I had been alerted that a Ring Ouzel had been spotted near Leith Hill and, seeing as I had never seen one before, I thought I’d make the effort to travel the five or so miles from home to have a look for it. I figured that it was close enough for me to go on an escapade without having to call myself a ‘crazy twitcher’ again. Can’t have that.
It had been reported in Duke’s Warren, a sizeable area of heathland edged by woodland to the north of the village of Coldharbour.
Ring Ouzels are the upland, higher ground version of our common Blackbird, with the notable difference of a chunky white collar around the upper breast and notably paler wing pattern. They are also a lot less common, with the majority of the UK population spending the summer in northern England and Scotland, before heading southwards to over-winter in Africa. They can turn up pretty much anywhere in between on their autumn migratory journey.
Leith Hill is the second highest landmass in the south-east (at 965 feet above sea-level) and the tower that sits atop it was built (in the mid-1760s) with the aim of breaking through the 1000-foot mark to, kind of, make it a geographically-acceptable mountain of sorts. I suppose it might vaguely mirror the plot of The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, but I have never seen it, so can’t be entirely sure.
When he died, the Tower’s builder, Richard Hull, was buried under the floor. At his request, he was submerged amongst the foundations upside-down, in the belief that on Judgment Day, the World would flip on its axis, rendering him the right way up. I imagine God would applaud the initiative of the only man not standing on his head in the queue for judging and grant him an all-expenses paid trip to Heaven. I assume that’s what would happen, anyway.
Nowadays, at the base of the Tower, there is a serving hatch that sells refreshments to ramblers, cyclists, horse riders and the odd twitcher in denial. I imagine that Mr Hull would turn in his grave if he saw that the National Trust was now hawking frappuccinos and small slices of carrot cake out of the lower window of his Gothic legacy – That would bugger his End of Days plan, wouldn’t it?
Anyway, as I contemplated whether or not to sample a mini Battenberg or not before going off in search of the Ring Ouzel, I went up the Tower to take in the view… and to see if I could work out where Duke’s Warren was from a handily-located vantage point.
Perhaps as a result of my small-scale mockery of Judgment Day, the weather went a bit Wuthering Heights as I reached the top. Visibility was reduced to not very much at all and I couldn’t see the end of my face, let alone some heathland some way in the distance.
Consequently, I had to use my OS map – Which is always a dangerous proposition.
After a bit of wandering and trying to re-fold my map correctly, I found Duke’s Warren. It turns out I had walked past it on my way to the Tower. What I didn’t find, however, was a Ring Ouzel. With the weather clearing, I saw a couple of black birds far in the distance that were probably just Blackbirds and sat underneath a tree for a good fifteen minutes waiting for something Ouzel-ish I thought I saw fly in, fly out again. It never reappeared, but during the quarter of an hour fruitlessly gawping up at the uppermost branches of a pine tree, I found out a lot about myself: I discovered that I get neck ache fairly quickly when looking upwards, I learnt that I only have fifteen minutes’ worth of patience for trying to find something that I feared I had probably imagined, and I then found that I probably hadn’t imagined it because something shat on me big time.
In Other News…
Apart from unintentionally collecting bird poo, I sometimes pick up some of the more interesting feathers I find whilst out and about and try to identify them when I get home. I figure it’s a good way to simultaneously improve my bird plumage identification skills, sound way cool and fill up the flat with a bit more junk [One day, I’m going to run out of space and have to choose between the feathers, my Meg Ryan DVD collection and my Star Wars figures – It’s a decision every real man has to make at some point].
At the weekend, on a trip to Saunton Sands in North Devon, I unexpectedly encountered an opportunity to add a Gannet feather to my dubious collection… As is not the case with the majority of feathers already in the collection, I was sure of what bird it came from and the chance to stick it in the jar with the others was quite an unusual one.
How could I be so sure that the feather was from Britain’s largest seabird? (I pretend to hear you ask).
Well, it was still attached to the partially-decomposing remains of an ex-Gannet.
I thought long and hard about selecting one of the less fetid feathers and yanking it out of the corpse, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. As odd as I appear to be, I draw the line at grave-robbing. Instead, I stared at the cadaver for a while, took a couple of photos and then regretfully moved on without a prized feather.