On the edge of Storm Ali: a breezy day at Steart

Wednesday has just become my day again for the first time since I started working in the 70’s – freedom!  So after doing my chores and picking apples in the breezy sunshine, I headed down to WWT Steart near Hinckley Point in Somerset for the high tide, to see what I might find.

The wind was picking up as I arrived and with it came squall after squall of heavier and heavier rain, the coat tails of Storm Ali, which was wreaking havoc not much further north of us. It merited a name, the first of the year, because of its ferocity, and the birds seemed to have heard in advance and hunkered down.

Braving the breeze were plucky little egrets, gulls in profusion, a flash of kingfisher and flocks of goldfinches and starlings. Stately swans pointed upwind and remained calm, while a little grebe (my first) dashed for cover in the reeds as I arrived. The waders were nowhere to be seen. All for another day.

Swan Steart 19 Sept 2018Steart skyscape 19 Sep 18Rainbows Steart 19 Sept 2018Rainbow over the Parrett from Steart Sept 19 2018charming finches Steart 19 Sept 2018Birds on wires Steart Sept 19 2018 And all this just for me, with no-one around except distant farmers on the fields and reserve staff doing their brilliant work, always ready with a smile and a wave.

Our “common” birds

I met an experienced birder at Ham Wall RSPB reserve in Somerset, recently, and what he said to me has made me think about what birding means to me. An osprey had visited a local reserve and was drawing crowds to the nearby hide. “I won’t chase birds” he said. I thought then about tales of planes chartered to windy Scottish Isles for a glimpse of a wayward passage migrant rare to these shores, and of groups of twitchers jostling for position, long lenses to the fore. But also about the whole conservation movement which aims to protect what remains of natural habitats and the creatures who inhabit them. I remembered the words of Rosamond Richardson in the inspiring “The Albino Dunnock”, in particular her delight in the “common” birds around us. Then Chris Packham’s warning that we should be aware that wildlife must be able to live alongside human habitation and not be seen as something we must visit reserves to experience. Gradually I start to see what it is that inspires me to learn and begin to understand bird life and nature as a whole: I need to be empowered to do something, to take action about the insidious erosion of the natural world. I won’t be chasing birds either. Just patiently trying to learn.

The miracle of bird migration

Worldwide, in response to seasonal changes in conditions, up to one-half of the world’s 10,000 or so bird species, totalling an estimated 50 billion individuals, are thought to migrate every year on return journeys between breeding and non-breeding areas (Berthold, 1993). (Ian Newton “Bird Migration”: a classic now available through Amazon as a Kindle e-book)