Monday, 3 September 2012

A Touch of Sun

Einstein, apparently, once described insanity as 'doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results'. This wasn't running through my head as I stood under a Wedgewood Blue sky* in a line of birders at Landguard, expectantly waiting. They were expecting. I wasn't particularly. The winds were still westerly but that didn't matter today. Time was more of an issue. A week and a weekend ago a Spanish Sparrow surprised a photographer here before going into hiding. Then, as I was just returning from Blakeney Point on Saturday evening, it reappeared. And again on Sunday evening. Come Monday evening I was to be prepared.

On Sunday it was seen leaving its roost; today it wasn't. The twitch was to be speculative at best, based upon the hunch of a pattern the bird might have fallen into: roost in the docks, wake up, disappear into the gardens of Felixstowe, return to Landguard for a pre-roost feed in the bramble bushes, roost in the docks. Repeat until it realises that Felixstowe is not the Barcelona of the north. Nor the Bilbao. Not even the Benidorm...

That was the theory at least. In practice I wasn't surprised when I took my place in the line of telescopes to be told it hadn't been seen all day. Between here and 'the Butts' (a raised bank - I guess some kind of anti-tank defence?) bramble bushes lie strewn about short, rabbit grazed grass, with thistles lined up beside them. Linnets are everywhere, seemingly in every bush, chirping incessantly. Smaller numbers of Goldfinch exploit the thistles, deftly feeding from the seeds behind the spines. House Sparrows, gregarious yet rapidly vanishing from our towns remain in pleasingly healthy numbers here. Some dust bathe, others stain their breasts and bills feeding on the blackberries. We're over familiar with House Sparrows so we stop seeing them. We stop seeing the bundle of attractive, warm feathers, and we've stopped seeing the charisma they have. Every move they make seems an exaggeration, only to familiar eyes that stop looking as soon as they have seen, they don't notice these quirks. And they won't much further into the future. Our neatness and orderliness have pulled the plug on their lives: in the 80s alone their population halved. Yet at Felixstowe they survive on. Front gardens are a riot of untamed weeds instead of paving slab car parks; the pavements are cracked; wasteland between houses exists with long grass and bushes. A little space for sparrows is what this is. I think these thoughts as the sun burns my arms and forehead. A Whitethroat flits between bushes, a Chiffchaff lazily moves through the brambles. Another birders turns up, places his scope down and says, 'it's on the thistles'.

A fresh pair of eyes will do that. It's curious that getting your eye in can be counter-productive after a while. Telescopes swing in unison, following his directions. Hopping about the grass in front of the thistles was another, different sparrow. An all chestnut head, white cheeks, not grey. A thin sliver of white over the eye. Smudgy finger print streaks over its breast. And it flies.

For the next thirty or so minutes before it flew to the docks, it showed on and off amongst the House Sparrows and the brambles as the sun set behind our backs, pleasing the assembled twitchers. It's odd to think, given Landguard's history of repelling immigration and invasion that we've ended up celebrating one in the shadow of the fort.
I believe it to be the ninth British record of a Spanish Sparrow. I also believe it hopped off a container from Bilbao in Felixstowe docks instead of using its wings to get here: brains instead of brawn? I can only approve.
(House Sparrow photo from 2007)

*This description comes courtesy of too much daytime TV.

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