, such continuity shows that the world is still turning.

There will be change though; in this case the loss of many of the traditional Whitethroat territories that ran in linear fashion along the old snag rows. This block of forestry has been cleared, the rows of dead stumps that were so well used by the Whitethroats are gone and the birds will have to seek opportunities elsewhere. The forest is ever changing, however, and just as old opportunities are lost so new ones will emerge for the Whitethroats. 

Other changes may be more subtle, taking place over more protracted timeframes, and these are certainly less obvious if you are simply comparing one summer with the one that went before. If I look at my notes, I will see that there were many more Willow Warblers here five or ten years ago than there are now. Their loss has been gradual, largely unnoticed but it reflects wider problems for this species across much of southern Britain.

Having a patch, this patch, is quietly comforting but I suspect that, in some small way, I have become possessive of it and the creatures that share it with me as the seasons cycle on.

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