September Nature Journal

Yellowhammer ( Emberiza citrinella )

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

This month I did something I never usually do - I twitched! For those who don’t know (what are you doing with your life!?) twitching and birdwatching aren’t the same thing. To go birding is to go for a walk and see which species you stumble upon, but to twitch is to hear about a rare bird and actively seek it out. It isn’t something I bother doing unless the bird is nearby, but some will travel hundreds of miles to see a rare species that’s drifted in by accident. It’s hardcore birding.

Long-tailed tit ( Aegithalos caudatus )

Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

One of my friends messaged me to say that a white stork had popped up in my town. Unfortunately the given location just said ‘in the fields’, which was incredibly unhelpful and meant I had to cycle around the circumference of the town in hope of seeing it. I didn’t find it in the end, but I did find a beautiful yellowhammer and a mob of long-tailed tits. I never get bored of long-tailed tits, which look like chubby lollipops and move around so quickly they are almost impossible to capture. They hang out in groups, so if you see one then you’re bound to find at least three or four more hopping around in the trees like hooligans. Last autumn I went bird ringing in a forest near Liphook, and every time we caught a long-tailed tit it tried to wriggle around in my hand and escape, its tiny face ripe with fury.

As I watched the long-tailed tits, a young buzzard flew across the meadow, mewing in the sun. The stork had escaped my clutches - to use the correct term, I ‘dipped’ it, which means I tried to find it and failed. This is one of the reasons I don’t twitch much - I don’t like feeling like I’ve failed at watching birds…

All was not lost, however, for the white stork was not to be my only attempt at twitching that month. On 25 September a beluga whale appeared in the River Thames!

On the following Saturday I found myself with nothing to do on a beautiful day, so I drove to Gravesend to see the wild whale for myself, two thousand miles off course from his Arctic home. I’ve written all about the experience here, but it was an amazing sight.

While I was in Gravesend I also spotted this lovely godwit poking about on the estuary shore, completely overlooked by the rest of us as we ogled the whale. I’m terrible at identifying wading birds so I’m not sure if this is a bar-tailed or black-tailed godwit - please comment if you know!