Thursday 10 May 2012

'I'm not into one night stands...

...too much commitment'. So said the comedian Sean Hughes, whose one-liner kind of sums up how I've always felt about swearing allegiance to a local patch. I know, I know, every self-respecting birder about town is supposed to do so (and, while he's at it, bang on about how he'd rather find the fecal sacs of his own Great Tits than look at the Scarlet Tanager in next door's garden if it wasn't 'self-found' - an anthropocentric conceit if ever there was one). But all that 'constant effort' and keeping scrupulous records makes it feel a bit like joining the Stasi, or going to work.

We've also moved around a bit in the last few years, which hasn't really been conducive to being loyal to the same patch. And to be perfectly honest, on the rare occasions when opportunity and weather combine, I confess I often succumb to the temptation to seek out something new and different further afield. Is that so wrong of me? Isn't it human nature to be interested in the rare and the exotic? Do 'proper' astronomers scoff at Halley's Comet as a 'tart's tick' and refuse to go outside to look at it because Halley found it first? I don't know. Of course I know twitching has no conservation value, but then again neither does the hoarding of data if it's never put to good use.

Anyway, I digress. The point of the post is to acknowledge, as a statement of fact, and increasingly a matter of habit, that Swineham Gravel Pits is probably, well, my local patch. Like the point where 'girlfriend' becomes 'partner', it crept up on me. When you realise you can pinpoint all the singing Cetti's to within 20 yards, even a commitment-phobe can tell it's getting serious. This being my first spring since moving to Wareham, I now find myself enjoying counting the singing warblers and watching the balance in their numbers change as the season progresses: first a majority of Chiffs, almost overtaken by Blackcaps, before being briefly nudged out (in volume if not number) by an influx of Sedgies which, two days later, had been eclipsed by the growing chorus of Reeds. All to a melancholic bass line of the occasional Willow.

The other night Swineham excelled itself with a Short-eared Owl (pictured), a Hobby, a Little Gull, a Med Gull and a couple of Whimbrel topping the bill - good birds anywhere, let alone a short walk from home. As well as the pits themselves, there is saltmarsh, grazing marsh, flood meadow, reedbed, scrub, a bit of woodland and the open mud and water of the Wareham Channel, so it has variety going for it as well. So it's all good, this patching, and the carbon footprint guilt is lower as well. The only downside is that you tend to be unjustifiably pleased with badly-exposed, grainy, out-of-focus photos taken on the patch, just because they were taken on the patch, which would have you reaching for the 'delete' button if you took them anywhere else. That's my excuse for these anyway.

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