At 5.30am on an April morning the birds are bloody noisy. The song thrush is persistent, not only repeating its phrases over and over, but still going at 7.15am when I left. I spent the time in between sitting by the brook that runs through the wood near my house.
I spent about ten minutes trying to find a position where I could sit properly on a tree trunk without my feet being in the water. I wanted to be hidden enough and low enough down to take photos if something exciting came along. I eventually realised this wasn’t possible and compromised on a comfortable position for my bum, but having wet shoes, socks and feet. It wasn’t too bad as after a while my feet numbed out and I couldn’t feel the cold any more.
Not long after settling, a high-pitched ‘tseep’ gave away the unmistakable presence of a grey wagtail. In fact it was so loud that I realised it was standing on a log on the far bank, only a few feet away. The piping calls of the grey wagtail, dipper and kingfisher (the ultimate trio of river birds) all carry well up or downstream. I wonder if their calls have evolved this way to be audible along the length of the water. They certainly cut through the babbling rapids.
Mr Wagtail disappeared some 20 yards upstream out of view. Then, almost out of nowhere, it reappeared, this time joined by a female. The male grey wagtail has bold, bright yellows and dark greys and blacks, while the female is similar but a bit more washed out. They jumped and hopped around, springing up into the air. It was only when the male flew straight at the bank that I realised where they he had disappeared to before. He vanished underneath the blossom of an overhanging tree, and I think this is where they must be nesting this year. In previous years they used a nook in the crown of the old bridge.
They fly upstream together and disappear. For some time, the brook bubbles and sloshes away, while blackbirds and wrens sing. But few, if any, birds fly past me. My world is overwhelmed by sounds. Then there’s a loud ‘splosh’ somewhere behind me. Tucked as I am in my little spot, with one leg asleep, I can’t really turn around. I crane my neck to see what it could have been but can’t spot anything. It’s only about ten minutes later that I realise what it was. A large grey bird with an orange-y head flies past me and lands at the bend in the brook. With a bright white collar I recognise it as a female goosander. She’s part of the ‘sawbill’ family of birds. I only see them on a handful of occasions each year, so spotting one at my local nature reserve is really thrilling. She swims out of sight upstream (all the birds seem to be heading upstream, is there some sort of avian-rave up there?).
A grey heron drifts out of the early morning mist, flies silently overhead and back into the mist. Activity dies down, and peace returns, although without quiet. As I get up, pack away my camera and walk back, the birds are still serenading each other and the morning sun. At ground level, the wild garlic is ripe, about to burst.