Sometimes Wishes Come True...

The other weekend, on a short break on the Suffolk Coast, I had a bit of a moment…  Maybe it was the warm weather or… well anyway I got to thinking about the contents of my wishlist; so this is not the usual wander around with me and about what I saw, it is really about sharing some of the moments of delight from the birds and animals on that list and how they came to be there.  It’s not all about the photography in other words!

Many of you who regularly read these blogs will know that I get great delight from watching our ‘everyday’ birds or wildlife, with the occasional ‘Woohoo!’ moments when I get to see something new.  I don’t generally go off on jaunts just for a tick on a list, in fact, beyond having a ‘life list’ which is more out of curiosity of what I’ve seen than for record - a 'tick' does not suffice for me, I like to be able to observe and learn about whatever I am watching, by watching it! The only real list I keep results from sparks of curiosity and imagination lit as a child and later as an adult about nature, which over time has been how my wishlist of ‘Myth and Legend’ birds and animals has come about.

When I was a mere sapling, a family friend use to take my sister and I birdwatching, so we became quite familiar with many of our extraordinary everyday birds and wildlife, from the Greenfinches that used to raid the peanuts feeders, or the Hedgehog who had her babies under the leaves of a huge Bergenia in the back garden (then promptly moved them when she figured the location wasn’t so great after all!) or the toads, frogs and newts around the garden pond, to watching our first Kestrel hovering over a field, (it’s where count the Kestrels came from on road trips) seeing Fieldfares and Redwings in the autumn, watching and learning about the ducks and Grebes on the big lake near where we lived and watching Goldcrests in the local woods..  It lit a spark in other words.

In my young mind, the most (to me) elusive were the most out of reach. The first of the birds to go on the list was the Peregrine Falcon.  This stemmed from a biggest / smallest / fastest discussion. I naturally thought that seeing one would be easy thinking a wander in the usual haunts would reveal one, however they were then so rare in the UK, that those known breeding pairs were heavily protected and seen only really in their secret places by those who watched over them. For decades, the only view I had was of the following print, which hung on my wall and was gazed longingly at…


It was not until a trip to the Forest of Dean, a year past my half century, that I actually saw them in the feather – moments of total awe at their speed and presence and that I will admit brought tears. To me, they are and always will be very special birds.  Nowadays, there are many locations where Peregrines can be watched – Cathedrals, water towers, office blocks, however I still prefer to be able to see them in ‘wild’ surroundings and habitat, instead of watching them in an environment (urban) that they have adapted to. 


Next on the list came the Kingfisher - a jewel of a bird!  I think this one went on the list, simply because at the time, my favourite colour was any hue of blue! I’m not sure that Kingfishers have ever been ‘rare’ in my lifetime, however I find them to be small, fast and elusive. The first time we saw a Kingfisher was back in 2011 at the Bittern Hide at RSPB Minsmere.  I was positively squeaking with excitement (although the photo’s I took were execrable).  We sat and watched it watching the water and fishing for a considerable length of time.  Over the past few years, I have watched a few more – each encounter an absolute treat – the best by far being at Woodwalton Fen when I watched one close up for nearly an hour.  


When I was little, I had a book of legends and fables. One which caught my imagination was The Legend of Diarmuid and Grainne and involved a fearsome Wild Boar.  Unfortunately, both Diarmuid and the Boar came a cropper in the legend, however, the image of a fearsome beast stuck with me for many years – the Boar running a close parallel with live Woolly Mammoths in the likelihood of ever being seen.

One day that changed. Being an avid Springwatch Watcher, I watched a clip about Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean – these were real wild beasts, that no longer were just part of a legend and so, whilst the likelihood of watching them was slim – they are elusive – when exploring the Forest and all the wildlife it shelters, they have been on our wishlist.  The first encounter I had with them was with help, however it was of a lot of Boar bottoms disappearing at speed into the distance! Several months later though, Hubby and I had a beautiful encounter at RSPB Nagshead with a Sow and four Humbugs.


