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How I Live Now- Looking at Birds

I can't be a bird- watcher; I don't have their dedication, or amazing cameras for close- up spying on the private lives of wild things; I don't keep a list of all the birds I have ever seen,  or buzz about the country (in non-pandemic days) following rumours of exotic visiting birds to add to my list ...  No I do not qualify as a birder, so I will call what I do looking at birds.

I can walk from my house on a hill near Blakeney down to the coast, and do some deeply familiar circular walks out across the marshes towards the sea and home along the landward side of those marshes along grassy tracks known locally as The Greens.  All the time out on the marshes you are aware of the birds- communicative black headed gulls, terns dipping elegantly over the creeks, curlew in the distance making their bubbling songs, white herons stalking in the shallows, big groups of Brent geese.... It's a busy busy world out there. Currently I do not have a dog, and whilst I hate that, and know that I will have another sometime, I'm aware that a dog free walker causes less stress on wild birds who can be badly harassed by unruly dogs.This coastal walk crosses a spot known as the Shepherds Garden; Granny told me when I was little that she remembered there being sheep grazing on these marshes, with actual shepherds and dogs camping in a (real!) shepherds hut.  Imagine the romance of that: I would like to time travel and see those men around their fire in the evenings. Did they hear the same birds? Were bird numbers much higher 80 years ago? I suspect yes, for many types. But they'd have been surprised by the white herons, who arrived in the last 20 years or so I think.  And they'd have been amazed ( if they cared, maybe they were too busy counting sheep) to see spoonbills, who are, as far as I am aware, the most recent foreign visitor to drop in, and now often seen in Norfolk.

With the children I have spent the odd summer night out on the coast, preferably under the stars, with full exposure to the wonderful marsh sounds of the birds. I haven't mentioned the noisiest group of all, and these are the waders, feeding daintily on the tideline sometimes in big flocks, at this time of year more evidently in pairs: everywhere you go you are chided by the red shanks who keep up a running commentary on your movements. 

And most characteristic, most recognisable and somehow most quintessential of the Norfolk marshes are the oystercatchers: smart in black and white plumage, with bright orange legs and beaks, they are easy for a child to recognise and their cries are the pure sound of the marshes as they get up from behind a tussock in the crab grass just in front of you and zig zag away a few hundred yards.

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