Basin Notes - November 2004

What is your favourite bird?

My favourite bird? The trite response to the question might be "the bird I am looking at". In general, those interested in birds are happy watching any bird and will be content to be entertained by its antics. However, lets talk about my favourite birds. Yes, more than one. Despite the media's current mania for canvassing opinion and establishing a precise order, I have a short list of favourites in no particular order. These are the birds that bring that extra frisson of delight when I see them.

The long-tailed tit is not a common bird in gardens, but can be seen locally in woodland areas. A dozen turned up at the Wildlife Centre recently and offered good views perching outside the viewing gallery. They are often missed because they are undemonstrative birds with a very soft call and forage in small flocks amongst trees. However, when you do see them, they are delicately tinged in pink and black with their long tails streaming behind like ribbons.

The Basin provides food for up to 70 species of bird but it is hard not to be impressed by the energy and determination of the turnstone as it bulldozes its way through the seaweed on the shore in search of small invertebrates. Its winter plumage is only a shadow of its more resplendent orange and black summer breeding coat, but its muted winter colours are streaked with white which show clearly as they fly by.

Late evening with a setting sun spreading its dying rays over the Basin is beautiful enough, but the addition of the plaintive call of the curlew sends shivers of delight down the spine. This bird with brown patterned feathers is not the prettiest to look at, but it has one of the most evocative calls that most will recognise.

Nearer to home, the robin that takes possession of your garden may be a tyrannical ruler, but has one of the most beautiful songs amongst British birds. It is synonymous with autumn in my mind and brings the mellow thoughts of colourful trees, berries and nuts a-plenty - the bounty of nature.

Back on the Basin, a cloud gathers - but don't reach for a waterproof, this is just a flock of birds. They can be recognised as knot by the way the flock moves like smoke blown on the wind. This grey wader has a pale belly and as the flock all turn the "smoke" changes from grey to white as though a laser had be shone through them.

However, the Basin holds the ultimate thrill in winter - pink-footed geese. Massed in their thousands on the mud and then wafting into the air with a clamour of calls that makes you feel awed by this spectacle of nature happening right on your doorstep. If you are really lucky you can see the sky full of skeins of geese going in all directions.

My favourite bird - all of them, of course; but next time you ask the list might be different!