Mission Impossible (Part 2) - Spring passions

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Spring passions

All the sound were redolent of partnerships being formed and the promise of the new generations to come. Then, as I walked down towards the Dovey Estuary, the din that was emanating from the fog was astonishing. I like to think of myself as a broadminded sort of chap, but never have I heard such vocal passions as was now coming from the lusty pairings of Canada geese – occasional glimpses of the going on through drifting mist were akin to a Newcastle nightclub on a Friday night.

Description: the Dovey Estuary

the Dovey Estuary

To begin with the reserve had been, well, reserved, but now things were clearly hotting up. As I looked around, it seemed everything was in a lubricious frenzy – manic squirrels chasing each other in a crazy courtship dance, tits, finches and siskins displaying energetically, even toads locked in warty embrace. Luckily, with the arrival of RSPB volunteers Jean and Ray Patmore at the reception building, I could break away from all this passion and, at last, get on with my woodpecker mission. I was extremely excited to see, on the board showing recent sightings, harrier, merlin and… joy… lesser spotted woodpecker. “Oh, yes!”, said Ray, sounding like the Churchill dog. “It was down by nest box number 39. Probably still there.” He kindly showed me the way, demonstrating the difference in ‘drumming’ technique of the great and lesser spotted woodpecker on a convenient post – “the lesser just sort of fades away”.

Presently I was by box 39, peering into the gloom, heart racing. Half an hour later, my heart had slowed somewhat, my ardor dampened by the steady drizzle but spirits lifted as warden Russell Jones squelched toward me and delivered both exciting news and crucial advice. “I was listening to one just the other day,” he said. “They are very territorial just now, listen out for the male’s call, it’s a bit like a kestrel alarm call, only faster, ‘Ki ki ki ki!’ Just hear the call, look up and you’ll find it,” he smiled. “Oh, and don’t forget, look at the tips of branches, not the trunks. The lesser spotted woodpeckers occupy a different niche from the greats, who spend more time on the trunks.”

I listened and I peered about me – and then, all of a sudden, I felt an urgent need for vegetarian sausages, baked beans and toast in the company of some good strong coffer, so it was back to the B&B for breakfast. Then I would return.

The Springwatch ‘studio’

Description: The Springwatch ‘studio’

The Springwatch ‘studio’

Fortified and back on the reserve, I went down to the Springwatch studio, normally the scene of frantic activity but now boarded up and silent. Fiona Evans and son Iolo, who live on the reserve, were attending to the dung heap off to one side. “I think the head looks nice,” said Fiona. “Sort of adds a bit of colour.” And sure enough, among the muddy quagmire in front of the studio veranda, the dung heap was a striking splash of yellow. Slipping through the door I was glad to see the ‘studio’ really is a tractor shed when we are not there, with just a few clues scattered about as to its ‘other’ use.

Trudging back along still misty paths, o’er hung with gnarled oak, dodging lustful squirrels, battling blackbirds, courting chaffinches – even a pair of horses eyeing each other up in a meaningful manner – I met Russell again. “Any lick?” he smiled. “No,” I said a but thoughtfully. “Really?” he sounded surprised, “No drumming? No calling?” “No,” I said sounding even more like a mournful Eeyore. “Well,” he said, “do you know it’s a shame you’re here on such a misty day because if it had been sunny, why, they are absolutely everywhere.” “Really Russell?” I said suspiciously. “Oh yes,” he said and I couldn’t help noticing he was grinning hugely as he turned away.

Description: Fortified and back on the reserve, I went down to the Springwatch studio, normally the scene of frantic activity but now boarded up and silent.

Fortified and back on the reserve, I went down to the Springwatch studio, normally the scene of frantic activity but now boarded up and silent.

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