Friday, 12 October 2012

Of origins and destinations....


Since my blustery, but ultimately inspiring, encounter with the gulls of Hilbre Island I have a new found respect for this family of birds. They are often resented for various reasons. Disturbing a seaside picnic, noisy shrieking at ungodly hours, rowdy behaviour, seemingly cruel treatment of smaller, weaker birds. You could go as far as saying they are a little demonised. Some might even call them the Chavs of the bird world.
 
 
Personally I don’t consider them to be bullies; they are just surviving in an ecological niche they have carved out for themselves. They are clever and adaptable. However, I must admit that in the past I have paid them little attention. I have regarded them as little more than extras in the show I watch on the muddy banks of the Dee. Until now that is….
 
 
Sunday last I embarked on a mammoth walk across the Patch with Mrs Dee Birder. We wandered for miles over heath, through woodland, along hedgerows, across meadows returning home via the shore. As the sun was setting we found ourselves on the prom by the Marine Lake. The water was glassy calm, reflections of sky and setting sun providing a stunning end to our epic ramble.
 
 
The pavement bears the scars of a fine day beside the seaside. We pass a dropped ice cream puddling into a pool of sweet disappointment, an empty tray that once held salty chips is being inspected by hungry Starlings and a discarded Sunday supplement lies open next to a bench, the whisper of breeze attempting but failing to turn a page. Day trippers are heading home to iron outfits and pack lunches for the impending return to work in the sure-to-come-too-soon morning.

Further along the prom a group of Black-headed Gulls is lined up on the railings. From the look of the scene we are approaching the aftermath of a feeding frenzy. Greasy chip paper has been shredded and nothing of potato origin remains. The sated gulls sit on their metal perches digesting or drifting along the calm waters.

Normally I would not pay them much attention; I’d look at them but not too closely. It’s a bit different now, and I observe them in more detail as we wander along. I see one with a metal ring on its leg and further along I see another ringed individual. This one has a long white plastic ring with an inscription in black. It is too dark and the bird is just too far away to read the code with binoculars. But of course I’m hooked. I can’t get enough of colour ringing and the information it gives us about bird migration. I know that I will have to return to the Marine Lake and search for this bird until I have the alpha numeric code to send off to the ringers.

Monday is largely spent on the prom looking for my ringed Black-head. No joy, although I do see a few with metal rings.
 
 
However, if my involvement in colour ringing research has taught me anything it is patience and perseverance. Time spent and recorder effort will be rewarded eventually.

While I wait for my ringed target I think about why I like this type of research so much. I think it is migration in general. I love movement. Movement of birds and of myself too. I like nothing more than a bit of travel. The anticipation of new (to me anyway) lands, hearing a foreign language, sitting in an airport departure lounge watching fellow travellers. Adjusting watches for time zone changes, adventure far from home. This may seem odd for someone so immersed in and tethered to my local Patch, but I figure I like the feeling of being “out there” experiencing new things because I know at some point I will be heading home, to my house in my Patch. Friends, family and the local wildlife are an anchor I can attach to. Perhaps it is because I feel so at home here, secure in my own niche that I am quite happy to go off in pursuit of adventure in far flung places.
 
 
I get that thrill in the migration of birds too, made more vivid by the coloured rings attached to the birds’ legs. I look at birds in a new light now. I see them and also their journeys. I have mentioned this in numerous posts to this blog. Not wishing to sound like a broken record I can’t help mentioning it again here. I feel a connection to these birds. I know for a cast iron fact that I have seen the same bird in two different countries within the space of 112 days and this was a special moment. I have seen the same bird return to the Dee for 3 winters. In the gap between our yearly meetings it has been to Iceland and back. I am hoping to see it again soon.
 
I see flux, movements. Seasonal movement, movement in relation to food, weather even predation. I think of migration flights, departures, staging posts, origins and destinations. The world in birds eye view, feet that paddle waters across continents.
 
 
The ringed bird doesn’t show, but I’m sure it is still around and our paths will cross again. In the meantime I have taken a bunch of pictures of the gulls on the prom. I have enjoyed my day with them. They are at the same time cocky and nervous, get too close and they will split....
 
 
Once comfortable with your presence they go about their daily live uninhibited. I’ve seen their arguments, watched them feed and sunbathe. Time well spent.
 
 
I go home with a warm and fuzzy feeling of quiet contentment.

Sure enough recorder effort is rewarded a couple of days later as my ringed quarry is found loafing on the jetty of the Marine Lake. He (I know he is a he from the information I receive from the ringer once his code has been read and submitted) lingers long enough for me to get his picture too.
 
 
He has travelled here from Stavanger in Norway. Where he goes from here is unclear but with his, and the other colour marked birds’ sightings, we might just find out….

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