The birds that restore hope in the planet

The birds that restore hope.
The birds that restore hope.

THE ONLY way to live is in hope. Something good just around the corner, recession or no recession. It is the same with bird watching.

I still find it thrilling to see a buzzard soaring high over these woods, to hear the tawny owls softly calling at dusk, or to see a red kite sailing on board wings across the clouds with his long forked tail spread wide.

This week Jennie our pin-up girl who works as a voluntary coppice cutter in these woods told me that the crossbills were back in the larch trees and so they were when I went down in the autumn sun to see them.

Three cock birds in carmine dress and a host of browner females and young were all chattering away among the twigs as a shower of bits fell like golden rain below them.

They were having a feast of seed kernels and were quite oblivious of me as they swung upside down like acrobats and prized open the cones with their skew-whiff pincers they call beaks. They were only ten feet away. That was unexpected and made my day.

I had just had some frustrating hours with my old Alvis trying to figure out why it would not start and having replaced the petrol pump and checked the insides of the carburettor finally tracking the problem to a duff condenser, these pretty birds made up for so much lost time.

Of course the red-letter day species are best for the glooms because they almost startle one with their unexpectedness.

Once or twice over the years in Sussex, a re-breasted goose among the brents has thrilled at moments of doldrums. Even a khaki grey gadwall drake with his glossy black bum reflected in the bright waters of the gravel pits can jerk one back into the world of thoroughly pleasant things to experience instead of the postman bringing bills and world news showing what a thoroughly unpleasant species we sometimes are.

But I think one bird I should want to see if all was lost in life would be this one in the picture, the snow bunting. A couple of beautiful cock birds with their big white wing patches giving them the name of snowflake among a crowd of wives and children down on the shingle coast line of Pagham Harbour would restore hope in the planet. They bring a sense of wilderness and other worlds far away like no other.

Although you might see a thousand scattered around the Norfolk coast in winter, half a dozen at most might be your lot in Sussex. The cold brings them down here. What a rare thing it is to see a small block here, and does it not bring out the birders, to have this brief entry into another world.

You can see the snow buntings as they creep about among the beach pebbles finding seeds of sea beet and sea kale.

Birders twitter, e-mail and talk of this close encounter over pints, with these brief messengers from Russia and the Svalbard coasts. Jenny is on the lookout for them too so I live in hope.

Richard Williamson