Monday, April 14, 2008

Armchair birding

Matt Merritt writes:
One of my most regular moans is about having to sit around at home waiting for deliveries, meter readers – you know the sort of thing. Well, never again.

On Saturday, I was up early because a firm was coming round to do a safety check on my gas meter. As is always the way with such things, they said they’d be around “between 8 and 2”, and so I found myself sitting there in front of the TV, whiling away the hours, and itching to get outside to look for a few spring migrants.

I live in a large, industrial village, and much as I like it, the one big problem with my house is that it’s near impossible to watch birds from inside it. At the back (it’s a terraced house), outhouses and walls block the view of the garden, while at the front, there’s a window box and a tiny patch of gravel, and then across the road an old factory (converted into multiple work units) and an old people’s home.

Oh, and between those two, there’s a patch of weed-strewn dirt and gravel used as a car park for the work units. Occasionally it attracts a Jackdaw or a Blackbird or a Robin, or even a Woodpigeon, but not a lot else. On this occasion, I was watching a pair of Jackdaws (probably the ones who nest in my chimney pots) collecting nesting material from it, and noticed a small, dull, Robin-sized bird moving around beyond them. Trouble was, it was partially obscured by grass and weeds, and I’m ashamed to say that for quite some time I was far too lazy to go and get a pair of bins to get a decent look at it, or to go upstairs to get a more unobstructed view. Finally, though, a brief full-length glimpse showed it to be considerably slimmer than a Robin, and I began to get just a little bit excited.

As soon as I got the bins on it, it turned away from me, revealing a rufous tail, constantly flicking as it picked its way over the ground. The rest of it was a pretty uniformly mousy grey-brown. A female Black Redstart, and not 25 yards from my front door!

Trouble was, my scope was in the car outside, and going out to fetch it might have frightened the bird off, so I spent the next half-hour watching it from inside the house. It occasionally flew up onto a nearby fence, or to the roof of the old folks’ home, before resuming its dashing around after insects. At last, it retreated to the far corner of the car-park, so I dashed out and got the scope, and watched it for another half an hour from as close as I dared.

I’m afraid I’m not signed up to any bird news services, so couldn’t spread the word very easily, and anyway I was far too absorbed to take my eyes off the rare visitor. In the end, it disappeared into the nearby park, which meant me dashing round the corner to the main entrance and searching for it, fruitlessly, for about an hour. After that, it was home to jot down a few descriptive notes and email the sighting to LROS.

Predictably, I spent the rest of the weekend trudging round likely spots searching for migrants, and turning up nothing more than a few Wheatears and Willow Warblers, so the moral of the story for me is never to ignore the birds just outside the front door, and more importantly, never to complain again about being stuck in waiting for this or that caller.

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