Monday, 12 May 2014
6am, May 11th, 2014, Kiln Lane, Ely. 18 pairs of binoculars, 32 sharp eyes and 136 fingers starting to chill in an unseasonably hostile westerly wind. Four years ago, in the very first Elywildspace spring bird race, 88 species were seen in total by the debutante teams. With strong winds and showers hindering both bird migration and observation the odds were stacked against this being the day for a similarly high tally. However, with 4 hours bird finding ahead of them, the 4 teams headed out with the aim of seeing and hearing as many species as they possibly could.
Cutting swiftly to the re-grouping at the end of the race, a total of 71 species were seen. Species that eluded all teams but were certainly present "out there" included Grey Wagtail, Grasshopper Warbler, Water Rail, Buzzard, Garden Warbler and Little Grebe. There were several species, usually readily found, that were not seen by all groups. Amongst these Kingfisher, Yellow Wagtail, Red-legged Partridge, Turtle Dove, Cormorant and Herring Gull were most notable. There were highlights, and Cetti's Warblers sang loudly from a variety of spots around the site, Marsh Harriers showed themselves well, a smart and dashing Hobby streaked past the assembled teams at the Sailing Club and a fly-over Oystercatcher proved to be the only bonus bird of the day.
Our team had a magical experience with a swarm of Swallow and Martins hunting low along the tree line of Pocket Park. The insects, forced low and into the shelter afforded by the trees from the wind and drizzle, lured the birds down to eye level making it possible to stand facing them as they flew headlong towards us banking and veering just metres from our faces. Birding, so frequently a slightly detached observational activity, can also bring us into very direct and immersed experiences with birds. As these hirundines whizzed around like embers cracked from a bonfire night pyre, I drank it all in.