In the early days of my birding experiences I spent a lot of time at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) site ‘Sparham Pools’. The pools in question are the by-product of gravel extraction and these man-made water-bodies are a typical site throughout the Wensum Valley. Several of them are publicly accessible for fishing or nature recreation purposes. I had made a decision to build up my base birding knowledge and Sparham provided a great platform to do this, as the small-scale reserve has a diverse range of habitats. The pools are circled by a thin ring of woodland, creating a natural ‘bowl’ effect. A walk up the path from the car park in spring leads you up through the dark, damp copse and opens out onto pastel-coloured field margins. A walk around the pools at most times of the year can easily yield 50 or so species and this enabled me to hone my identification skills and also begin to understand the notion and pleasure in connecting with a location.
I had an experience at Sparham Pools that would be inconsequential to many but it resonates with me to this day. I visited early one winter morning, the sky was overcast and the early morning dampness hung heavy. Everything was still and barely a sound was noted in the stifling silence. When you first walk up the main path at the pools, it funnels into a tight and almost claustrophobic gantry that runs along the main pools steep edges. The gorse is usually overgrown, creating the sensation of being squeezed along the path. A sharp corner causes the path to curve around to the right and along a majestic treeline of looming oaks which in summer are a haven for Purple Hairstreak butterflies. The inclination to continue walking here is strong but I had been shown a detour at this corner which leads onto a field edge. This is the perfect position to stop and observe for any feeding finches so I opted to follow it.
Not long after walking through the dew-studded gorse bushes I could sense movement along the field edge so I parted the foliage to afford myself a better view. I could see the blushing pink tones of several Chaffinches as they dropped down to feed in the furrows and then flew back into the treeline in unison. As I stood here watching through my binoculars I could sense movement behind me. An elderly gentleman sidled up to me accompanied by his somewhat overweight black Labrador; he asked me what I was watching? I gestured towards the Chaffinches in the furrows and explained. He listened intently then regaled me with tales of his garden feeders, how much he enjoyed the colours of the visiting Siskins and how despondent he was that they hadn’t visited this winter. He asked if I had seen Siskins before but I explained to him that in my birding ‘infancy’ I was yet to encounter them. He said that I would love them when I did finally see them and then bid me farewell.
He left me with the Chaffinches and I stood and contemplated the power of birds and birding. I realised that there needn’t be any pressure associated with the natural enjoyment of birds and that wherever I could, I would embed this principle into my own birding experiences. I reflected on the accessibility of birding and nature in general and the notion of a shared interest was invoked again, as we all share experiences of nature and birds – no matter how small or inconsequential they may be. This shared interest is no more apparent to me than now as I write this chapter. I have been visiting my patch for just over 2 years and as a regular weekly visitor I have got to know some of the residents by face and name and often stop to have a chat with some of them. The majority of the residents know what I’m doing there and the binoculars round my neck act as an unspoken code that I’m a birder.
The binocular code.