I decided to return to RSPB Pulborough Brooks for the fourth time this year (the woman at the reception desk recognised me, so I must be becoming a bit of a regular) in search of one particular bird to add to my 2014 list. I had heard (well, I had read it out loud to myself) that a couple of Nightingales had been seen on the reserve throughout the week, so I thought I’d move myself from casual bird-spotter to super keen twitcher for an afternoon.
I had never seen a Nightingale before (with the exception of the one on the back of £10 notes in the 1980s), so I had done some research. However, I wasn’t entirely sure it would help me when out in the countryside staring longingly into the depths of a hedge. Like a large number of birds that flap around Britain’s undergrowth, the Nightingale is small and brown… It is potentially, what a birdwatcher – who likes to use bird watching jargon – would call a prime example of an LBJ – No, it’s not one of the ten ways to get out in cricket, but, in actual fact stands for Little Brown Job.
The first time I heard someone utter the phrase ‘It’s a little brown job’, I was a somewhat taken aback. My juvenile mind immediately went into role-play mode and started conjuring up scenarios where LBJ might be said…“Oh no, Thomas has just done a little brown job all over his playmat” was my creative best (This is a great example of best not always being good!)
When I arrived at the area of the reserve where the Nightingales had previously been seen, I came across a line of people all pointing their binoculars, telescopes, cameras and eyes (obviously) in the direction of a sizeable area of undergrowth. Were they looking at/for the bird I specifically came to Pulborough to add to my list? Was a Nightingale in the vicinity? I always find this sort of situation a little awkward… I never quite know how to act. Should I say something? Or remain silent? I really wanted to know what they were looking at, but I certainly didn’t want to be the person whose enquiry scared off an uncommon bird.
I decided it was best to stand a few yards away and eavesdrop… At some point, someone was bound to utter code word: Nightingale. Or, I guess, a different code word.
One of the observing men was getting a bit of hassle from his wife… He wanted to wait for as long as it took to see whatever everyone was looking for, but she – not apparently especially bothered about the hedge-lurking bird – was keen to move on. He accused her of lacking patience and being a person who needs ‘quick satisfaction’. She accused him of showing off in front of his bird-watching colleagues. As I was still trying not to snigger audibly at the suggestion of someone needing quick satisfaction, he slung his telescope over his shoulder, muttered something about what she was missing out on and followed his wife up the path.
I was quite glad I had come out on my own… It meant I could spend as long as I wanted staring at a hedge without my wife hassling me. Not that I have a wife… But if I did, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t be the hassling type.
A few minutes passed and the masses began to disband. I was the only person left. This felt more comfortable.
I scanned the dense undergrowth for signs of movement… Nothing. I scanned again… Still nothing. How long should I wait before calling it quits and admit that I wasn’t going to see the one species that I had come to see? This was going to be another one of those dip-out days, like Staines Reservoir a few weeks back, wasn’t it?
As I was just about to move along… Movement… It was a Dunnock – a little brown bird, but not the right one… More movement… It was another Dunnock. The female stood on the ground and twitched her tail vociferously for a good minute, whilst the male looked on. She continued to twitch until he mounted her for what could only have been a fraction of a second, before both went their separate ways. As incredibly promiscuous birds, this was probably the umpteenth one-second stand of the Dunnocks’ day. I wanted to pass judgement on the moral decline of bird society, but stopped when I realised that I had just been gawping at avian procreation in a dirty voyeuristic manner! Shame on all of us!
It was then something unexpected happened… A new little brown bird emerged from the leafy cover… It wasn’t a Dunnock… It was what looked suspiciously like the picture of the Nightingale I had seen in my bird book. Slightly larger than a Robin, predominantly brown on the upperparts, greyish on the underside, with a pale ring around the eye. I had to do one of those cartoon-esque double-takes as I was distinctly under the impression that Nightingales didn’t flaunt themselves out in the open very often.
It just sat atop some dry bracken about ten yards away and stared at me. I gawked back at it. Subtly, I did a small internal fist-pump. In this brief moment, I realised why hardened twitchers spend lots of time and lots of money to hang out with brand new birds [Insert internet dating quip here]. I can quite explain it, but this was amazing… One of life’s ‘wow moments’.
As an aside, some of my other ‘wow moments’ include the first time I played FIFA International Soccer on the Mega Drive (the switch from 2D football games to semi-3D was, for me, mind-blowing), Felix Baumgartner jumping to Earth from the edge of space and Mo Farah kicking for home at the bell in the 5000m final at the 2012 Olympic Games.
The Nightingale then proceeded to hop around on the grass in front of me for a few minutes before disappearing back into the undergrowth once again.
I did an external fist-pump, also added a Sand Martin to my year list and went home pleased with a productive afternoon. I wondered if that chap had satisfied his wife yet… But didn’t give it too much thought, as that would be weird.
Here’s what’s been going on in the wider world of Animalia of late…
And in other news, I think I may have stumbled across celebrated magician Paul Daniels’s house…