Monday, 10 September 2012

Tottering along the water's edge

A scatter of showers has been passing through all morning, some skirting the surrounding hills but others rolling overhead to deliver waves of heavy, slanting rain. With each approaching shower the wind lifts, white tufts are created on the now rippling water and wading birds are buffeted as they halt their southward journeys to feed from the gleaming mud. I am in Rutland and this particular lagoon provides one of the few opportunities in the county for passing waders to stopover and feed. There’s also a good chance of osprey and an even better chance of hobby.

Tucked, as I am, into the corner of a distant hide I have only occasional company. There is none of the blokey banter than can plague birdwatching trips to more popular sites, with the endless ramblings of those keen to tell you what they have seen at other sites and in other countries. I can enjoy the birds alone, selfishly undisturbed. Out front, hirundines rake the air, while terns drop to pluck food from the water’s surface and dunlin and snipe haunt the margins. Two Egyptian geese look wildly out of place, perched on one of the osprey nest platforms, but perhaps this scene is closer to that of their Africa homeland than the ornamental lakes and stately home backdrops of their adopted Norfolk stronghold.

A brief, ringing call alerts me to the presence of a greenshank. Scanning with my binoculars I catch sight of the bird as it flies in to land just 20 metres distant, the spear-tip of white that extends from the rump up the back, bright against the darkening sky. The bird moves across the mud, tottering on exaggerated legs and with head facing into the wind. Every now and then it tacks left or right, head still down and forward, buffeted but never unbalanced.

The greenshank is a passage visitor to Rutland, perhaps from breeding grounds in northern Britain or, more likely, from further afield. This is a species of lonely uplands and forested marshes, a bird that moves south from late summer onwards, wintering in southern Britain, Continental Europe and on into Africa. Most of those passing through eastern England will have begun their journey in Scandinavia and be heading for West Africa. The earliest of the birds to be on the move will have been underway in late July but pasage will continue into November, making this a protracted period of autumn migration. I am sure that I will catch up with more of these elegant birds as the year tips towards it end but for now this individual has my full attention. It is a wonderful bird, understated and quietly elegant.

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