Apr 30 2020

Memorable moments with nature: Part 4

Shell Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland [First published in 1983]
Shell Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland
Click Image to Enlarge

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…

Warden Jo

“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.

Red-throated diver

Red-throated diver (credit: hillanddale)

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.

Great grey shrike

Great grey shrike (credit: Paul Cools)

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.

Jo's adder

Jo’s adder

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!”





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