They say that 'actions speak louder than words'. They also say that 'a picture paints a thousand words'. Seems that what I should be doing with this post is simply uploading a few photos and letting you decipher the whole thing for yourself, however as I conciously opted to go out 'naked' today without any photographic means (apart from the shite camera phone on my works Nokia that I wouldn't consider using) you'll have to read all this wordy stuff instead.
This morning, I awoke to the kind of fog that generally means that everyone else becomes incapable of driving at anything above 'overly cautious' and without bright red lights shining into the face of the driver a hundred clearly visible meters behind. I hastily emptied the moth trap (easily done as no moths actually in it!) and slowly headed in to work.
I had planned to leave work early in the afternoon for another attempt at the irruptive moustached babblers that have so far eluded me in the county. The fog though was lingering and I wondered if we'd ever see the sky during the day. By early afternoon it started to clear, and by 14:40 I could see clear skies and there was even sunshine. I packed up for the day and was just leaving site as a text came though of yet more Panurus in the county - this time at Groby Pool. I quickly weighed up the options and decided to stick with my original plan and head over to Cossington Meadows again. I reasoned that in such a nicely developing afternoon there would be a good chance of owls showing after cleaning up the tits. It was all looking good - the deliberate ploy of leaving the camera behind would surely mean that the Bearded Tits would be dangling off of the reeds within touching distance.
Unbelievable - less than a mile from work and I ran into properly thick fog. I decided to continue - surely it was just patchy and a good chance of it being clear again further on. I arrived at Cossington just after 15:00 - I think. It took a few seconds to be sure that I was at the right place as the fog seemed even thicker. Arse.
Togged up in wellies and coat with my bins at the ready, I headed along the misty track in the vain hope of seeing anything in the reedbed with visibility down to c15M. A hulking Grey Heron suddenly drifted into view and over and made me wonder how the hell it knew where it was going. A distant Green Woodpecker yaffling let me know that there was other life around. I was within what should have been sight of the left turn onto The Moor pathway when a figure loomed out of the greyness - it was Jez Robson who confirmed the continued presence of the hoped-for Beardies, though calling only as he'd not had any sight of them.
I carried on with a mixture of optimism (birds still here) and resignation (what the fuck am I doing here on this pointless venture in the fog). Three dog walkers and a female Pheasant three meters off the ground in a hawthorn later and I was in position.
I was immediately aware of Reed Buntings appearing from out of the gloom and dropping into the reeds. Then after only a couple of minutes, it happened. The all too familiar and unmistakeable twangy 'ping' that I was after. I tried to follow the calls, but they seemed to be coming from two different positions. I caught a fleeting glimpse of something small, long-tailed and whirry pop out of the reeds and back in again - too quick to get my bins up. More calls, and then nothing. I resisted the temptation to i-Pish them. A couple of quick questions and the corresponding answers came to mind:
1. Can I confidently submit a record for Bearded Tit in the county - Yes.
2. Have I seen a Bearded Tit in the county - err .. maybe ... probably ... but not absolutely 100%
So, to paraphrase A Tribe Called Quest - Can I Tick It? Don't bother answering - look at the Bubo box on the right. As far as I'm concerned if I can hand on heart record something by call/song I will do with the exception of an out and out British lifer. This is especially so with a species that I've seen and heard hundreds of over the years. I'm sure there are countless birders up and down the country who happily county tick Nightjar, Cetti's, Quail and flyover blobs that sound like Lapland Buntings, Woodlarks or Richard's Pipits. I'll still be out looking for them again though - they are such great birds. With the records we've had so far around the county, there must be other small groups on other reedbeds - I'm planning on looking around Narborough Bog and Huncote Embankment in the morning (weather permitting).
As I pondered the still greyness, a Water Rail squealed behind me, I could hear Lapwings around Tern Pool, and the odd croaking/quacking/wheezing duck. The atmosphere around the reedbed was ethereal. The 'light' was magic, and the sense of being alone with 100s of invisible birds around was somehow just so peaceful. If I'd had the camera with me, it would just not have done the scene any justice whatsoever.
A small group of 13 Starlings just about came into view and started circling around - again I wondered how birds manage to navigate with no visual clues through the mist. I was about to leave when another, larger group of Starlings appeared. I could hear their wings as they banked and started to mass up and break apart. I waited a few minutes as more Starlings started to appear, and before long there was c500 swirling about - coming in and out of view through the fog and creating a superb rustle with their massed wings. By no means the largest Starling flock I've ever seen, and not as visually dramatic as seeing them clearly, but the effect of their movement as a ghostly movement in the fog was just superb. At 16:04 they suddenly descended and disappeared into the reeds - every one gone from view within five seconds. And then near silence, apart from a faint static hum from the telegraph wires crackling in the mist over the reedbed.
What started as a seemingly pointless exercise turned into one of the most satisfying and peaceful birding hours I've ever had.