A walk of two halves!

Report from our Froize WILDLIFE WALK on Thursday 20 April 2023

I don’t like cliches. As a newspaper sub-editor for more years than I care to remember, they were the scourge of my now thankfully ended professional life. I do like football though. And as most of us know only too well, journalism and commentaries on the game are riddled with the most exhausted of tired cliches. One in particular echoed through my mind as we came to the end of our two-location bird walk on April 20…it was a walk of two halves.

Such had been the severity of the recent raging, relentless and Siberian-cold gales that had been brutally lashing east Suffolk, a full three hours on our local, exposed and shelterless coast was clearly out of the question. An entire morning in a wind tunnel is not recommended either for physical or mental wellbeing! A plan that would protect both was needed.

My ever-reliable colleague David Walsh had the answer. We ‘kicked off’ a few miles inland, on one of our precious remnant Sandling heaths, with its towering pines affording us some respite from the howling easterly.

David has ears like Jodrell Bank (in terms of acute sensitivity, not in size or shape!). Whereas the years and far too many rock concerts in my youth have taken their toll on my auditory capacity, David seems to be able to hear the proverbial pin drop – even when the trees all around not so much whisper in the wind as shout in the gale.

We certainly had him to thank for pinning down the star bird of this highly enjoyable and entertaining ‘first half’ – a handsome Common Redstart issuing forth his whippy, insubstantial and understated song. Seeing this fine summer migrant, fresh in from his winter home in the scrub and savanna of the West African Sahel, proved a challenge as he understandably sought shelter from the scything wind. Most of us, however, obtained at least a satisfactory, if brief, view of this colourful bird whose species is more commonly found in woodlands in the west and north of the UK and which has undergone drastic, depressing decline here in the east.

If the Redstart had proved to be a challenge, a superb male Dartford Warbler was a proper show-off. Prolonged telescope views for all, no less! And in full sunshine and shelter as well!

We’d exhausted our luck on the heath and, with a certain degree of trepidation, the second half was soon the ‘kick off’. We headed for the blasted coast to try our luck in the teeth of the gale. An hour in these conditions is taxing, to be sure, but we persevered on the sea wall beside the River Ore to view the vast and impressive new wetland at Boyton Marshes that has been skillfully created by the RSPB.

The contrast in habitat and conditions between this wide-horizoned, wide-open space and the more intimate, sheltered setting of the heath could not have been more marked. The gale forced us to bend like saplings, but a fine array of waders and wildfowl included a species that, for me, typifies the marvels of spring migration. On distant grassland, a party of globe-trotting Bar-tailed Godwits stocked up their fat reserves in readiness for the next stage of their annual northward journey from the coasts of West Africa to the Arctic tundras of Fennoscandia and western Siberia.

Those long-distance travellers made me reconsider my fortunes as I battled against the infernal gale – I might have been bent double and might have been silently cursing, but what about these godwits? They have to put up with far more challenges than I do. They have to face all that the changing climate can throw at them. And they have to make do with invertebrates teased out of the grazing marsh soil…we had the warmth and culinary wonders provided for us by the good Mr Grimwood.

So it was indeed a walk of two halves – first half benign, second half stormy. But it went into extra time too, extra time spent in convivial company around the dinner table at our ‘home ground’, The Froize. Quite a result!

John Grant

John Grant

Guest Blogger