Saturday 10th of the ninth month, 2016, and it’s another windy day on Romney Marsh. Not wet or particularly cold, but bright and very blowy.
We’re at RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Dungeness, armed with binoculars and a keen enthusiasm.
I love birdwatching. My parents tell me that when I was just learning to walk, in our house, there was a Gracie height window that looked out over the garden and I would stand or sit and watch the birds for ages. Maybe that’s where it started. I’m quite good at identifying birds, I know a lot of different kinds, species and families. But my favourite bird has to be the Wren, it’s so tiny, but it has a huge voice. Once when I was playing hide and seek with some friends, I hid in a hay pile, at the time we kept goats, I completely buried myself and a little wren came and was jumping around on me, oblivious to the fact that, underneath the unusually human shaped hay stack, was me!
Anyhow, Dungeness now being our local nature reserve, we wanted to check it out. The first highlight was almost as soon as we walked through the door of the visitor centre. One of the walls was completely made of glass and looked out over a vast expanse of water with many, many sandbanks and little islands dotted across it. The guy at reception smiled at us clutching our binos and membership cards. “Look out there,” he said “See the two white blobs on that island?” I’d guessed before he said it. “Great white egrets!”
I’d never seen a Great White, though I’d always hoped to after seeing so many little egrets when we lived on the boat last year. These Great Whites were magnificent. Looking through a magnified lens, I saw them, their big bodies covered in vanilla coloured feathers, their necks long and arching, their beaks thin, curved and the colour of sunset, their legs stick-like and a dark grey.
Moving out into the reserve, past a pond of flitting dragonflies and noisy frogs, past ditches full of tall, conferring reeds, alongside the shimmering lake. We reached the first hide. Pushing open the door the hide was jammed with serious looking birders, all sporting several pairs of binoculars round their necks and peering through huge, high power telescopes. We sat down on the bench and, putting our binoculars to our eyes, began scouring the scene for any interesting birds.
I like to watch them going about their daily life, fighting, feeding, tending to their young, mingling, flying. After a while we’d seen some ringed plovers, some curlew sandpipers, a lot of great crested grebes with young, coots, swans, cormorants, tufted ducks and shovellers. Quite good for under an hour of birding.
More and more people kept pouring into the hide. Eventually a nice lady with a European, maybe french, accent told us that everyone here was looking for a very rare bird that had been spotted on the reserve the previous day. It was called a Buff Breasted Sandpiper and lived in Canada and northern North America and was supposed to migrate to South America, but had got very lost and ended up here.
Suddenly a man gave a jubilant cry. “I’ve got it!” he said excitedly, not looking up from his telescope. “Where? Where?” asked everyone else. “On that island with a coot and lapwing. The one with a post behind it.” This is precisely what he told us.
After a while my binoculars set eye on a very small light coloured bird scuttling around the island. “I’ve seen it.” I told Dad and he directed Evan and Irys to its whereabouts.
It was hard to see against the sandy coloured pebbles, as it was much the same colour. But you easily see it because of its movement. It ran back and forth, to and fro, like it was on fast forward.
After a while of watching this lovely little unexpected visitor and all the other birds around it, we had to end our Dungeness adventure, it was back to the car for some of Gracie’s home-baked tea loaf.