A bare patch

Two hours to spare on a Saturday afternoon.

I know what, I’ll go round the Patch there’s always something to see on the Patch.

It’s a very windy and very mild October day – we were getting battered by the tail-end of one of the trans-Atlantic storms that had lashed Florida earlier in the week. No worries, there is always something interesting on the Patch in any weather.

A grey heron struggled to remain upright in the strong wind amongst the reeds at the edge of the first of the ponds. Strange tho’, no ducks on the water, no coots nor moorhens either, not even the squeak of a water rail. Don’t worry Graeme there will be something to see deeper into the Patch. On I go.

I gazed across the buffeted reed beds – there was to be no quartering marsh harrier today, no hovering kestrel nor singing reed bunting. Down the birch avenue the roe deer family was not to be seen, nor was I to be accompanied by the usual flock of long-tailed tits. There were no goldcrests nor redpolls. The liquid warble of blackcaps were just a memory along with the chuntering of sedge warblers.

Underneath the ‘Mighty Oak’, whose canopy is usually a buzzing ecosystem in its own right, all was quiet. Often treecreepers have scuttled up its ivy covered trunk, often great spotted woodpeckers have drummed on its boughs. A sparrowhawk once glared down at me in defiance from its branches – but not today.

The badger set looked unoccupied, or of course they may be using a newly dug entrance that I could not see.

Down by the South Drain, out of the shelter of the trees, the wind really picked up. The whitethroat that nests in a bramble thicket here was long gone. Gone too were the overhead hobbies and hirondelles that had filled the sky from March until just a few weeks ago. Now all there was was sky.

No otter popped out of the water, no kingfisher zipped by nor dragonfly or butterfly was to be seen. Nothing.

Don’t worry Graeme, the Patch always delivers, something will turn up.

Down through the long reed bed path, I thought of Stephen and my excitement when we first heard and then saw the ‘bird in question’ still so rare that if I told you what species it was, I’d probably have to kill you – or at least get you to sign a legally binding non-disclosure agreement, which if you broke, then I’d have to kill you… but fortunately for us both, the ‘bird in question’ wasn’t there either, and I fear had not returned at all this summer.

I saw no bearded tits, heard no cetti’s warbler nor did I disturb a great white or little egret. No wren moused through low in the reeds in front of me where I was walking.

It was still too early to see the great starling murmurations that we’ve had here in their millions, when the skies darken with birds in truly biblical numbers. There were no peregrines waiting to dive straight into the heart of the densely packed ‘shoal’ of starlings, nor was there any opportunistic merlin, waiting to strike.

I knew I had no chance of seeing a hunting barn owl – it would have been nice, but much too windy. Our cuckoos by now will be well south of the Sahara and the garden warblers will be not far behind them.

But a walk round the Patch is never over until it’s over.

Approaching the car park something bright caught my eye, something bright red, something wonderful – how could I have missed it on the way out?

It was a beautiful fly agaric mushroom. There… good old Patch, it never lets you down, there is always something to see. It always delivers.

Graeme Mitchell