Memorable moments with nature: Part 4
We’re looking forward to the day when we can return to the heathlands of Surrey, Hampshire & Berkshire, but in the meantime, here is the fourth instalment of memorable moments with nature – and favourite books…
“Lots of wildlife ‘firsts’ stick in my memory and vie for the top spot as my number one wildlife experience. From a day of firsts at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve: watching an adult bittern and her young and seeing fabulous close-up views of bearded tits and marsh harriers, to the sighting of a fledged cuckoo chick, in the hedge of a nature reserve car park, being fed by a dunnock.
Another high point was the unforgettable sight of a pair of red-throated divers flying overhead on my first evening as a volunteer on the uninhabited Handa Island on the north-west coast of Scotland. These are all memorable moments.
But I think my favourite wildlife experience was one that happened much closer to home and it is the reason I became interested in bird watching. Cycling home from college I came across a flock of the most exotic looking birds I’d ever seen, on a ploughed field just outside Leatherhead. They were striking birds, each with a long, wispy crest, greenish-purple feathers and broad flappy wingbeats.
I dashed home and gabbled a description to my dad who took me back to have a closer look with binoculars and a bird book. These exotic birds turned out to be a flock of wintering lapwing, and they are still my favourite birds!
After this I purchased an identification guide of my own, the Shell Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland [First published in 1983] and I have never looked back…though I’m definitely more of a bird watcher than a ‘birder’ (mind you I did twitch a common crane once!!!)”.
Jo’s favourite wildlife experience on the Thames Basin Heaths
“Both candidates for best wildlife experience on the Thames Basin Heaths happened very recently.
Seeing a great grey shrike on Ash Ranges last month was definitely a highlight this year (and the second I’d seen in a week!), but the best wildlife experience on the Thames Basin Heaths definitely goes to my first adder!
After five years of wardening and searching for reptiles I had not seen one snake that hadn’t already been found by a dog walker or wasn’t under a tin – trust me, these sightings just don’t count! To be a ‘real’ wildlife spotter you have to understand your prey, think ‘snake’ if you like, and spot them ‘in the wild’. I had always blamed my galumphing stride (snakes can ‘hear’ vibrations through the ground) and lack of knowledge. After attending a reptile surveying course I had high hopes…but still that adder sighting was eluding me. Feeling frustrated and a little despondent, I joined a reptile survey in late March.
The weather wasn’t hopeful, a little chilly with no sun, but after only half an hour I came to a likely looking spot and checking ahead through binoculars, so as not to disturb anything, there it was, my first adder! I crept closer to take a photo. It was a beautiful male with its black zig-zag stark against its pale brown back. He was sitting on dead vegetation on a bank surrounded by heather. I had followed the advice from the course tutor to look in the gaps between the heather and I had won! I’m sure the victory felt all the sweeter for waiting five years!”