COMETH THE HOUR
Working in a 9–5 office job isn’t so bad if you are lucky to have wildlife-rich haunts close enough to explore in your lunch hour. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. I’m not generally a clock-watcher, but in spring, when the sky outside is dunnock-egg blue and bird song is drifting in through the window, I have one foot out of the door as the church clock strikes 1.00.
No marching off across the countryside to squeeze in a couple of 20-minute miles. Save that for the dog walks with access to a shower on my return. These lunch-hour excursions are carried out on a small scale. I prefer to potter and observe — to stand and stare — which brings home to me how much I must miss when distance is the objective.
On this particularly electric day in late April, I stepped into a favourite glade of a local bluebell wood, listening to the myriad new arrivals staking out their territories — the ubiquitous chiffchaff and the more melodious offerings of garden warblers and blackcaps, the songs of which are easily confused. It doesn’t help that they tend to hide away while singing, though the male blackcaps are less shy. While I was tuned in, a movement caught my eye across the other side of the glade. A small warbler flitted into the sunlight trailing a beak-full of fine grass. It hovered momentarily before disappearing into the crown of a low-lying bramble. When it finally emerged I watched it carefully as it flew up into a nearby sapling and caught a glimpse of the chestnut crown of a female blackcap.
I decided not to disturb the nest at this stage but knew that curiosity would get the better of me, as it did a few weeks later when I returned in May with my camera. There was no-one at home when I carefully lifted a single leaf to expose the nest, but what treasure lay within! Like semi-precious stones polished by the waves, there lay a clutch of five perfect little eggs suspended in a delicate basket of fine grass loosely camouflaged with wisps of moss. Conscious of my intrusion, I quickly captured the image for others to enjoy and retreated, checking that any disturbed vegetation from my approach to the nest was settled back into position.
Had I made such a discovery as a young boy in the 1970s, I would have been heading home similarly elated, but also triumphantly clasping a small padded container holding one of those gems. Fortunately, I soon grew out of that urge to collect before my rapidly improving skills led me to the rarer species, but the delight in finding nests continued in that boy and still does in the man.
The boy in me wanted one more visit — after all, I found it. It was MY nest! The timing was perfect as I returned to the glade a few weeks later to a raucous welcome from two agitated parents. The young had just fledged and I spotted one lurking in a nearby sapling. Success!
How quickly they had grown up, and later that year, as autumn approached and the Mediterranean beckoned, their hour would come.
© Patrick Fox (2009)