Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Birding with a friend

I'll confess straight out that ornithology - the study of birds - isn't my thing. Nor is 'birding' - casual and not-so-casual bird-watching. But birds are nevertheless beautiful and interesting creatures that capture the imagination, and many people find it very rewarding to seek them out, and feed their passion for birds and their ways. I can see how it might get a grip on you.

While I was still down in North Devon in early October - it was my last day there - I went for an afternoon walk with one of my friends in those parts, Vicky. I've mentioned her before in connection with a chance late-afternoon visit to Westward Ho!, when I bumped into Vicky and her husband Ken at some out-of-the way spot, and - eerily - they had been thinking about me, and I about them, and it was exactly as if we had conjured or magicked the encounter up with our thoughts. This is them on that occasion, complete with dog Rosie:


Anyway, Vicky and I arranged to meet up on this last day, and go for a walk with Rosie. I left the choice of route to Vicky. It turned out - I didn't know this - that she was very keen on birds, and she asked me over the phone whether I minded if we went down to the estuary at Yelland, where a pelican, some spoonbills and an ibis had been reported - there's apparently a grapevine on the Internet that gets word around to birders. I said that was a jolly good idea. We would meet up in the car park at Appledore. She was bang on time. Here she is arriving in the family Citroën:


And here she is, about to drive us both off to Yelland. (Yes, that's Fiona in the background)


Having parked, she got Rosie (a very active young black cockerpoo) out of the back of the car, and her binoculars also, and we strolled off along the coastal path, which runs closer to the shore than the Tarka Trail does:


It was soon obvious where we needed to be. We ran into two men in camouflage jackets, one of whom had his telescope set up and trained on not just the spoonbills, but the rarer pelican. In a twinkling they and Vicky were into a bird-conversation, leaving me free to take some shots. I don't think they realised that I was shooting away. Vicky begged to look into the telescope, and see the pelican. Her wish was readily granted. The two men seemed devoted to birds. I got the impression that the older man had built his leisure time around birding, and thought of little else.


I was really pleased that Vicky had seen the pelican. She was so excited. And although it was clear that I wasn't an enthusiast myself, I did ask if I could see it too. And my goodness, what a marvellous telescope that was! I saw that pelican very clearly, out there in the marshes.

A couple arrived, and both husband and wife were festooned with tripods, a telescope and a camera with a very long lens. We left them to it. Driving on, our next destination was again on the river estuary, but at Fremington Quay. The road there, off the main road, is rather narrow, and it's difficult to stop and park. But when I said to Vicky, 'Vicky!! I can see the ibis! Down there in the creek on our left!' she just had to stop, pull in a bit, and get out her binoculars. I got some shots of it - though unfortunately my camera hasn't much of a zoom. But you can still just about make out the ibis's long curved bill.


Vicky was enthralled, and I was pleased that I'd been the one to spot the ibis. Though I have to say it just looked like a drab black wading bird to me! I admit it. I have no soul. And neither had a passing driver, who took a dim view of Vicky's car blocking a passing place and making him squeeze past on his own way to the Quay. Really it was easy for him, but he still grumbled and made a fierce face. Hah, men.  

At the Café on the Quay (which is the old Fremington railway station on the Barnstaple-Bideford-Torrington line) we sat outside and enjoyed tea and cake. 


We were not left in peace! No, it wasn't the man who had pulled a face and grumbled, but another man, who had much to say about nothing much in particular, and was a bit of a nuisance. But eventually he pushed off.

Half the afternoon was already over. Vicky would have prolonged the afternoon, but had to attend a local Book Club meeting back at Appledore. In fact she had to marshal her thoughts on the book she was supposed to been reading! 'Haven't you actually read it?' I asked her. 'No, I haven't had the time. I'll have to flick through it before the meeting and get the gist, and hope nobody asks me what I thought of it.'

So members all have to read a book each week, and know it well enough to discuss it in a lively manner? I wouldn't be up for that. What if the book were dull, or hard to get into, or full of unsympathetic characters, or written in an off-putting style, or just badly plotted, so that you couldn't follow what was going on? And, like Vicky, there'd be some weeks when I wouldn't be able to give it the time. And besides, I'd rebel at having to plough through some book on someone else's say-so. It reminded me of the compulsory 'set books' in my English Literature A-Level course at school.

We went back to Appledore, both regretting that the afternoon couldn't be longer. But Vicky wasn't the only North Devon friend I saw that day. Just as we turned into the car park where I'd left Fiona, I spotted Jayne with her dog Callie. I hadn't expected to see Jayne again before moving on to Dorset. Here they both are, plus Callie:


That dog knows exactly how to pose!

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