We have had intermittent success in watching them since, but the more I learn about these animals, the more I hope to observe them going about their business in the wild.

Back in the days when the car park was where the Sand Martins nest and you had to get tickets to gain entry, we had a family trip to RSPB Minsmere. At the time, there was much talk about two rare birds which had taken up residence there, the Marsh harrier and the Eurasian Bittern.  Both of these promptly went on the list, despite my not knowing what (at the time) they even looked like!  From that day, I do recall a walk along the dunes, a close encounter with some wader chicks on the beach and going to the Bittern Hide, where sightings of both the birds had been had.  As a small child, I naturally expected to walk into the hide and have both birds appear on cue – it took some years before I understood that wildlife simply does not do that!

Fast forward a few decades and on visits to Suffolk and Norfolk, both of us have delighted in watching Marsh Harriers.  Over the years, whilst I have amassed a huge collection of dodgy photographs of them, we have learnt and watched all kinds of behaviours, from courting food passes, to quartering, to their interactions with the other species in their habitat – each new or seen - before behaviour an absolute delight.  


And as for the Bitterns?  Well one stormy April day in 2012, we saw our first one.  Every one else in the hide was ‘eyes right’ watching the Marsh Harriers, but a sudden colour at the edge of the reeds caught my eye and there he (?) was.  As fast as he had appeared, he disappeared again, one photo grabbed – I recall waving the back of the camera at the warden to show her – I couldn’t get words out such was my excitement!  Since then we have often sat enthralled watching them forage and court – brief glimpses into these shy birds’ lives!


I never read Tarka the Otter.

 Watership Down, when I eventually did read it, caused tears and I’ve never been brave enough to face similar grief..  ‘H is for Hawk’ (Helen Macdonald) and ‘Wildcat Haven' (Mike Tomkies) elicited similar responses from me (both brilliant books, that have been repeatedly read);  that said, being aware that Otters were rare, through pollution, Mink and other contributing factors, the mythical (to me at any rate) Otter went on the list.  So did Ratty – (Wind in the Willows) but I recall watching Water Voles when very young on a small brook where my Dad had an allotment - they are still on the list though, awaiting proper appreciative ‘grown up’ watching!

Back to the Otter; now as years went by, I learned snippets about these and every river we went near was mineswept in case of a sighting..  Then I learnt that Otters had a kind of stronghold around certain Scottish Lochs or bays, so when we visited Mull, amongst the hoped to see’s were Otters, so eyes were kept peeled!  Our first trip was unsuccessful (we saw neither Otter or Sea Eagles) however on our second visit last year, we finally got to watch Otters fishing, ‘playing’ in the water, grooming, ‘play fighting’ and basking… Dreams come true!


A further bonus early this year was when I finally got to watch an Otter, doing Otter things, in a river, in the countryside – the delight in that encounter no less than the first times of watching them in Scotland!

So what prompted this wander through the wish list?  Well, sitting on the beach at Minsmere (it was about the coolest location!) we were watching Terns skimming and diving and fishing; As always I was attempting to photograph them and I realised as I was watching them, that not all of them were Common Terns. Terns hold a strange fascination to me, not least because they are beautiful to watch, but also an amazement at the distances they cover for migration. 

Now I’m no artist, but the Tern in the Reader’s Digest Book of Birds’ that caught my eye was the Sandwich Tern and I often attempted to draw it (badly!!).  I’ve still to look up and learn about these amazing birds, but realising I was watching one of my birds of ‘Myth and Legend’ made me recall many of the other members of the list and the moments when those wishes have come true!.


Over time, other animals and birds have equally caught the imagination, Osprey's, Barn Owls, Sea Eagles, the Golden eagle, Hawfinch, Badgers and Nightjars, to name but a few - so one day maybe, those I have yet to see will be !  I'd be interested to hear if you have a similar list and how the entrants on it came to be there!






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